Use and care for step ladders

How To Choose, Use And Care For Step Ladders

What is a Step Ladder?

Most people picture a step ladder in their mind when they hear the word ‘ladder.’ Step ladders interestingly are the most popular of all the different types of ladders you can find out there.

If you want to change a light bulb in your room or clean the outside window of your home, all you have to do is position your step ladder correctly at the right spot and get the job done. Most people prefer to use step ladders for DIY home projects as they can be used anywhere. Simply put, you don’t have to hunt for the right wall so that the ladder can be stable.

The Different Types Of Step Ladders

A step ladder can be used anywhere – indoors, outdoors and even in the middle of the room because it doesn’t have to lean in for support.

Front Step Ladders And Twin Step Ladders

You can either use a front step ladder (designed for single person) or a twin step ladder (this can be used by two people at the same time).

Red ladder

The front step ladder as the name suggests features ladder on one side.

The other side is equipped with support features.

A twin step ladder features climbing ladders on both sides and these ladders act as support to each other.

If you are the only person who would be taking care of the home project, you can use a front step ladder. If the job requires two people to climb the ladder simultaneously, a twin step ladder can be your best bet.

For example, if you have to install a heavy light fixture in your room, the other person can hold the fixture securely as you do the wiring. Similarly if you are painting your room, you can paint your side of the wall, while the other person can take care of the other side.

Platform Step Ladders

A platform step ladder is ideal if you want something that can hold your tools and other materials being used. Platform ladders are available in various heights and you can even find models with a hand rail.

Most platform ladders open up like scissors. There is a step of stairs with a small platform for standing at the top. The good thing about platform ladders is that you don’t need to get off to pick tools and other materials. When looking for a platform ladder, buy one that is fitted with a handrail and has wide threads so that you can stand on the ladder for long periods.

Some platform step ladders are foldable and are quite easy to store when not in use.

Folding Stepping Ladder

These ladders are quite similar to twin step ladders but the only difference is that they can be folded. Like other stepping ladders, folding ladders don’t have to be leaned against a flat surface or walls.

That being said, folding ladders are the most convenient as they can easily folded and stored away when not in use. Because these ladders don’t consume lots of space, you can fit them under your bed or even inside a cabinet.

Step Stools

Step stools are quite similar to step ladders.

However the only difference is that they can be used to reach cupboards and shelves, not high places such as ceilings.

They are much safer to use than things like stack of chairs.

Like step ladders, step stools can also be made from wood or plastic.

Regardless of the size of step stool you choose, make sure it has firm feet to support your weight while you are using it.

Woman on rubbermaid steel frame stool

Step Ladder Design

Step ladders come in various sizes – they can range from 4 feet up to 20 feet in length. Ladders that are shorter than 4 feet are known as step stools.

The highest standing level on a step ladder is slightly more than 2 feet from the top of the ladder. Most models mark the highest standing level on the specification as well as the product label. You should consider your own height as well as the highest standing level of the ladder before buying one for your home project.

Choosing Your Step Ladder

Step ladders are available in various lengths and it is also important to keep your own height in mind. Remember that for safety purposes, you should not stand on the top three rungs of the ladder while working. If you are buying an 8 feet ladder, you need to understand that you won’t be standing eight feet off the ground.

The smallest ladders or stepping stools start out at 3 feet. The average length of step ladders used for home projects is 5 to 9 feet; however you can find models that are as high as 20 feet. Generally step ladder rungs are 10 to 14 inches apart, but most manufacturers prefer to space them at a distance of 12 inches.

The Choice Of Materials

Step ladder can either be made from fiberglass or aluminum. Wooden step ladders are nearly obsolete and have disappeared from the market.

Aluminum Step Ladders

Woman on aluminium step stool

Metal or aluminum step ladders are cheaper, lightweight and durable but they cannot be used when electrical risk is present.

Yes, you should never use a metal step ladder for doing electrical work. Ladders for electrical jobs must have insulated feet.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of aluminum ladders is that they can bend easily if they are knocked to the ground. Because aluminum is a metal, it can corrode easily and the weakened and distorted section is difficult to repair.

Fiberglass Step Ladders

These ladders are not as lightweight as aluminum ladders, but the biggest advantage is that they do not conduct electricity. Unlike metal step ladders, fiberglass models are not affected by moist or corrosive materials and do not rot easily.

Step Ladders And Weight Rating

All ladders including step ladders have a weight rating. This number indicates the maximum load or weight which can be safely placed on the ladder. In addition to the weight rating, you need to look at the hinges and other connections on the ladder before using it for the first time. If the ladder appears wobbly or weak, you should not try to use it.

