Narrow Wheelchairs for Tight Spaces and Skinny Doorways

Scott Grant ATP
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A wheelchair should fit the person who is using it but what if it doesn’t fit through narrow doorways. This guide shows you how to get a wheelchair that fits and shows you the best wheelchairs for small spaces. The narrowest wheelchair is the Drive Medical Transport Chair but it’s not going to meet everyone’s needs. Keep reading to learn more.

Here are my Top Picks:


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One of the frustrating parts of having a wheelchair is that it can be too wide to move around your own home. Many older houses have small doorways that just won’t fit the wide width of some wheelchairs. The following wheelchairs for tight spaces that might just fit better through small doors and small houses!

I am betting you aren’t very experienced in wheelchair shopping. So, first, I am going to answer some common questions, then show you a list of my recommendations followed by a quick feature guide.

Ready to find the perfect narrow wheelchair for your narrow doorways? Let’s go!

What is the Width of a Regular Wheelchair?

In terms of overall width, wheelchairs can be as small as 22″ wide and as wide as 40″ or more. Common standard wheelchair widths are between 24″ and 28″ in width. But, when you are shopping, you will see two different width numbers: the seat size (seat width) and the overall width.

As you can see from the graphic these are two different measurements.

comparison of wheelchair seat width and overall width

The seat width is the width of the area where the user sits, i.e. between the wheels. This is the number in the product’s title usually. The overall width is the total width including the wheels, hand rims, and armrests. Generally, the overall width of a is usually 6″ to 8″ wider than the seat width. 

Here’s an example: An 16″ Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair has a seat width of 16″ and an overall width of 24″.

Do Wheelchairs Fit Through Standard Doorways?

Yes, most standard wheelchairs will fit through today’s standard doorways which is usually 32″. But what if you have an older home with small doors? Maybe not. If your doorway measurement is less than 28″, your wheelchair may not fit depending on the width of the person and the width of the chair.

How Do You Measure Your Doorways for A Wheelchair?

When measuring a doorway, make sure you are measuring the width of the actual opening. This is what the ADA calls the clear width. You see, when you open a door, you can see the edge of the door. This edge blocks about 1-1/2″ of the opening. So, make sure you measure from the inner edge of the door to the inside of the opposite door trim.

See the graphic below and you’ll see better what I’m describing:

graphic comparing door width with doorway width

Do Wheelchairs Come in Different Sizes?

Yes, wheelchairs come in many different sizes but the common sizes are 26″, 18″, and 20″. Keep in mind, they should fit the patient as well as fit the home. But, that can be delicate balance. A larger person will need a wider wheelchair which many not fit through their doorways. So, they must squeeze into a smaller one or widen their doorways.

What’s the Best Doorway Width for a Wheelchair?

For average sized people, you will need at least a 24″ doorway width for a wheelchair but 26″ or 28″ wide doorways will give you more options. Larger sized people will need wider doorways.

To roughly figure your needed doorway width, measure the hip width of the user (while seated) and add 8″ to your measurement. Compare that to the width of the smallest door in your home.

While the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t apply to private homes, they do offer some doorway width recommendations for access. For doorways, they suggest a width of 32″ with the door open all the way. If you are concerned about hallway widths, the ADA also recommends a hallway width of 36″ – for public buildings at least.

What is the Narrowest Wheelchair?

The narrowest wheelchair is the Drive Medical Lightweight Transport Chair which is only 21″ wide. But, remember that the wheelchair also needs to fit the person.

Also, transport chairs are usually the narrowest wheelchairs for adults. Why is that? Their wheels are smaller and tucked under the seat instead of sticking out the side of the frame. You can see this better in the graphic below.

side by side comparison of a standard wheelchair and a transport wheelchair

How Can I Make My Wheelchair Fit My Home Without Remodeling?

Yes! Here are some tricks I share with my patients to get an extra inch or two out of their existing doorways – no major remodeling required.

1. Remove the Door

I am often in homes where the door has actually been removed from the doorway. The drawback here though is a lack of privacy especially in the bathroom.

