Magnetic Towel Bar

11 May

For renters, simple projects like “hanging a picture” or “installing a towel bar” have to be weighed against the potential wrath of that villain in the shadows, The Landlord. In my opinion, a two-bedroom apartment needs to have two towel bars in the bathroom, but I had to ask myself: “Is it worth putting holes in the wall if I’ll have to repair them to get my security deposit back?”

“Yes,” I decided (particularly since there are plenty of holes for picture hangers that I’ll need to fix anyway), but there wasn’t even a good place to mount the bar without drilling through tile or metal. That’s when I came up with my renter-friendly towel bar, held to the radiator cover by nothing but Altoids tins and magnets. As a bonus, my towel dries much faster hanging in front of the radiator.

Altoids tins with hard-drive magnets make great refrigerator magnets, too — they’ll hold up all kinds of heavy material that would otherwise get dropped, but they’re easy to grab and pull off, too. I was lucky enough to have a big metal panel in the bathroom right below the existing rod; your bathroom may not be the same, but this technique could be adapted in all kinds of situations for all kinds of hardware.


  • Towel rod with mounting brackets: Home Depot’s cheapest towel bar is less than $10 and includes a pair of brackets and a rod, which you can cut to length with a hacksaw.
  • Nuts, bolts, and washers: You’ll need bolts that fit the holes in the mounting brackets and matching washers and nuts to secure them (the brackets come with screws under the assumption that you’re mounting this on a wall). Mine came from the dollar store.
  • 2 Altoids tins: The classic tins look good; you could use different tins or paint them if you wanted a particular look.
  • As many powerful magnets as you can find: The best magnets come from disassembling old hard drives; I supplemented my hard-drive magnets with smaller ones as needed. I recommend at least two hard-drive magnets per tin — the more, the better. You could also buy your magnets, perhaps from SuperMagnetMan.


  1. Mount the brackets on the Altoids tins. Decide which way you want your tins to face, drill the appropriate holes, and secure the brackets on the tins with the bolts and nuts.
  2. Stack magnets inside the tins. You will likely need multiple hard drive magnets per tin to make the hold strong enough to keep the bar from sliding down the wall under the weight of a wet towel. You can stack matching magnets together to combine their powers.
  3. Assemble bar. I wrapped a bit of tape around each end of the bar before sliding it into the brackets, ensuring that the bar will not slide out easily. I also added a wide piece of tape to the underside of the Altoids tins to make them easier to remove from the metal plate (the combined effects of the magnets made the grip so strong that it could have pulled the paint off of the radiator).
  4. Stick bar on metal surface. Test it with a towel to make sure the bar will hold weight. It’s possible for the tins to open if you yank on the bar in a certain way, so you may want to glue the tins shut once you’re sure there are enough magnets in there.
  5. Admire handiwork. In the right setting, Altoids tins count as a decorative feature. Most people won’t even notice the tins when you have a towel on the bar; those that do notice will likely ask about it, giving you a chance to show off your magnetic mastery. You can remove or reposition the entire bar whenever you like.


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