A Loose Towel Bar

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Dear NH,
The towel bars and toilet paper holder attached to the ceramic wall tile in my bathroom have come loose. How can I tighten them before they come out of the wall all together?

There are different ways of fastening this type of fixture, depending on the fixture itself and the wall material. You will have to take the towel bars down to see why the failure is occurring. You could have fixtures that are set in plaster, or held on by anchors. If there are mounting screws or a mounting plate visible, then you have an anchor failure. If not, you have plaster failure.

Plaster failure will require you to remove the fixtures from the wall and reset them in plaster of Paris or construction adhesive. As long as you have solid plaster in the wall, you can probably use construction adhesive. Just remove all dust before reglueing and be sure both surfaces are dry. Use as much adhesive as you can without causing it to squeeze out from the back of the fixture. Prop up the fixture to keep it in position until the adhesive dries. Use your imagination… masking tape or a carefully cut board are two possibilities. Whatever you use, put something soft on the floor beneath the ceramic fixture just in case it falls. You will probably never get a match in color or size if this one crashes!

If in your judgement there is not enough backing for adhesive to work, mix up a batch of plaster of Paris (at least a few cups) and slather it thickly onto the wall and the fixture. Press the fixture back into place and wipe off all the excess plaster before it firms up within 5 or so minutes, depending on the temperature. Prop the fixture in place until the plaster sets hard... at least an hour or so. Don't stress it for at least 24 hours.

If the fixtures are held up by anchors, chances are the existing wall anchors are not the right type, and tightening will not be effective. Instead, the anchors have to be upgraded to a sturdier type. If the original anchors are plastic expansion anchors, you can install molly bolts in their place. Molly bolts are metal anchors that expand in the wall as the screw is tightened. The strongest installation would be with toggle bolts. Toggles are spring loaded and open inside the wall. If you are unfamiliar with these anchors, take the bar and/or base plate to the hardware store and ask to see these types of anchors. Hopefully the store personel can give you hands on help.

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