Bathroom Dangers

5 Surprising Killers Lurking in Your Bathroom
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Nobody's thinking about danger while relaxing in a warm shower. Yet potential danger, even the fatal kind, is all around you in a bathroom. According to a 2007 research report by the Home Safety Council, preventable home injuries are the fifth largest cause of death in the U.S. And safety researchers point to the bathroom, along with the kitchen and stairs, as the most dangerous zones in the house.

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Here are five threats that often trip up (sometimes literally) the unwary:

1. Water, water everywhere

The most basic part of the "water closet" -- the water in the sink, tub, and shower -- is probably its number-one danger. More people are injured, even fatally, in bathroom falls than in any other room in the house. Trouble is, water doesn't always stay where it should. Poorly fitting shower curtains and simple wet feet are two of the biggest causes of water winding up on the bathroom floor.

A better way: The ideal shower has a shatterproof glass door, rather than a curtain. Failing that, you can minimize leaks by hanging a curtain liner that falls inside the tub and a second, decorative curtain that falls outside. To stop slips, try tiles in the shower with a slightly uneven surface (such as bumpy smaller tiles, rather than large, smooth squares) that feet can grip onto. A cheaper alternative: strips of adhesive nonslip decals on the shower or bathtub floor.

Keep a nonskid rug on the floor next to the shower/bath exit and in front of the sink. Basic scatter rugs are themselves a tripping hazard; look for one made to absorb moisture and stay in place on the floor. And if you're renovating, be sure to use nonslip tiles on the floor.

2. Bathroom danger: Slick tub or shower bed

Modern Americans use lots of products in the shower and bath. Trouble is, all that shampoo, conditioner, body wash, exfoliant, bath gel, shaving cream, and bubble bath collects as residue on the sides and floor, making them slippery.

A better way: Soapy buildup should be cleaned off regularly. Giving the shower or tub a quick wipe down with a washcloth after each use helps minimize slickness. A strong adult may be able to withstand the residue, but someone with balance problems, such as a frail older adult, can slip just enough to lead to a fall.

Be sure, too, to install well-anchored grab bars wherever slips are likely.

More surprising killers lurking in your bathroom

3. Bathroom danger: Bright white surfaces

A pristine white bathroom might look great, but the combination of lights, white surfaces, and reflective surfaces (such as mirrors and chrome) can be disorienting. The glare can even be blinding to someone with less-than-perfect vision, as is the case with many older adults. What's more, all that brightness can mask standing water on the floor, increasing the risk of slipping.

A better way: Switching from regular light bulbs to frosted ones can help reduce glare. A row of contrasting tile (or a wallpaper border) to break up an expanse of white wall can also help someone maintain balance. Consider painting the walls a contrasting color to fixtures if this is a problem for someone with low vision or orientation problems, such as dementia.

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4. Bathroom danger: A space heater

People trying to save on heating bills or attempting to keep a bathroom warm for an older adult or a child sensitive to the cold have been known to use an electric space heater in this room. Like any electric appliance (hair dryer, razor) in the bathroom, where there's so much water, space heaters are a potential risk for electrocution.

Another space-heater danger in the bathroom is someone slipping into the device and burning themselves. Or a towel or throw rug, or even a tissue or bit of toilet paper, could catch fire.

A better way: If keeping warm is a problem, install a permanently wired heating system just in the bathroom. Or you could run the shower for a bit before the bath for an older adult or child, to produce warming steam. Fluff towels and a cotton robe in the dryer during the bath, so they're warm and ready when the person comes out of the water.

5. Bathroom danger: Shattered shower door

Glass shower doors became popular in the 1980s as an alternative to vinyl shower curtains. Most of the time, they work fine. But they've been known to shatter; in 2009, there were almost 2,000 reports to the Consumer Products Safety Commission of glass enclosure doors suddenly shattering due to improper installation. They can also break if someone falls hard into the door because of a slip.

