How To Choose A Ladder & Step Stool

There is a very good likelihood that at some point, you are going to need to get to an out-of-reach place, and do it safely. Be it getting a jar off a shelf that is just a little too high, or climbing on the roof to clean out your gutters, the only good way to do those elevated tasks is with an assist from a ladder or step stool.

Every home can profit from having a quality, properly-rated step stool on hand. And for outdoor chores, ladders are invaluable. There are many different factors to weigh when selecting if your needs are more to the domestic step stool arena, or a more versatile, ladder-type setup. Let's break them down and help you decide what you will work best..

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What is the difference between a ladder and a step stool?

Essentially, there are four types of height-assisting devices for home use: step stool, step ladder, platform ladder and pole ladder.

  • Step Stool

    Only designed for interior use, the step stool is handy, without being cumbersome. They are designed to be easy to use, but rarely employ hand rails for stability in climbing. Instead they have wider steps that allow the user to climb as if walking up a staircase. They usually only have between one and four steps. They are portable, and fold flat for ease of storage. And the hinged inverted V design improves stability. Depending on the model, they can be rated up to a load of 250lbs.

    If you spend a lot of time at home cleaning, decorating and doing any improvements above your reach, this is the option for you. Great for getting things off high shelves in closets or pantries.

1-Step Plastic Folding Step Stool 200 lb.
2-Step Elegant Manufactured Wooden Step Stool
Three Step Sturdy Steel Stool Step Medium Duty
Retro Small 2 Steps Steel Step Stool
Simple Steel Step Stool 300 lb. Load Capacity
Vintage Elegant 2 Step Wood Step Stool
  • Step Ladder

    Like the step stool, the step ladder has wider steps, and is designed to collapse when not in use. A folding locking mechanism helps its A-frame stability, which is necessary due to the difference in height from a step stool. Step ladders are taller, and work well indoors as well as outdoors. The steps on both sides of the A-frame design are usable. They sometimes come with a tray, near the top, or have a specially designed top step, for keeping needed items available, so a person doesn't have to keep climbing up and down, fetching things one at a time. They are rated to hold up to 300 lbs.

    If you like to paint, install new additions to your home ceiling (like a fan or smoke alarm), or need to replace a lightbulb, this is great for all of these. Also, for outdoors, hanging Christmas lights and picking fruit from higher branches on a tree is only made easier.

Folding 4 Step Aluminum Step Stool
Platform 4.3 ft Aluminum Step Ladder
Aluminum Step Ladder with 300 lb. Load Capacity
Folding 5 ft Wooden Step Ladder
Folding Stable Durable Aluminum Step Ladder
Solid 64 ft Wood Step Ladder
  • Platform ladder

    As opposed to the step ladder, the platform ladder only has usable steps on one side of its A-frame design. The other is typically thin crossmembers to maintain the ladder's stability. A platform ladder folds for easy storage. Near the top, the last usable step is a large, flat bridge between the ladder's two sides, but has the dexterity to handle a person's full weight without being compromised. The platform bridge does not fold, but takes the angle of the ladder's rails when the unit is folded closed. Good for indoor and outdoor usage. A platform ladder rarely has more than 6 steps, and can handle up to 300lbs.

    Any overhead work that requires two hands can be done with ease on a platform ladder. They are a little more cumbersome, but can be utilized just as effectively as a step ladder. Great for framers, duct workers, electricians, and they make cleaning gutters a snap.

Extra Heavy Duty Platform Ladder
Fiberglass Pinnacle Platform Step Ladder
Fiberglass Platform Step Ladder Type Iaa
Aluminum Red Black Aluminum Step Ladder
10ft Aluminum Extra Heavy Duty Platform Ladder
4 Ft Aluminum Platform Step Ladder 375 Lb.
  • Pole Ladder (Extension ladder)

    A pole ladder has a rung that is more cylindrical, typically flattened on the top where a person would put their feet. The step area of the rung is grated for traction and safety. Ladders can be a single piece, or have an additional ladder connected to it, including a locking mechanism, which allows it to telescope to almost double its original height.

    While most pole ladders keep to within 16 feet of total length, an industrial quality extension ladder has the potential to telescope to 60 feet. Both of these types of pole ladders should only be used outdoors. The heaviest duty models can handle up to 375 lbs.

    Used by roofers, tree trimmers and fire fighters, a pole ladder can reach all those extra-high tasks, and have the sturdy design to handle a person, carrying something heavy, without collapsing under the strain. Also great when cleaning those second-story windows from the outside.

Fiberglass Cross Step Ladder Type Ia
8 5 ft Aluminum Extension Ladder Type II
Solid Aluminum Extension Ladder 375lbs
24 Ft Fiberglass Extension Ladder Type Ia
Silver Telescoping 16 ft Aluminum Extension Ladder
Aluminum Extension Ladder with Slip-Resistant Steps

What are ladders and step stools made of?

Many materials can be used to make a ladder or step stool. These are the most common.

  • Wood

    Wood ladders and step stools have a classic look, going back to the days before steel was readily available for this purpose. They aren't common these days for work use, but are more often utilized as a decorative option, a handsome place to display books or family photos. And it does not conduct electricity, as long as it is kept dry.

  • Fiberglass

    A great aspect of fiberglass is it is not an electrical conductor, so it doesn't ground the user, making this the perfect choice for electricians. It is heavier than its aluminum counterpart, but lighter than wood. One drawback though, direct sunlight can deteriorate the fiberglass rails if the factory UV-coating chips away.

  • Aluminum alloy

    These are by far the lightest of all your ladder options. Very sturdy and reliable. They are tremendous conductors of electricity, so do not do electrical work while using these ladders. Even though it is metal, it does not rust. And it has plenty of aftermarket options for part replacements.

  • Steel

    The heaviest, sturdiest, and most reliable. Drawback is steel can rust if left in the elements. This ladder also conducts electricity. Extension ladders are most commonly made out of steel, because of its dexterity.

What are my best safety options while using a ladder or step stool?

In order to remain safe and maximize efficiency, we recommend the following:

  • If at all possible, never use your ladder or step stool while you are alone. Having a spotter can mean the difference between safely completing your task, and having a nasty fall.
  • Know what your ladder is rated for as far as how much weight it can hold. Different sizes and builds are rated with specific guidelines for their maximum load capacity. Never exceed it.
  • Unless it is specifically intended for it, never use the top step on a ladder. Obey the safety guides on all ladders when they indicate which step is not to be used.
  • All ladders should only be used on a level surface. If anything detracts from the ladders stability, the results can lead to serious injury. Even with a spotter, always have the feet of any ladder or step stool on a smooth, even plain.
  • Maintain the ladders integrity with routine maintenance. A compromised ladder can break under your feet without much warning. Read the guidelines of cleaning and upkeep for your ladder or foot stool to avoid an accident due to negligence.