Installing a new towel bar doesn't require a professional contractor, but it does require a sturdy, secure installation so the bar's mounts don't pull away from the wall when you're trying to use it. Installing one end of the towel bar's mounting hardware on a stud is a great choice, but chances are that the other end won't line up with a stud, so you'll need to anchor it to the drywall with heavy-duty wall anchors, like toggle bolts. Toggle bolts keep a steady grip on the towel bar hardware and won't pull through the wall under force. They also come in handy for repairing a towel bar that's loose or that has partially pulled away from the wall.
Choosing Ideal Towel Bar Placement
Once you've picked out a general area for the towel bar, it's time to find the nearest stud. If you have a stud finder, turn it on and move it over the wall in the project area. Depending on the model, the device may beep, light up or do both when it locates a stud; check the product's instruction pamphlet for specifics.
If you don't have a stud finder, look for finish nails in the baseboards. These usually go into studs and should be about 16 inches apart, as the most common stud placement is 16 inches from center to center for interior walls. The studs will be along the same vertical lines above the nails; you can test by hammering a finish nail into the drywall slightly above the baseboards to ensure you hit wood. Outlet boxes are also usually attached to the side of a stud, so you'll find the stud on one side or another of a nearby outlet or light-switch box.
Once you've located a suitable placement for one end of the towel bar, it's time to settle on a height. Though ideal height is subjective depending on the reach of household members who are using the towel bar, Greydock recommends placing the bar somewhere between 42 and 48 inches high. A high towel bar is also a good idea if the bath towels are oversized or if you hang beach towels from the bar. Use a pencil to mark a good spot for one end of the mounting hardware for the towel bar.
Installing the Towel Bar
Most towel bars come with a template that makes positioning the mounting hardware much easier. The template may be a sheet of paper, or it may be the back of the box. In either case, cut it out along the lines indicated in the illustration.
- Hold the template up on the wall in the desired location. Set the template so the spot marked for one of the mounting plates covers the mark you previously made on the wall over a stud or other suitable location.
- Set a level along the template's towel bar line, adjusting the template as necessary until you are certain it is level. Then, tape the template to the wall with painters' tape.
- Drill small pilot holes over the spots noted on the template as screw holes for the two mounting plates. Remove the template and tape from the wall.
- Position the first mounting plate so its holes line up with the pilot holes. If this is positioned over a stud, attach the mounting plate with the screws provided with the towel bar. If you are using a toggle bolt, push the bolt through the center hole on the mounting plate and thread on the toggle wings. Drill a pilot hole in the wall that is large enough for the toggle wings to fit through when closed. Squeeze the wings closed and push the wings and bolt end through the hole in the wall until the wings snap open behind the drywall.
- Tighten the toggle bolt with a screwdriver until the mounting plate is held firmly against the wall. If desired, install standard plastic wall anchors (which often come with new towel bars) in the other two mounting holes. Add the two remaining screws in the mounting plate.
- Install the second mounting plate using the same techniques.
- Locate the appropriate bar bracket, or end piece, for the towel bar, being sure you grab the left one if it goes on the left side of the towel bar. Loosen the setscrew in the bottom of the bracket a little and then position the bracket over its mounting plate. Tighten the setscrew using an Allen wrench or screwdriver depending on the design. The setscrew is usually located on the bottom of the bracket.
- Place one end of the towel bar into the bracket mounted on the wall.
- Loosen the setscrew on the second towel bar bracket/end piece and then fit the bracket onto the loose end of the towel bar.
- Position the bracket over its mounting plate and tighten the setscrew.
Repairing a Towel Bar
Over time, the hardware holding a towel bar in place may come loose, especially if flimsy anchors were used when it was originally installed. Simply replacing a screw in a loose anchor or in a widened screw hole won't do the trick. Plastic wall anchors, such as the type included with some towel bars, also won't hold up over time, especially if you're hanging heavy or wet towels to dry. Instead, reinstall the towel bar with toggle bolts after widening the existing screw holes in the wall. If one of the towel bar brackets remains securely fastened to a stud, you can leave that bracket in place.
- Remove the towel bar by loosening the setscrew beneath each bracket with an Allen wrench (or screwdriver depending on the design).
- Remove the bracket that is loose. Remove both if both are loose and require repairs.
- Place one toggle bolt through each mounting plate hole that originally had a screw in it. This requires two toggle bolts per mounting plate.
- Thread a pair of toggle wings onto each bolt.
- Enlarge the old screw holes in the wall with a drill bit sized for the toggle wings. The holes should be large enough to push the wings through when they are closed.
- Reattach the mounting plate(s) to the wall. Squeeze the toggle wings together and push them through the hole for each bolt until the wings snap open behind the drywall.
- Tighten the toggle bolts with a screwdriver until the mounting plate is held securely against the wall. The plate should be in its original position.
- Reattach one of the bar brackets or end pieces to its mounting plate, tightening the small setscrew on its bottom end. (Skip this if one bracket is still secure on the wall.)
- Push one end of the towel bar into the installed bracket/end piece.
- Fit the other bracket over the end of the towel bar.
- Position the loose bracket in its proper location atop the mounting plate on the wall. Secure it in place by tightening the bottom setscrew with an Allen wrench or small screwdriver.
- This Old House: Installing a Towel Bar
- Pretty Handy Girl: How to Install a Towel Bar Securely
- Bob Vila: 3 Ways to Find a Wall Stud (Without Fancy Equipment)
- Today's Homeowner: Repairing a Bathroom Towel Bar
- Greydock: Guidelines for Mounting New Bathroom Hardware
- Westlake Ace Hardware: What is the Best Way to Find a Stud in the Wall? How Far Apart Are They?
Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.