Replace old towel bars, soap dishes, corner shelves and other ceramic fixtures on ceramic tile walls without breaking the tile or cutting into the walls. Or, if the only problem is the towel bar itself (it’s missing, it’s broken, or it’s just plain ugly), just replace it with a spring-loaded one. Here are the easiest ways to rejuvenate the ceramic fixtures in your bathroom.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
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Remove the old towel bar or soap dish
To replace a towel bar, use an oscillating tool
Jam the blade into a corner about 1 in. deep. Then work it all around the fixture. Shove it in deeper and do a second pass around the fixture, cutting through all the adhesive and caulk.
Removing a broken or outdated surface-mounted towel bar or soap dish is easy. But removing an “inset” fixture (mounted directly to the tile backer board) is a much bigger job that we won’t cover here. To see whether yours is surface mounted or inset, check the fixture edges. If you see grout, it’s most likely an inset mount. However, since someone may have applied caulk around the grout, jam a putty knife into a bottom corner of the fixture and tap it with a small hammer. If you hit grout or the edge of the fixture’s “inset,” stop and recaulk. If the putty knife doesn’t hit anything hard, move on to the next step.
Tape off the tile around the fixture to protect it from scratches. Then fit your oscillating tool with a flexible scraper blade and slide it under the fixture as shown. Once the fixture is off, remove heavy caulk buildup with a single-edge razor blade. Then apply caulk remover (one choice is Motsenbocker’s Lift Off Silicone, Latex Caulk & Foam Sealant Remover available through our affiliation with Amazon.com). Let the remover work for three minutes, then scrape the residue with a plastic putty knife. Apply more remover and scrape until it’s gone. Wipe the tile with a clean rag wetted with the remover, remove the tape and call it done.
Replace a cracked, sagging or ugly towel bar
Ceramic towel-bar anchor posts rarely fail. But the plastic bar can snap, sag, develop cracks, fade or discolor as it ages and is exposed to cleaning chemicals. The original bar is one piece, and since the ends are locked into place, you can’t just slip in a new one. But you can buy spring-loaded replacements that can be cut to length and snapped into place like the bar in a toilet-paper holder. You can find universal towel-bar replacements at home centers or online stores (eclectic-ware.com is one online source).
If the old bar is still in place and just ugly, sagging or discolored, simply cut it off. Then measure the distance between the ceramic posts and the depth of the post depressions. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to determine the cut length. Note: Don’t use the old bar as a template (it didn’t have spring tensioners). Next, cut the bar to length (photo 1): Mark the cut length on the new bar; cut the bar by hand with a hacksaw to prevent chipping; clean up the inside and outside edges with a utility knife before inserting the spring tensioners. Pop the bar into the ceramic posts (photo 2): Insert the new bar into one of the ceramic posts and push until you compress that side’s spring tensioner; depress the other side’s spring tensioner with a flat-blade screwdriver and slide the bar into the other ceramic post.
Tape the fixtures in place
Use caulk as glue
Spread caulk over the back of the fixture, then hold it in place with plenty of tape. Caulk the edges of the fixture after the caulk behind the fixture sets up. If possible, use caulk that matches the grout color.
In the past, ceramic fixtures such as towel bar holders and soap dishes were cemented right to the wall and the tile was fitted around them. Now most are designed to be glued to the face of the tile with 100 percent silicone caulk. The only tricky part is holding them in place until the silicone sets up.
First thoroughly clean the tile with denatured alcohol. Lay a bead of caulk on the back of the fixture, push it into place and secure it with masking tape. Let the caulk stiffen for an hour or so and then add caulk around the perimeter. Use a wet finger or rag to smooth the caulk joint. Let it sit overnight before you pull the tape, then caulk any edges hidden by the tape. Remember to put the rod in before setting the second fixture.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.