Because most doors are made of tempered glass, they tend to instantly break into many small pieces rather than larger jagged ones. This is less likely to cause a bad cut, but it can nevertheless seriously injure a child or frail older adult who then falls onto the glass bits.

A better way: You don't have to give up on glass. Just let family members know not to use the towel racks sometimes installed along such doors for support, which can stress them. (Install well-anchored shower grab bars into the walls of the shower, instead.)

Regularly check older shower doors for cracks, chips, or the glass rubbing against metal. Some repairmen say frosted glass shatters more often than clear, although there's no safety data on this. If a glass door or even a mirror does break, the safe thing to do is throw a large towel over the shards so you can more safely exit.


over 1 year ago, said...

the tub (mine) has a long horizontal grab rail(anchored into tile wall) plus another smaller grab barvrai(also anchored) as you exit the tub and of course a non slip suction cup mat to stand on and as you said a non slip mat outside the tub and if there is a more frail person use a shower chair with a back


over 1 year ago, said...

Grab bars that clamp on the tub.


about 2 years ago, said...

The specifics were helpful.


over 2 years ago, said...

The info. reinforced my convictions about the improvement which I have already made. Thanks!


over 3 years ago, said...

you don't mention bath mats(the nubby kind inside the bathtub and at least 2 to 3 grab bars one long one two short ones on exiting tub-these really are a great aid short of a walk in shower,we are elated with our setup.


over 3 years ago, said...

I had knee surgery recently and was somewhat weakened by this. I washed the bathtub without properly rinsing out the slick and had a massive slip that rendered weeks of recuperation useless. Back to square one. The bathroom can kill. I know this now More than ever!!


over 3 years ago, said...

The part that was the most helpful was about using frosted lightbulbs and painted walls to help those with balance problems instead of having the walls so white.


over 3 years ago, said...

Great article. All of these points are pretty basic comon sense, but a reminder of these little things that make a big difference can be helpful!


over 3 years ago, said...

To cushion falls on hard wet surfaces: the kind of draining, rubber tiles they have in public pools. They can be useful with tiled showers and hard floors outside the shower or tub, but might not work in tubs. My father-in-law had balance issues and a walk-in tiled shower with a seat and multiple grab bars. The shower was not slippery, but he still fell occasionally. We got raised, draining, interlocking rubbery tiles. I don't know if they are certified to be safer, but they provided a softer landing than our ceramic tiles installed over concrete. Since his seat was equally hard, we put the tiles there also. I don't know if they would work for showering in a bathtub. They will not prevent you from hitting the edges of the tub as you go down. They come in 1 ft squares, which probably won't fit, so you would have to cut some of them and/or combine with edging for the needed size. You need a good fit as the tiles do not have suction cups to prevent movement. Also you might not be able to use them if you want to fill the tub. So if you have a tub, you should discuss this use with the manufacturer before you do this. There are several manufacturers. Google "self-draining floor tiles" Compare surfaces for the best combination of grip, comfort, and cushioning; price including shipping; color, whether they cut to size and edging. The ones we have are interlocking, but we didn't bother with the edging since the assembled tiles made a mat that fit our space well, with two straight edges and two with loops. We put the loops on the far wall and rear and they were not noticeable. You might need the edging or have to cut whole tiles to get the good fit you need to prevent movement. If they save you one trip to the ER they are worth the $3 or 4 per tile cost, cushion better and last a lot longer than a flimsy rubber bath mat, and can and should cover the entire wet space.


over 3 years ago, said...

thanks for the infro i will pass it on to my family members


almost 4 years ago, said...

As a caregiver, this article was helpful by suggesting safer alternatives in the bath for my clients, who are older and need things to assist like grab bars, non-slip tiles/appliques, etc., and brought to my attention things I normally wouldn't be aware of like safety glass for shower doors. Thanks for the good suggestions!


almost 4 years ago, said...

avoiding the towel bar as a support!


almost 4 years ago, said...

