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Designing a Bathroom That’s Safe for Senior Citizens

By Jakemontgomery @LTDOnlineStores

When you get older, simple things like getting in and out of the shower can become a struggle. Universal design becomes more and more important as we get older. Suddenly, you and you’re loved ones are forced to think about things that you probably took for granted at one point in your life. Designing a universal bathroom design that lends itself to easy accessibility and full functionality will improve your overall quality of life.

Greg Cantor from Murray Lampert Design brings up an important point; buying a home is a lifelong commitment. Sooner or later, you will have to make some changes to accommodate your aging body. 90% of senior citizens said they would stay in their homes if they could. Why not design a bathroom that you can use for the rest of your life? Today, we’re going to show you how to design a bathroom that is safe for seniors and those with disabilities.

Accessible Bathroom Design


Fact: 14% of bathroom injuries take place on the toilet.

How to Design a Bathroom for Seniors

When designing a bathroom for senior citizens, you want to focus on eliminating barriers. Everything in the bathroom must be effortless to use and seamless in design. Below is a list of ways that you can make your bathroom accessible for senior citizens.

  1. Wide Doorways – Standard interior doorways are 26″. Building code for handicap accessible doorways is 32″ when the door is 90 degrees so this means the door must be 36″ due to the thickness of the door and projections from the door jambs.
  2. Ample Lighting – Making sure that everything in your bathroom is well lit will prevent any trips or falls. Pairing vertical lighting with ambient lighting is the ideal combination. You can refer to this post for proper bathroom lighting instructions.
  3. Walkway Space – Houzz contributor Steven Corely Randal, recommends 42″ of walking space in the bathroom. You can consider increasing this distance by a few inches to a foot to make it easy to maneuver around the bathtub, especially if you are using a walker or a wheelchair.
  4. Non-slip Surfaces – You can place non-slip bath mats in the shower to add traction. For tile and wood floors, you can add a bath mat that you can step on when you step out of the shower.
  5. Handrails & Grab Bars – Safety handrails and grab bars are not only used in the shower but can be used next to the toilet as well. This will provide added support when you use the toilet.
  6. Lever Door Handles – Lever door handles that don’t have to be gripped and require force to open and close like a traditional door knob.
  7. Rocker Light Switches – Swapping out the old light switches that flip on with push button rocker light switches makes it easier to turn the light on. When you’re in the dark you don’t have to search for the light switch. Rocker light switches provide a larger surface are for you to locate.
  8. Accessible Storage – Linens cabinets where the most necessary items are at arm’s reach so you don’t have to bend or reach for anything.
  9. Ready Storage – Having a place to put your change of clothes when you enter the shower makes things easier. Whether you have space on the vanity countertop, make sure you have a place to put your belongings that it easy to get to. You can install a vanity with extra counter space or even put a small table next to the shower that you can reach for when you exit the shower.
  10. Shower Seat – 607.4 from the official ADA Guidelines requires a permanent seat at the head end of the bathtub or removable in-tub seat shall be provided. Note: Bathtubs with permanent seats require grab bars.
  11. Walk in Tubs – Walk in bath tubs eliminate the jump over the tub threshold. They are a viable option for those seeking a bathtub where you can wash while seated. The other option (listed below) is a curbless shower.
  12. Curbless Showers – Curbless showers make your shower more accessible and they are ADA approved. No more having to jump over the shower curb to get in. Standard shower thresholds are 3-4 inches high with bathtub walls as tall as 14 inches high which is comparative to a hurdle when you get up in age.
  13. Free Standing Shower Cabin – Free standing shower cabins are another option for the shower. These units are walk in models and many of them have built-in seating areas that give you the sauna like feeling. They’re great for those who want the benefits of accessible design without feeling like they’re in a senior home. Learn more about the benefits of free standing shower cabins.
  14. Single Faucets – Single faucets eliminate the dangers of scalding that occurs with dual lever faucet handles. With single faucet levers, there’s no need to balance the hot water with cold water. You can browse for faucets on this page.
  15. Wider Toilet Seats – Toilets come in 3 shapes; round, elongated, and compact elongated. Elongated toilet provide the greatest surface area among these choices but you can also find extra wide and raised toilet seats that offer around 18″ width.
  16. Bidet – Bidets have had a hard time being adopted in the United States but they have fared well for the elderly. Bidets eliminate the strain required to turn and clean oneself with toilet paper and they are more hygienically sound.
  17. Standard Height Bathroom Vanities – ADA Accessible vanities must be 34″ or shorter. Standard height vanities are 32″ tall so individuals in wheelchairs can safely use them.
  18. Soft Close Glides – Soft close glides have a hydraulic function that allows cabinet doors and drawer to close without slamming shut. This eliminates the hazard of getting your fingers pinched in the cabinet. They can be purchased for around $5 per glide or you can find cabinets that come with soft close glide. Learn more about soft close glides.
  19. Toe Clearance – Cabinets must have enough toe clearance to accommodate wheelchairs. Minimum toe clearance is 9 inches.
  20. Shower Spray Hose – A shower spray hose will make it easier to rinse off while remaining seated. Make sure that your hose is a minimum of 59″ of length.
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ADA Standard for Accessible Bathroom Design

Clearance – 603.2

  • Clearance in front of bathtubs shall extend the length of the bathtub and shall be 30 inches (760 mm) wide minimum. A lavatory complying with 606 shall be permitted at the control end of the clearance. Where a permanent seat is provided at the head end of
  • Shower stalls that are 60 inches (1525 mm) wide and have no curb may increase the usability of a bathroom because the shower area provides additional maneuvering space.
  • Enclosures for shower compartments shall not obstruct controls, faucets, and shower spray units or obstruct transfer from wheelchairs onto shower seats.

