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Safety gates

Safety gate buying guide

Last updated: November 2012
Getting started

Getting started

Once your baby starts crawling, strategically placed gates can make your life a little easier--and your child a lot safer by keeping him away from potential dangers, such as stairs. You can also use a gate to keep your child and pet separated.

Child safety gates are intended for children between 6 months and 2 years of age. Once a child learns how to open a gate, or can climb over it, it should no longer be relied upon as a safety device.

Gates we have tested have various designs to prevent children from opening them while allowing them to be opened and closed by adults. But we don't have Ratings for safety gates that are currently available.

There are two basic types of gates:

  • Hardware-mounted gates are bolted to framing inside the walls of your home. They're appropriate where there's a chance of your child falling, such as the top of a stairway, whether indoors or out.
  • Pressure-mounted gates simply press on opposing walls. They should be used only where falling isn't a hazard, such as between two rooms or to discourage your little explorer from climbing up stairs. Pressure-mounted gates are not secure enough to use at the top of stairs, so never use them that way, no matter how much you want to avoid drilling holes into your walls. Avoid accordion-style gates without a top filler bar and gates with horizontal slats or tempting footholds.

Whether you choose a hardware- or pressure-mounted safety gate, look for one that's certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. A sticker from the JPMA on the frame or packaging indicates that the manufacturer claims to have met international voluntary safety standards for the gate. The standards address a variety of safety and performance issues, including the strength of the components, the size of the openings (to prevent finger or toe entrapment), and the integrity of the latch. It specifies that the gate should be no less than 22 inches tall, and that the distance between the bottom of the gate and the floor should be less than 3 inches, so that a small torso can't pass through and there's minimal risk of a head or neck getting stuck.

The following brands of gates bear the JPMA seal: Cardinal Gates, Dorel Juvenile Group (Safety 1st), Evenflo, GMI, KidCo, Lascal/Regal Lager, Munchkin, Inc., North States Industries, Regalo International, Retract-A-Gate/ Creative Frontier, Summer Infant Products, Tee-Zed Products (Dream Baby), and TOMY International (formerly RC2/Learning Curve). About half of all injuries associated with safety gates involve adults who trip or fall when trying to step or jump over one. Pressure-mounted gates also have a threshold at the bottom that poses a tripping hazard. Make sure any gate you buy is easy for you to open so you won't be tempted to climb over it.

You can find gates like the North States Supergate Classic for about $15, an EvenFlo Position & Lock Wood Safety Gate for about $20, and a Munchkin Loft Dark Wood Infant Safety Gate for about $100.

Recommendations

Choose a gate with a straight top edge and closely spaced, rigid, vertical slats or a fine mesh screen. If you choose a model with mesh panels, look for a fine weave, because wider holes could provide a foothold for climbing or trap fingers. Follow the safety recommendations in the owner's manual for installing and using gates.

Finally, no gate is a substitute for careful supervision of your baby or toddler. Never leave your child unattended.

Use safety gates for protection away from home

A portable pressure-mounted gate or two is an easy way to make a hotel room or a relative's home safer for your young child. When traveling with a baby or toddler and visiting friends or relatives, install a pressure-mounted gate at the bottom of stairs--never at the top--and use one to block access to rooms you consider unsafe, like a living room with a fireplace or a kitchen when people are busy cooking. Also use gates to block off bathrooms, since toddlers have been known to defeat childproofing devices on cabinets, drawers, and even toilets.

Types

It's crucial to get the right type of safety gate for each location in your home. Those used at the top of stairs, both indoors and out, should be installed with hardware. You can use pressure-mounted gates at the bottom of stairs and between rooms.

Prices range from about $13 for a basic wood pressure-mounted gate that extends to a maximum of 41 inches to around $135 for a top-of-the-line wall-mounted gate with three 24-inch interlocking adjustable sections.

Hardware-mounted


Properly installed hardware-mounted gates are the most secure type of safety gate, although no gate is guaranteed to be childproof. This type of gate--often made of wood, enamel-coated steel, or aluminum tubing--is installed by screwing brackets into either a door frame or framing behind the walls. It should not be screwed into drywall or plaster alone. (You can fill in the holes with wood putty or wall-patching compound when you no longer use the gate.) Some of these gates can be removed from the mounting hardware when you want to open a passageway. And some models, such as the Regalo Easy Step Walk-Thru Gate shown here (about $30), can be used as either a hardware- or pressure-mounted gate.

Where you'll need it

Hardware-mounted gates are the only choice for the top of stairs. For safety, install the gate so that it swings toward the landing, not out over the stairs.

Pressure-mounted


Like its name suggests, a pressure-mounted gate is held in an opening by pressure against the door frame or walls. This eliminates the need to drill holes for hardware, although the pressure can still leave marks. Some of these gates, like the Learning Curve Single Set Pressure Safety Gate, about $30, shown here, have two sliding panels that adjust to make it fit the opening (you remove the panels or slide them to the side to walk through), and a pressure bar or some other locking mechanism wedges the gate into place. A swing-style gate, like the Regalo Easy Open Super Wide Walk Thru Gate, about $30, is another option. Pressure-mounted gates are often made of wood, enamel-coated steel, or aluminum tubing. They can also be made of plastic, wire, nylon mesh, or plastic-coated wire, which might be framed with end tubes and top rails of either wood or coated metal. A few, like the First Years Everywhere Gate, about $40, or the Supergate Clear Choice Pressure Gate, about $20, have transparent panels made of plastic.