2. Remove the Door Trim

The trim and jamb of a door take up about 2″ to 3″ of a doorway’s width. Removing the trim and jamb can increase the overall width of a doorway by this much. Of course, this isn’t going to look great.  You will have exposed 2×4’s and rough wood.  

3. Replace Existing Hinges with Offset Hinges

Stone Harbor Hardware, 3.5 inch Swing Clear Offset Door Hinge

The first two tricks aren’t wonderful options. But they do work. Here is another trick I tell my patients about all the time: offset hinges! Offset hinges work by making the edge of the door move behind the door trim when the door is opened.

Here is a video that demonstrates this better than words:

You can find these at your local home improvement store or Amazon has them too in a wide variety of colors and styles to match your existing home design.

ALSO READ: How to Make a Home More Wheelchair Accessible

Best Narrow Wheelchairs

Now that you know a lot more about how to determine the right width of wheelchair for your needs, here are my favorites based on the overall width and my experience working in the medical equipment industry:

Drive Medical Poly Fly

Seat Width: 16″Overall Width: 22-3/8″
Seat Width: 18″Overall Width: 23-5/8″
Seat Width: 20″Overall Width: 26-1/4″

Like I said earlier, transport chairs are generally narrower than standard manual chairs. But, this one really is the best of both worlds.

Here’s why:

This chair is a combination transport chair and standard wheelchair. It has the usual 4 small wheels of any transport wheelchair. But, it also comes with 24″ wheels with handrims that pop on and off in seconds with a quick release button on the axle!

So, you can have the narrow transport chair (22-3/8″ wide) when you need it AND the user can push it by themselves when you aren’t as concerned about the width (24.5″ wide) by adding on the bigger wheels.

This chair has other great features too. First, it folds up very easily and even the back folds down so you can load it into about any car. Anti-tippers that keep it from tipping over backward are also included. Last, it comes with easy to clean nylon upholstery and swingaway footrests.

The Poly Fly also comes in 16″, 18″ and 20″ seat widths too. The weight limit of this chair caps out at 250 lbs though.


Medline Hybrid Wheelchair

Seat Width: 16″Overall Width: 22-1/2″
Seat Width: 18″Overall Width: 23-3/4″

The Medline Hybrid wheelchair is similar to the Drive Medical Poly Fly above with a few extra features like removable arms and adjustable foot rests. But the biggest difference is that it has a 300 lb weight capacity.

Like the Drive Medical Poly Fly above, this one has two wheel configurations. You can use it as a transport chair with small wheels. It is narrowest in this configuration. Or, you can pop on the larger wheels when you aren’t as concerned with the width. This allows the user to move it by themselves too.

So, if it has a few extra features, why don’t I make it my top recommendation? It does cost a bit more than the Drive model and it isn’t quite as readily available. But, it’s a great choice especially if you need the increased weight capacity.


Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair

Seat Width: 18″Overall Width: 24″
Seat Width: 20″Overall Width: 26″

The Drive Medical Blue Streak is a very affordable wheelchair option while also not being too wide.

This one is a standard manual wheelchair and the user can move it themselves by using the handrims. So, it’s a great option for people who need a small wheelchair that they can propel independently. Plus, the tires are solid rubber and don’t require air.

The arms are detachable on this model and it also has the swing away legrests too. The seat has some cushioning and is pretty comfortable for what it is. The wheel locks push down to lock and they are easy to operate.

I like the powder coated blue frame too. It gives it a different look than the standard black manual wheelchairs you usually see.

Calf straps are included to keep the user’s feet safely on the footrests. The total weight capacity is 250 lbs and the chair itself weighs about 41 lbs.


Medline Lightweight and User-Friendly K4 Wheelchair

Seat Width: 16″Overall Width: 23.5″
Seat Width: 18″ Overall Width: 25.5″
Seat Width: 20″ Overall Width: 27.5″
Seat Width: 22″Overall Width: 29.5″

The Medline K4 Lightweight wheelchair is another well-built model that I recommend. This one comes in more seat width options to fit a wider range of users. Even the wide 22″ version will fit through 30″ doorways.

