How should I fix this towel bar?
August 5, 2009 7:11 AM   Subscribe

How should I fix this Towel Bar that's coming off the wall in my bathroom?

I think the linked picture pretty much poses the question. Here's another one that's closer up (it could be used as one of those "what is this a way-too-close-up picture of?" puzzles). There's a plastic anchor it's coming out of the wall, I have to carefully hang all my towels on the other side. Eventually I'm sure the whole thing is going to come crashing down in a towel bar disaster! So please help.
posted by Bokononist to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Go to your local (preferably independent) home improvement stores and buy some new anchors. I like the largish drill in type over the small plastic ones you nail in. With the larger ones you can use the current holes, otherwise you'll need to reposition the rack on the wall.

It's a simple procedure, but you need a power drill with some screw bits to do it right.
posted by wfrgms at 7:18 AM on August 5, 2009

wfrgms is exactly right.

The bar is held onto a mounting plate by a set screw in the bottom of each foot of the bar. The set screw is usually a very small metric allen wrench head. You might need to buy a set of allen wrenches or just this size. Sizes vary so you'll need to figure it out.

The mounting plates, in turn are held to your drywall with two screws each which screw into drywall anchors. Again, wfrgms is correct.

There are two main types of these anchors -
type one - you drill a hole in the wall, press the plastic anchor in with a few light hammer blows and then you screw the screw into the plastic anchor. This expands the anchor inside the wall making it's interior end wider than the hole and trapping it.
Over time these will hog out their holes and become loose.

The stronger type are stiffer plastic or sometimes even soft metal. They have a sharp point and wide screw threads on them. You tap the point into the wall and then use a drill or screwdriver to screw it into the wall. A much strong mechanical fit although over time these can also hog out.
Any big box home improvement store or competent hardware store (shop local if you can!) will have these.
With the right allen wrench size, a small hammer and a drill or screwdriver this is a 10 minute fix for under $5.00
posted by BrooksCooper at 7:39 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: Get yourself some molly bolt anchors. You should be able to use the same holes. They look like this and the sides flare out and up against the drywall when you tighten the screws.
posted by pmbuko at 7:41 AM on August 5, 2009

You may be misunderstanding how that thing is mounted. The bar itself is just clipped or hanging loosely onto a mounting plate, and THAT is what's coming out of the wall. In your picture, you're pulling the bar and plate together away from the wall.

Take the bar off completely (and carefully) first, then you'll see how it all goes together. You will want to reattach the mounting plate only (per wfrgms advice) to the wall, and then gently re-seat the bar onto it.
posted by rokusan at 7:58 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: These answers are good, but they do not address the real problem. If a towel bar is used as a grab bar by anyone, it is going to rip off of the wall. If you anchor it using molly bolts, and the person puts enough weight on it, a chunk of the wall is going to come off, as well.

If you can find wood in your wall, the best thing to do is screw the towel bar to that. Tap, tap, tap along the wall, listening for it to go from hollow to solid sounding. That spot is the stud, and is a great spot to anchor one side of the towel bar, using wood screws. Unfortunately, towel bar lengths and stud spacing do not usually match, so you will probably have to use molly bolts for the other end.

Good luck.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 7:58 AM on August 5, 2009

Midnight Skulker is correct; it would be best to screw this into the wall studs if possible. It may help to know that studs are usually placed at 16" intervals inside the wall.
posted by paulg at 8:03 AM on August 5, 2009

Nthing the stud + molly bolt setup. Unless you can get into two studs, that's about as strong as you're going to get.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 8:45 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: You could replace the horizontal bar with something this, which is easy to screw directly into a stud.
posted by chazlarson at 8:52 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: +1 for Midnight Skulker's suggestion. Definitely find wood to screw into.

The molly bolts can work, but you must be very careful with them. With molly's you pound them into the wall, tighten the screw to make the sides flare and anchor against the backside of the drywall, then unscrew the built in screw. Now, you put the screw through what you want to hang and screw it down to the molly.

With your situation, you will run into several issues. First, you already have a failure of the drywall there, so that area is compromised in its structural integrity. Even if you can patch it and put a molly or any other anchor in there, a glob of spackle isn't as strong as continuous drywall. You will most likely quickly tear it back out again. Second, molly bolts can make things worse if you over tighten them to make them grab the backside of the wall. Instead of forming a nice-looking triangle with those flared sides, they'll turn into a claw that digs into the backside and it will eventually pull through or "bubble" where the anchor is due to this. If you go the molly route, I would suggest finding a scrap of drywall to put one through and practice tightening to see how much you should tighten in order to form the flanges correctly. Chances are the home-improvement store you buy your stuff at will give you a small piece of drywall really cheap or free.

My suggestion, and it is a lot more work, is to not anchor this into the drywall. I actually just did this in one of our bathrooms since our kids thought they were qualifying for a Gold Medal in the Olympics on our towel bar and ripped it out of the wall. Like Midnight Skulker said, wood is key to anchor into, but the studs usually aren't placed where you need them to be for the ideal towel bar location.