There are five different categories of step ladder weight ratings.

Category

Maximum load capacity (Pounds)

Type IAA

375

Type IA

300

Type I

250

Type II

225

Type III

200

The weight rating of your specific step ladder can be found on the product label. Regulatory bodies require that the weight rating sticker should be placed on the side of every ladder. The last thing you should assume is that a longer ladder has higher weight capacity. Interestingly, there is no relationship between the length of the ladder and its maximum weight capacity.

What Is The Ideal Length Of A Step Ladder?

Well to answer this question, you need to work out the highest point at which you need to stand to get the job done. As stated earlier, you should leave at least three top rungs and the foot of the ladder has to be at a reasonable distance from the base of the wall. You also need to keep your own height in mind while calculating the ideal length of the ladder.

Can I Rent A Step Ladder?

You can hire or borrow equipment from a friend. However you should inspect the step ladder very carefully before you decide to use it. The other thing you need to check is that there should be no dents and the feet of the ladder should be non-slip and in excellent condition.

Step ladders are multi-purpose ladders and they can be used for indoor and light outdoor home projects. You should choose a ladder that allows you to reach the desired location. There will be a locking mechanism that prevents the two halves of the ladder from sliding apart so make sure it is in place.

Here are some other important things you need to remember before using the ladder:

  • Your ladder should face the work area
  • If you are working outdoors, make sure you are standing on firm, level ground. Remember, if you place the ladder on an uneven surface, it will remain unstable.
  • ​If you find that you have to bend, stretch or reach out while you work, you need to get off the ladder and move it right away.
  • ​If you are the only person working on the ladder, you should keep one hand on the guard rail while both your feet should be firmly placed on the threads.
  • ​Unless it is a twin ladder, you should never let the other person climb up the steps while you’re working
  • It is never advisable to stand on the top platform. If you want to go higher, you should use a platform.

Choosing The Right Step Ladder Checklist

The nature of your project and the environment of your work site is the most critical factor in choosing the right step ladder. As you can guess, your work environment plays an important role when it comes to choosing the best step ladder construction material.

For example, if you will be working near power outlets or other sources of electricity, you should stay away from metal or aluminum step ladders as they are excellent electrical conductors. Remember that your body completes the circuit in case a live wire comes in contact with the metal ladder.

Electric shocks can cause you to fall off the ladder or worse, cause muscle twitching leading to serious injuries. On the other hand, if there are no power sources at your work site, an aluminum ladder is the best choice considering it is affordable and lightweight.

Other important safety considerations include:

  • Is the ladder placed on a level, even surface?
  • Is the work area too crowded? This is especially important if you are working in an area surrounded by people and materials
  • ​Are there any obstructions while climbing the ladder?
  • Have I selected the right length? Remember it is unsafe to use step ladders that are either too long or too short. For example, bending down while standing on the ladder is not recommended as you can lose your balance.
  • Similarly tip toeing or reach out can cause the ladder to tilt or slide which can result in serious injuries.
  • You also need to remember that the top three rungs of the step ladder should not be used for climbing.
Woman on silver ladder

A step ladder is too long if it extends more than three feet above the maximum standing point. Don’t forget to read the safety label to know more about the maximum weight your step ladder can safely carry as well as the highest standing level.

An important thing to understand here is that the maximum weight capacity of the step ladder you choose should exceed your bodyweight plus the weight of your safety clothing, safety equipment, tools and supplies you are carrying as well as the weight of the tools and supplies you have stored at the top of the ladder.

Am I Using The Step Ladder Correctly?

Like any other ladder, a step ladder requires adequate ground support for its feet. If the work site doesn’t have even areas, a stepladder should not be selected for the job. Of course a step ladder can support itself but you cannot use it unless the base is fully opened and the locking mechanisms are in place.

You should never try to use step ladders as single ladders. Likewise don’t stand on the ladder if it is in a partially open position.

If you don’t want the ladder to tilt to the sides or fall over, make sure you are climbing the ladder in such a way that your bodyweight is balanced near the middle of the steps. If you have set up the ladder at a wrong position, don’t try to move it without stepping off. That’s right. You need to descend, move the ladder and then re-climb it to continue with your job.

You should never attempt to climb the ladder from the side or jump to another ladder. Similarly don’t try to run or jog on the ladder or stand higher than the maximum standing level indicated on the safety label. Simply put, you should leave the top three rungs of the step ladder to prevent it from falling over.