Another edge this one has over others is that the arms flip back instead of just detaching. This is a slight difference but it can make a big difference in terms of ease of use depending on how the user transfers in and out. This gives the user more independence and control over their comfort because they can move them without having to get help.

The leg rests are also detachable and swing-away, letting you choose what works best for you.

Other than that, the weight capacity is higher than the others (300lb capacity).  This is a great choice for a larger person who really needs that narrow mobility.


Best Narrow Lightweight Transport Chairs

If you are sure that a transport chair is the best choice for your needs, here are the narrowest transport chairs on the market.

Drive Medical Lightweight Transport Wheelchair

Seat Width: 17″Overall Width: 21.5″
Seat Width: 19″ Overall Width: 23.5″

This transport chair is very narrow, coming in at about 21.5” wide overall with a 17″ wide seat. So, it should go through most of those tight doorways unless you have one of the real small 20″ bathroom doors.

It also has cushioned armrests and swing away footrests. The steel frame provides durability and structure, and the seat is made out of nylon upholstery for easy cleaning.

There are a few drawbacks to this model though.

First, the arms are not adjustable and also not removable. So, they can not be taken off for folding or for transfers in and out of the chair.

Also, this is a transport chair so it cannot be propelled by the user so someone must push it for them. But, it’s a good choice if you need the narrowest wheelchair possible just to get a loved one from room to room of their home.


Medline Ultralight Transport Wheelchair

Seat Width: 19″Overall Width: 24.5″

This transport chair from Medline solves two problems in one product: it is both narrow and lightweight! So, it’s a great option for people who need a slimmer chair to navigate tight spaces but also need a light wheelchair that can easily be lifted into the car.

It folds up easily, quickly and in multiple ways to make it extremely easy to transport. First, it folds up vertically like most any wheelchair. Second, the back canes fold down too. Third, the footrests swing back and lock in place – no need to remove them!

All this leaves you with a small package that most anyone can lift and stow in the trunk of the car.

The seat only comes in 19″ with an overall width of 24″ but that should accommodate most people’s needs. It also has a 300 lb weight capacity, a pocket on the back, and even a cupholder.

You even get a choice of colors: Blue, Silver, Red and Black!


Medline Lightweight Transport Wheelchair

Seat Width: 19″Overall Width: 24.5″

Medline also makes this lightweight transport chair for adults that isn’t too wide and made for outdoor use.

The first difference you might notice are those handles on the back of the push handles. Those are actually wheel locks for the caregiver to use to slow or lock the chair completely.

Think about pushing the chair down hill and it starts going faster than you want. Simply apply gentle pressure to the handles to help you keep it in control. It’s the same as the brakes on the best rollators and rolling walkers.

Another feature that makes this a better choice for outdoor use are the larger 12″ wheels on the back. This option gives you a smoother ride on bumpy terrain like sidewalks and gravel driveways.

It is the same width as the ultralight model above but the added features make it a bit heavier (23.5lb). It folds in much the same way too except that you’ll have to take the footrests off during transport.


Best Electric Wheelchair for Tight Spaces

For those of you who need an electric narrow wheelchair for your narrow doorways, here are my top recommendations. (Note: Small, portable wheelchairs like these aren’t usually covered by insurance.)

Golden Technologies Envy Powered-Wheelchair GP162

Seat Width: 17″Overall Width: 22.5″

If you are looking for the narrowest power chair that is also portable, then you’ve found it. The Golden Technologies LiteRider Envy is ultra-narrow at only 22.5″ and ultra-lightweight too with the heaviest piece being 37 lbs.

If you aren’t familiar with this style of power wheelchair, it’s called a transportable power chair and is a hybrid of a power chair and a scooter. It drives with a joystick like a power wheelchair but disassembles into multiple piece like a scooter for transportation.

