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What Is the Difference Between a Step Stool and a Step Ladder?

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Step stools and step ladders are both very useful pieces of equipment that make it easier and safer to perform several jobs in and around the house. While some of these jobs may be quite similar, the difference between these two devices can be quite distinct. Therefore, it’s important to choose the right tool for your specific needs.

In this article, we'll discuss the differences between the two, how to choose the right one for you, and the best safety options while using them.

Table Of Content

What Is a Step Stool?

Made of plastic, wood, or steel, a step stool consists of one or two steps. They give a lift of about a couple of feet beyond your natural reach but no further. Halfway between a stool and a ladder, they are self-supporting and have a wider platform than step ladders. They’re usually used to access difficult-to-reach spaces or to get in and out of the bed or bathtub safely. When used as a safety and mobility device, such as helping seniors get in and out of bed, it’s important to consider the various options in the market and refer to a guide when choosing one.

Step2bed - step stool for elderly

Pro Tip for You: How to Choose the Best Bed Step Stool for the Elderly

What Is a Step Ladder?

A step ladder is an A-shaped ladder that consists of anywhere between 3-12 steps and helps you reach heights well beyond your natural reach. While some step ladders are made of wood, most are made of aluminum or fiberglass according to safety standards.

Step Ladder

What’s the Difference Between a Step Stool and a Step ladder?

Size and Height:

An easy distinguishing factor is the size between the two. Step ladders are bigger than step stools, and this inevitably makes them heavier too. Given the number of steps and extent of reach they both offer, step ladders are also taller than step stools.


A step stool design may or may not be collapsible when not in use; however, a step stool ladder is. Its classic A-shaped hinged design with a folding locking mechanism allows the fold for easy storage. Another distinguishing factor is the steps of a step ladder. They are wide enough to stand on comfortably, but the landing base of a step stool is much wider and more stable, as most step stools have a rubber matting for a stronger grip. 

Weight Limit:

Due to their size, step stools aren't designed to carry weights exceeding 300-350 lbs. unless they are specially designed for specific purposes. Typically, they are designed for light indoor use and are available in three duty ratings. Step ladders, being bigger, can carry heavier weights, and one can use them at home as well as in commercial and industrial settings.


Step stools and step ladders also differ in the kind of jobs they assist with. Step stools are ideal for that little boost you need in performing everyday tasks around the house. However, different step stools, such as the bed step stools and bathtub step stools, are specifically designed to assist those with mobility issues. The design of step stools for seniors comes with additional safety features to prevent the risk of falls. On the other hand, step ladders help complete jobs that require you to climb 12 feet or higher.

What Are the Best Safety Options While Using a Step Ladder or a Step Stool? 

There are certain precautions you must take while using a step stool ladder or a step stool. To be safe and get the best use out of these devices, we recommend the following tips:

While using a step stool ladder:

  • Always have a person help as a spotter.
  • Place your ladder on a smooth and even surface before getting on it.
  • Never exceed your ladder’s weight capacity. Each ladder has a specific rating and recommendation for specific weight capacity, which is important to note.
  • Make sure your step stool ladder is fully opened and the locking mechanism is fully engaged before ascending it.
  • Never stand or sit on the top step of a step ladder unless it’s specifically designed for that purpose.
  • Carry out routine ladder maintenance by following the cleaning and upkeep guidelines. This maintains the ladder’s integrity and ensures safety at all times.

While using a Step stool:

  • Always face a step stool while getting on or off it.
  • Place your step stool on an even surface.
  • Never place your step stool on wet and slippery surfaces unless it’s specifically designed for that purpose, with additional features of rubber pads and grips.
  • Never place your step stool on another object, such as a box, to add more height.
  • Most step stools for seniors come with anti-slip rubber tips on the feet as well as textured rubber matting and grips. Always ensure that these are present on each foot and have not worn out.
  • Check your step stool regularly for damaged or missing parts and maintain its upkeep.
  • Store your step stool out of the way and in a designated spot to avoid falling hazards.

Which is Right for You?

There are different factors to consider when deciding whether you need a step stool or a step ladder.

If you need an additional boost in reaching places in and around the house, such as kitchen cabinets, lofts, or shelves, then a step stool is ideal. Step stools also serve as assistive devices for young children and seniors. For example, there are specially designed step stools for when you need to potty train a toddler or use a step in the classroom. Step stools for seniors are mobility devices for daily living that help them get in and out of the bed or bathtub. These come with additional safety features.

A step stool ladder is ideal for completing jobs at higher elevations and is also used in commercial and industrial settings such as supermarkets and warehouses. Certain domestic tasks such as cleaning and replacing gutters, trimming trees, or painting a wall also require the help of a step ladder. 

Final Thoughts

When deciding whether to buy a step stool or a step ladder, consider what specific job you'll be using it for, how high you'll need to reach, how much weight you intend to put on it, and your specific environment. Once you're able to determine these factors, you'll be able to make the right choice and get the best out of the equipment you end up purchasing.




1. What Is the Best Step Stool to Buy?

The best step stool to buy is one that suits your specific needs. Consider a step stool with good safety features such as textured rubber matting, rubber grips on the feet, and handrails for sturdy support, if used as an assistive mobility device.


2. How Much Weight Can a Step Stool Hold?

Step stools have different duty ratings:

Light-duty step stools have a capacity of 200 lbs.

Medium-duty step stools have a capacity of 225 lbs.

Heavy-duty step stools have a capacity of 250 lbs.

Extra heavy-duty step stools have a capacity of 300 lbs.


3. How Tall Should a Step Stool Be?

A step stool is generally up to 32 inches tall when measured along the front side rail from the floor to the top of the platform. However, some step stools are height adjustable, so this can vary.


4. What Is the Best Ladder?

The best ladder is one that is designed according to the standard safety guidelines. It should be made of sturdy rust-free material, such as an aluminum alloy or stainless steel. A ladder should also suit your specific needs, so consider what you’ll be using one for to pick the best one.


5. What are step stools used for?

You can use step stools for reaching places that are too high or inaccessible, up to a few feet beyond your natural reach. Other uses for step stools can be;

As assistive mobility devices for seniors to help them get in and out of bed or the bathtub.

As a tool to help toddlers reach inaccessible places, such as the toilet, while getting toilet trained.

As a boost to reach kitchen cabinets or lofts.


6. How do I choose a step stool?

Choose a step stool according to the following factors;

- What you’ll be using it for.

- The nature of your environment

- Whether you need a stool that’s collapsible or portable

- The specific weight capacity you’ll need to support it.

- Whether you’ll be using it for a single purpose or multiple purposes.


Vince Baiera

Vince Baiera is the founder of step2health, a mobility aids and wellness company for older adults. He is a former ICU Nurse of the Cleveland Clinic and Duke University Hospital in the Cardiac ICU. With years of working on the frontlines, Vince noticed the struggles of older adults and people with mobility issues that became an impediment for both patients and their caretakers. He then designed and created the patented product, Step2Bed (and its variants) that helps seniors and those with mobility issues safely get in and out of bed. His philosophy concerning aging is to plan ahead and start with simple home and life modifications to avoid being overwhelmed at retirement.

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