Woman on ladder

If you are climbing up or down the ladder, maintain a firm grip and don’t attempt to carry other objects in your hand. Not to forget, you should always face the ladder while climbing up or down.

Note that the braces you find on the backside of a step ladder are not intended for standing or climbing.

However, twin step ladders with special steps on both the front and back side can be used by two people at the same time.

The anti-slip feet of your ladder, i.e. the bottom part should be clean and in good condition before using the ladder. It is recommended that you do not use step ladders on wet, snowy or slippery surfaces unless proper safety measures have been put in place.

Like all other ladders, step ladders must be kept away from the reach of children. Also, step ladders should never be used on other shaky objects such as stack of chairs, boxes or barrels.

Step Ladder Safety Rules

Step ladders are such common tools that most of us take them for granted. Some of you might say what’s so dangerous about step ladders. Well, ladder injuries can turn ugly and you can easily avoid one in the first place if you think before you act and use the ladder correctly.

What’s even better is that your work will become easier and more productive when you follow the safety rules.

Before Using The Ladder

  • You should never use a ladder without inspecting it carefully first. While most manufacturers use quality material for construction, some ladders might deteriorate if not used for a long period of time. You should look for bent, worn out or broken parts.
  • For your safety, you should avoid using ladders that feel wobbly or are damaged. Another important thing to remember is that you should not make temporary repairs.
  • Make sure your ladder has no traces of moisture, oil, grease, paint or other powder material. You should also check your shoes before stepping onto the ladder to avoid slipping and falling.

Climbing The Ladder

  • Use both hands when climbing the step ladder. Your body weight should be centered in between the sides. This will avoid the ladder from swaying.
  • Make sure you face the ladder when climbing up and moving down. This will prevent your body weight from shifting from one side or the other.
  • ​Move or adjust the ladder if you cannot reach the desired object. Don’t bend over or reach out as it can cause the ladder to tilt and fall. Yes, tip toeing is a big no-no.
  • ​Always climb the ladder slowly – the last thing you should do is run or jog on the ladder
  • Never use the ladder while other person is still using it. Most stepping ladders are designed to carry the weight of one person. Twin step ladders however are an exception.

Storage And Maintenance

  • Ideally you should hang step ladders on racks after using them. This helps prevent bending and breaking of the ladder. If you are hanging the ladder, make sure that the ladder base is not touching the ground.
  • All ladders should be kept in a cool, dry place away from the reach of children. It is important that you protect your ladders from direct sunlight especially if they are made from aluminum or plastic. Direct sunlight damages the construction material and your ladder is likely to become weak. What’s worse is that the ladder would no longer be able to carry your body weight.
  • You should clean your step ladder after every use to prevent rusting and buildup.

Taking Proper Care Of Your Step Ladder

A thorough inspection needs to be made every time you the ladder. Take out time to clean the gripping surface – this is especially important if the ladder has been exposed to grease, oil or other sticky materials.

All hinges, connections, bolts, and the condition of the anti-slip feet should be checked prior to use. If you find that the ladder has missing parts or structural damage, it should be repaired if possible or discarded.

Step ladders if exposed to excessive heat, moisture or direct sunlight can have reduced strength.

Storage of step ladder

Similarly ladders when exposed to chemicals such as strong acids and alkali can undergo corrosion which makes them wobbly and brittle. Such ladders need to be removed from service.

You should not store any other material on the ladder while it is not in use. If you are discarding a ladder, make sure it is destroyed completely so that it cannot be used by children or any other person.

Popular Manufacturers

Here are the top manufacturers of step ladders from which you can choose.

Werner Step Ladders

Werner is known to use only the highest grade raw materials to craft step ladders. In addition to traditional ladders, Werner is known to produce a full line of professional step ladders, specialty ladders as well as ladder accessories.

Little Giants Step Ladder

Step ladders manufactured by Little Giants can handle all kinds of projects in your home and office. These ladders feature wide steps along with slip resistant feet for maximum stability. All products feature one year warranty and you can find 2, 3 and 4-step models.

Gorilla Step Ladder

Sturdy and large steps

Gorilla manufactures light-weight, durable step ladders that can take care of your household jobs.

The lightweight, strong and easy to use ladders are versatile and you don’t have to worry about stability again.

Construction materials used by Gorilla include aluminum and heavy duty steel.

Rubbermaid Step Ladder

Rubbermaid® has now become synonymous with innovative, high-quality products. The brand has a wide array of step ladders for all your needs.

Conclusion

Step ladders are versatile and have a variety of uses. When choosing a ladder, there are so many things to think about. To know more about step ladders that can best suit your needs, don’t forget to check out our buying guide.

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