This chair is highly maneuverable in a home because of it’s narrow with and also because of it’s turning radius. The chair only requires 28.5″ of space to make a complete revolution.

As far as power specs go, it uses 2 22AH batteries, has a top speed of 3.5 mph, and a range of up to 15.5 miles between charges. It has a large footplate too and comes in multiple color choices. You won’t be burning up the roads with it but it should go over where you need it to at home – even through those tight doorways.

Here is a video from the manufacturer with a few more details:


Porto Mobility Ranger D09S Electric Wheelchair

Seat Width: 19″Overall Width: 24″

This lightweight and foldable power wheelchair also meets the needs of wheelchair users who live in small places with an overall width of only 24″

Plus, it is highly portable because it folds up in one piece and only weighs 52 lbs – even with the batteries. It’s a great choice if you need a narrow power mobility device at home but also need a caregiver friendly power chair that you can take on the go.

This one has a top speed of 5 mph, a travel distance up to 16 miles, and a ground clearance of 3.7″ so it is well suited for outdoor use too. It uses 2 Super Lithium-Ion batteries that are included.

Check out this video to see it in action:


Forcemech Voyager R2 Portable Power Wheelchair

Seat Width: 17″Overall Width: 23″

The Forcemech Voyager R2 comes in at just 23″ wide and only 43 lbs without the batteries. But the batteries only weigh 2 lbs each! So, this model too will easily go where you need it to go.

The turning radius is a bit higher on this one – it needs 32″ of space to do a complete turn. So, if you have a really tight quarters it’s not quite as maneuverable. But it does have 3.5″ of ground clearance so it’s going to do well outside off the beaten path.

The top speed is 4 mph with a max travel distance of 16 miles. It also uses 2 Super Lithium Ion batteries. Finally, it folds up in seconds for transport.


A Quick Wheelchair Feature Lesson

Confused by all that wheelchair jargon and terminology? Here is a down and dirty basic wheelchair feature guide for you.

Locking wheels/brakes

This safety feature is incredibly important and most wheelchairs come with it already. The wheels locks of your wheelchair should be easy to use and apply to prevent rolling away on any uneven surface. These should also be easily accessible to the person in the wheelchair or the person pushing them. The most common wheelchair wheel lock is a handle near the wheel that pushes down to lock the wheelchair in place.

Seatbelt

This is a less common safety feature but can still be useful for people in wheelchairs to add peace of mind. A seat belt will keep them securely in place no matter what the condition, giving them added stability and security in their wheelchair. Surprisingly, many wheelchairs do not come with seat belts so you may have to order it as an accessory.

Padded Seat, Backrest and Armrests

People in wheelchairs will spend most of the day in one, so it had better be comfortable, right? Ensure that you’ll be as comfortable as possible with padding on all areas of the wheelchair that your body will be touching, namely the seat, backrest, and armrests. Some leg rests even have padding as an added bonus.

Swing-Away Armrests and Legrests

Along those lines, swing-away arms and leg rests will give you added versatility and a sense of control and independence as well. Adjustable arms are useful for eating, adjusting for different comfort levels and for navigating through tight spaces. Sometimes, you might even have to remove the arms to get though a really narrow door.

woman opening a narrow bathroom door
Bathroom doors are often the narrowest doorway in most homes and can be a nightmare for some wheelchair users.

Summary

Ultimately, it will come down to you to decide what would work best for you and your lifestyle.

To find out how narrow your wheelchair has to be, measure the door openings of your home – with the door open! As long as the narrowest door is 22″ or more, you will be a-ok with any of these chairs.

As a general rule, transport chairs are usually the narrowest wheelchairs.

Doorways less than 22″ are going to be tough. I haven’t been able to find any wheelchairs smaller than 22″ wide that would fit an adult. As a matter of fact, it is hard to find walkers that small except for Lumex who has a rollator that is only 20″ wide.

Do you have any tips on how to navigate narrow doorways in a wheelchair? Have you seen a wheelchair small enough for really narrow doors? Please share below!

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