What Is a Bypass Shower Door?

Bypass shower door

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Sometimes homeowners have a name for an item but the home improvement industry has another name for it. Bypass shower doors are a prime example of this naming confusion. While you have seen it and used it countless times, you may have never known that bypass shower door is the name for a very common bathroom item.

What Is a Bypass Shower Door?

Bypass shower door is another name for a sliding shower door that consists of two or sometimes three tempered glass or plastic panels. These panels are set inside two aluminum tracks, one at the top and one at the bottom.

Though water does collect in the bottom track, weep holes allow most of the water to drain back into the bathtub. This bottom track needs to be caulked to prevent water intrusion, though, and the caulking should be checked at least once a year to ensure it's not spilling water onto the bathroom floor or the underlayment. The upper track keeps the shower doors in-line and prevents them from tipping over.

For the literal-minded, the term bypass shower door may appear to make little sense. If a bypass takes you to your destination via an alternative route, what exactly is the bather bypassing with this type of shower door? The term bypass does not refer to the user but to the doors. One door passes by another door. From a quick glance it may not be evident, but with bypass shower doors one door is always in front of the other door. It is only because of this separation that one door can pass by the other door. In fact, bedroom closet doors with this similar arrangement are sometimes called bypass doors, too.

Bypass shower doors' greatest advantage is that they save bathroom space by eliminating the need for a door-swing area. In addition, they are commonly found and are fairly inexpensive, at least with framed doors. On the downside, bypass shower doors' bottom tracks tend to collect water and grime despite the weep holes. Many users dislike bypass shower doors' rattle when the two panels touch each other.

Bypass Shower Door Uses and Types

Bypass shower doors can be installed either on a bathtub/shower unit or on some shower-only units. There is never a need to install a bypass shower door on a bathtub that has no showerhead, since a splash guard is not needed.

Usually, bypass shower doors are framed in metal. This metal framing provides much-needed structural support for thin glass or plastic and helps the doors slide along the track easier. But frameless shower doors made of thicker tempered glass can also be found.

Fun Fact

The most common type of glass used in shower doors is 3/8-inch, or nearly 10-millimeters, thick. However, 1/2-inch, or 12-millimeter, glass is considered an upgrade—though it isn't safer than thinner glass.

Bypass Shower Door vs. Pivot Shower Door

A bypass shower door vastly differs from another common type of shower door: the pivot door. A pivot door is similar to the type of door that you use to enter a room, with one side hinged and the other side that opens. Pivot shower doors are used in shower-only applications. Pivot doors are easy to install and keep clean but they eat up valuable bathroom floor space because door-swing space must be accounted for.

For bathrooms used by young children, a bypass shower door can often be a better choice than a pivot door. Pivot doors that are tightly installed with other bathroom items, namely toilets, can shatter when they are opened quickly and hit those items.

Bypass Shower Doors vs. Pivot Shower Doors
  Bypass Shower Doors Pivot Shower Doors
Defined Sliding framed or unframed tempered glass or plastic panels, usually two, that slide sideways on a track Framed or unframed tempered glass or plastic door that pivots on a side-mounted hinge
Sizing Used on wider openings, typically 60 inches Used on smaller openings, usually in the 30 inch to 31 inch range
Uses Shower and bathtub combination Shower only
Pros Saves space Easy to install
Cons Collects water and grime in track Simple to keep clean
  • Saves the most bathroom space compared to other shower doors

  • Relatively easy to install with no special skills needed

  • Easily available and found in-stock at most home centers

  • Less exacting tolerances than when installing a swinging shower door

  • Towel bars on doors

  • Bottom track collects water and grime, requiring frequent cleaning

  • Thicker frameless shower doors can be difficult to slide because they are heavy

  • The noise of rattling doors may be annoying

  • Sliding movement may become hampered over time

  • The overlap between glass doors makes cleaning more difficult