Go to your home improvement store and get not only some 2.5-3 inch wood screws, but also some wood screws about 1-inch long. You'll only need a four or so of each, so get the smallest packages (you'll have extras in case of mistakes). These should maybe be around $4. Next, buy a piece of solid-pine moulding that you'd use along the floor, doorway, etc - something you think looks nice. You'll need a piece whose face has a flat area at least as tall as your side-supports for your towel bar, and wide enough to be a couple inches wider on each side than your towel bar. You can usually buy the moulding by the foot, and this should only be around $6 for what you need since you'll only need 2-3 feet worth (take your towel bar with you or measure it to compare). You *must* get solid wood moulding - no cheap press-board, no composite/plastic because they aren't strong enough to support load and anchors can pull out. Pine is fine since you will paint it. If you want it stained instead of painted, I'd suggest a better wood moulding, but that will double the price.

Now, center the towel bar on the moulding while it is assembled, and mark where the side-supports land. Remove towel bar, and find out where the anchor-plates should go within your support markings, and mark the hole locations for screwing the plates down. Find your studs one either side of your pulled-out-screw-hole, mark them (tape or pencil). If you don't have a stud finder, you can either knock-and-hope, or drill some pilot holes where you think they are to see if you hit wood - the drill bit will have saw dust come out instead of just white drywall dust. Hold the moulding up on the wall. Try and cover your hole(s) so you don't have to fix. Find the best location of the moulding where you are overlapping two studs with the wood and the towel bar is still in a reasonable location (** see note below). You also don't want your plate-markings to be too close to a stud unless it is centered over the stud. Mark on the moulding the locations of the studs, and put a dot in the center of the moulding in these spots. During all of this you need to stay level, too, so your towel bar is horizontal.

Now, drill four holes through the moulding - two for the screws going into the studs, and one for each anchor plate screw. Screw the moulding to the wall now using the long screws (you can drill a pilot hole to make it easier, make sure the hole is no bigger than the shaft of the screw, not the threads). Now that the moulding is up, screw your plates into the moulding with the short screws. Now attach the side-supports and bar and make sure things look good. Finally you can disassemble, paint/stain the wood, and then put it all back together. This will support things much better and only push the bar out about 3/4 farther than what it currently is.

**Special Notes: You could run into a couple of cases. First, you may only be able to find or fit to a singe stud. This is fine - you'll just use a molly bolt as the second support, but be very careful installing it so you don't claw-it into the drywall. Second, if one of your plate-markings can be centered on the stud, this is great. You'll only put a total of three holes in the wood, and use a long screw to screw down the plate, moulding, and into the stud all at once.

The great thing about this solution is you're spreading out the load a lot better with the moulding, especially if you can fasten it to two studs. It should be very strong, and look reasonable.

=====On Preview=====
That link from Chazlarson is pretty sweet. I'd buy that product in a heartbeat! A lot less work than my above instructions. :-)
posted by JibberJabber at 9:09 AM on August 5, 2009

It looks to me like the person who first installed it only used one screw where there should be two. The upper one would be most structurally important, so it's no wonder the thing is pulling loose. If this is indeed the case, that's good because you will be able to drill a fresh hole for your expanding drywall anchor (molly bolt?).

Be sure to pre drill the hole, using the mounting bracket as a guide to mark the spot. You don't actually even need a drill, just a bit will do. Make a hole a the same diameter as the drywall anchor. Just banging it into the wall is going to fracture the chalk compound and make a weaker mounting point.

Towel racks don't need to be drilled into studs. Expandable drywall anchors will hold for many years and you won't need to reposition the bar and patch the wall.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:53 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: If you are going to reattach it to the drywall (instead of moving it to a place where you could screw into the studs), I would supplement the molly or toggle bolts with Liquid Nails or some similar type of adhesive. I've found that the two together work better than either separately.

The downside, of course, of using adhesive is that if you ever pull really hard on the bar (like if you start to fall and grab it), it will rip a large chunk out of your drywall. However, it will work a lot better under moderate usage; the adhesive will stop the molly bolt or other drywall anchor from being wiggled every time you touch the bar, and slowly working itself loose over time.

I keep a tube of Liquid Nails in an old caulking gun all the time; it's handy stuff.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:38 AM on August 5, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Here's a couple more photos with everything taken apart, that more clearly show the anchor and the hole.

No kids around here, I think the most stress the bar has seen are large wet towels.

I think the other (not-pictured, well-behaved) end is in a stud, and as Midnight Skulker guessed, the stud spacing isn't the same as the bar length. So this end was just in the drywall. The anchor is in just fine shape, it's just got no drywall to hold onto anymore.

Chazlarson's link does look interesting, I could mount that thing completely over the stud and patch the hole.

Looking at the molly bolt anchors I *think* that could work as long as I picked a thick-enough-diameter one, something that wasn't relying on the bits of drywall that are now dust somewhere.

I'll update you all on how this nail-biter turns out!
posted by Bokononist at 12:03 PM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: If you can figure out the spacing of the studs, you might be able to get both ends of a towel bar in the wood. I did this by buying a towel bar that was longer than the spacing, and cutting it with a hacksaw down to the desired length.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 12:20 PM on August 5, 2009

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