To Occasions for Beauty - Grab bars instead of towel bars are a wonderful idea, but, only if they are installed properly, otherwise they are no better than a towel bar. Thank you for the suggestion. To the Anonymous Caregiver who uses a vehicle mat in the bath - Thank you, that is a wonderful suggestion and one I will implement for my 90+ friend. Te reliantrobin - using a towel as a bath mat is DANGEROUS, you need a non-skid bathmat or rug. Sure, the towel may dry quicker, but you won't care once you've fallen.


almost 4 years ago, said...

Just helps to get this important Reminder, to be Very Careful in wet places even outside when it's raining. This is good for young people as well as the older ones. Any body can fall when your feet are wet on a slick surface. Being young doesn't stop a bone from breaking if you fall hard enough, and hard you will when wet. and most of the time if it's not a fatal fall , it is an injury that can effect the quality of your life FOREVER with pain and suffering. Being Extra careful in the bathroom is just the wise thing to do.


almost 4 years ago, said...

Thank you very much! I think I have to change my bathroom.


about 4 years ago, said...

I tend to prefer using an old bath towel as my bath mat. Then I hang it over my laundry hamper to dry and use it again up to five times before washing it. That way I can use it to mop up any outside water and it's always a lot cleaner than any bath mat you'd use. As for number 3, a good solution to that is, if you do have an all-white bathroom, use those LED bulbs instead of regular halogen ones. LED provides dimmer and/or tinted light, so it doesn't cause that disorientation. Plus they last a lot longer than regular bulbs, so you won't have to come over as often to change out the lightbulbs. Regarding number 4, a good solution to that is to raise the temperature on your central heater to a few degrees above what you'd consider to be comfortable. Mom and I do that, adjusting the thermostat to where the indoor temperature is around 80 degrees, then once the house has warmed up, we take our showers. BTW, people with disabilities who rely on wheelchairs around the house, such as my mom, have to have special walk-in showers without a lip or shower door, so some of your advice is moot. OTOH, if you want the shower curtain to really do its job, attach special weights at the bottom of the curtain so it'll stay straight and won't allow as much water to accumulate outside. It works for us.


about 4 years ago, said...

In our part of the world, heating has its zenith from May to September. The keep warm appeal is best done with a dry bath towel; true, avoid other heating, it's a bit of an overdose really. Using baby fluorescent light bulbs, cheaper to use, are widely to be found where possible here. The gentle art of keeping places clean is another, but immediately, necessary chore. Again common sense applied on a very routine basis!


about 4 years ago, said...

be more careful as u get older


over 4 years ago, said...

Sure, the old fashioned advice/instruction:BE CAREFUL ! !. ALL THE TIME! usually works doesn't it? Light indoors; the electricity saving bulbs cut out glare.


over 4 years ago, said...

The best way to avoid these risks, is to clean the floor after each shower.


over 4 years ago, said...

Tempered shower glass is available from Home Depot. Tempered glass if shattered breaks into little balls that are not dangerous like glass shards. This is the kind of glass that is used in glass top outdoor patio tables. It is a little more expensive than the regular kind, but no where near the expense of a trip to the emergency room.


over 4 years ago, said...

Thanks for the great article! It helped me a lot, as I am disabled and live alone.. I have many problems with balance. I DO have a non-slip rug, and grab bars inside my tub/shower. However, I have a fiberglass tub/walls and it does get slippery sometimes. I am going to put down those stickers on my tub. This should keep me safe!


over 4 years ago, said...

These are very important items of information for us older citizens. The bathtub and shower are sources of fear to us. Thank you. We want to be clean and safe.


over 4 years ago, said...

Reminders as to how things we take for granted, can actually be dangerous.


over 4 years ago, said...

the what to do's


over 4 years ago, said...

you don't think of these things. thanks.


over 4 years ago, said...

Lighting is also a concern at times for the eldely or sight impaired people. Learning new ways to get into and out of a shower, like using a grab bar is so helpful. For some it is good to dry off with a towel prior to stepping out of the shower. Or to let the water out of the tub, and to dry off first.