Turning Space – 603.2.1

  • As used in this section, the phrase “changes in level” refers to surfaces with slopes and to surfaces with abrupt rise exceeding that permitted in Section 303.3. Such changes in level are prohibited in required clear floor and ground spaces, turning spaces, and in similar spaces where people using wheelchairs and other mobility devices must park their mobility aids such as in wheelchair spaces, or maneuver to use elements such as at doors, fixtures, and telephones. The exception permits slopes not steeper than 1:48.
  • The turning space shall be a space of 60 inches (1525 mm) diameter minimum.
  • The turning space shall be a T-shaped space within a 60 inch (1525 mm) square minimum with arms and base 36 inches (915 mm) wide minimum. Each arm of the T shall be clear of obstructions 12 inches (305 mm) minimum in each direction and the base shall be clear of obstructions 24 inches (610 mm) minimum. The space shall be permitted to include knee and toe clearance complying with 306 only at the end of either the base or one arm.

Overlap – 603.2.2

  • Required clear floor spaces, clearance at fixtures, and turning space shall be permitted to overlap.

Door Swing – 603.2.3

  • Doors shall not swing into the clear floor space or clearance required for any fixture. Doors shall be permitted into the required turning space.

Miscellaneous ADA Bathroom Building Codes


  • Mirrors – Mirrors located above lavatories or countertops shall be installed with the bottom edge of the reflecting surface 40 inches (1015 mm) maximum above the finish floor or ground. Mirrors not located above lavatories or countertops shall be installed with the
  • A single full-length mirror can accommodate a greater number of people, including children. In order for mirrors to be usable by people who are ambulatory and people who use wheelchairs, the top edge of mirrors should be 74 inches (1880 mm) minimum from the floor or ground.

Coat Hooks and Shelves

  • Coat hooks shall be located within one of the reach ranges specified in 308. Shelves shall be located 40 inches (1015 mm) minimum and 48 inches (1220 mm) maximum above the finish floor.
    Bathtub Seats
  • The top of bathtub seats shall be 17 inches (430 mm) minimum and 19 inches (485 mm) maximum above the bathroom finish floor. The depth of a removable in-tub seat shall be 15 inches (380 mm) minimum and 16 inches (405 mm) maximum. The seat shall be capable of secure placement. Permanent seats at the head end of the bathtub shall be 15 inches (380 mm) deep minimum and shall extend from the back wall to or beyond the outer edge of the bathtub.

Water Closets &Toilet Compartments (Half Baths/Powder Rooms)

  • Location -The water closet shall be positioned with a wall or partition to the rear and to one side. The centerline of the water closet shall be 16 inches (405 mm) minimum to 18 inches (455 mm) maximum from the side wall or partition, except that the water closet shall be 17 inches (430 mm) minimum and 19 inches (485 mm) maximum from the side wall or partition in the ambulatory accessible toilet compartment specified in 604.8.2. Water closets shall be arranged for a left-hand or right-hand approach.
  • Clearance – Clearance around a water closet shall be 60 inches (1525 mm) minimum measured perpendicular from the side wall and 56 inches (1420 mm) minimum measured perpendicular from the rear wall.
  • Overlap – The required clearance around the water closet shall be permitted to overlap the water closet, associated grab bars, dispensers, sanitary napkin disposal units, coat hooks, shelves, accessible routes, clear floor space and clearances required at other fixtures, and the turning space. No other fixtures or obstructions shall be located within the required water closet clearance.
  • Door Overlap – When the door to the toilet room is placed directly in front of the water closet, the water closet cannot overlap the required maneuvering clearance for the door inside the room.

4 Simple Things You Can Do Right Now

Here are some simple things you can do right now to make your bathroom safer for your parents and grandparents. Safety is of the utmost importance. You’re health and the health of your loved ones is a priority.

  1. Place toiletries and personal hygiene products within reach to avoid the need to stretch. Place shampoos in clear view that won’t require you to turn around or bend down in the shower.
  2. Proper lighting can prevent hazards for senior citizens in the bathroom. You can install a heat lamp above your tub area that will serve a dual purpose; heating and lighting.
  3. Install comfort height toilets to make it easier to use the restroom. Seniors may experience difficulty bending down to sit on the toilet or raising the seat.
  4. Install a shower bench to create a relaxing bathing experience. Standing for long periods of time can cause weakness and lead to fainting in some cases. You can also think about installing accessible bathtubs that feature side-entry. These accessible bathtubs don’t require you to lift your legs over the edge of the tub to get in.

Recommended Resources:

  1. Safe & Accessible Bathroom Design with American Standard
  2. Tips from National Bath Safety Month
  3. 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design – Section 603 Toilet and Bathing Rooms
  4. ICC Safe Accessible Single-Occupant Bathrooms – International Code Council
  5. Key Measurements to Make the Most of Your Bathroom by Steven Randel
  6. Aging in Place: 10 Concepts of Universal Design

About the Author
Cheryl Khan is a designer and writer at Tradewinds Imports.com, an online specialty site dedicated to retailing fine bathroom furnishings. She has extensive knowledge about all the finer details that go into planning the perfect bath renovation project and is an expert on all things bathroom! Send her your bathroom Q’s on twitter @SuperInteriors!

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