Basic pressure gates fit openings between 26 and 38 inches, give or take a few inches depending on the model. But some manufacturers offer wider models--as much as 62 inches. Some narrower models have optional extensions or extension kits you can purchase separately. One gate we found, the Summer Infant Sure & Secure Custom Fit Gate, about $100, can expand to fit openings as wide as 12 feet.

Where you'll need it

Pressure-mounted gates are suitable for use where falling isn't a hazard, such as between two rooms or at the bottom of stairs to keep a baby from climbing up.

Features


Gate safety depends on solid construction, reliable hardware, and the absence of entrapment hazards. Here are some specifics to consider.

Height


To discourage an adventurous child from climbing over a gate, the one you buy should be at least three-quarters of your child's height. (Gates must be at least 22 inches high.) If he's tall for his age, go with a higher gate. Some are as high as 39 inches, like the Dream Baby Extra-Tall Walk-Thru Baby Safety Gate by Tee Zed, for about $80, shown here. Generally, though, when a child is taller than 36 inches or heavier than 30 pounds (usually at about 2 years of age), a typical safety gate should no longer be relied on to constrain him.

Sturdy construction

Look for sturdy construction and an even finish. Wood surfaces should be smooth, splinter-free, and with rounded rather than squared edges. Metal might be more durable than wood. Some gates have a support bar that crosses the floor beneath the gate, which could cause tripping when the gate is open. Also look for a label from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which certifies that the gate meets certain safety standards. And check for a permanent label with the name and address of the manufacturer, distributor, or seller so you have a place to contact if the product. There should also be a clear warning statement label.

Slat spacing

Safety gate slats should be vertical slats or bars less than 3 inches apart to prevent head entrapment. But that could still be enough space to let an adventurous toddler get a foothold on the gate's horizontal bottom rail in an attempt to climb over the gate or go for a ride on the swing-out door. This could lead to injury and could also dislodge and/or damage the gate.

Latches and hardware


Many gates, such as the First Years Slimline Gate (pictured), about $60, have a dual-action latch, meaning that you have to push down on it to release it. This can be done with one hand. Try different types of latches in a store to make sure they're easy for you--but not your child--to use. A gate with a squeezing mechanism opens by compressing parts of the gate, but this type of latch can be difficult to use, so be sure to test it in a store. Another option is a pressure-release handle, which can be lifted with one hand to open the gate. Some models, such as the First Years Hands-Free Gate, about $50, have a foot pedal to release the latch.

Latch indicators


Many gates click to signal that they're latched. Others, like the Safety First Perfect Fit Gate, about $45, have a color indicator showing when the gate is latched. The Safety First Alarm Security Gate shown here, about $65, goes a step further by sounding an alarm if the gate is left open (adults can deactivate it). But it's always a good idea to make sure any gate is latched after you close it. An alarm or other indicator is a nice feature, but nothing replaces checking with your eyes and hands.

Installation flexibility


Many gates can be mounted to odd areas, such as stair balusters, angled banisters, and drywall where there is no wood framing behind it. But you might have to purchase an installation kit for these areas. Kidco, for example makes a $32 kit that allows you to clamp a gate onto newel posts without drilling. The company also has another newel-attachment kit for about $13 that does require drilling. And it has a kit for use at the bottom of stairs that attaches a pressure-mounted gate to a baluster (which the company calls a "spindle.") Some gates also adjust to fit irregularly shaped areas or very wide ones. You can slide some hardware-mounted gates out of their wall mountings, which is a bonus when, say, you're entertaining and don't want the gate in the way.

Brands


Cardinal Gate

Since 1993, the company has expanded from the original Hearth Guard to a full line of gates for children and pets. The company produces the only aluminum gates on the market, which are light-weight and able to weather the elements for exterior use. Many of the gates are constructed entirely of metal—no plastic parts—for additional strength and durability. Cardinal designs its products and owns a variety of patents on its gates and safety pad.
www.cardinalgates.com

Dream Baby

Tee-Zed Products has been marketing children's products since 1983, and Dream Baby is an internationally recognized brand, available in more than 70 countries, and makes a large range of child safety accessories, teethers, toys, health & hygiene items, safety gates, potties, and bath seats.
www.tee-zed.com.au
www.dreambaby.com.au

Evenflo

For more than 85 years, Evenflo has been making products for children from birth to preschool age, including car seats, strollers, high chairs, play yards, and activity products, along with baby care products. Available at most retailers and online.
www.evenflo.com

Gateway Manufacturing, Inc.

Founded in Kentucky in 1994, the company is known for its expansion gates, mesh gates, and PetShield travel barriers. Available wherever juvenile and pet products are sold.
www.gmigates.com

Kidco

Incorporated in 1992, the company makes a comprehensive assortment of child home safety products. Available at Bed Bath & Beyond, Babies "R" Us, and other juvenile product retailers, and online.
www.kidco.com

Lascal

Regal Lager is a family-owned distributor of baby and children's products situated in the suburbs of Atlanta. The Lascal side of the company makes KiddyGuard Avant mesh child safety gates. Visit the company website for purchasing information.
www.regallager.com

Munchkin

Founded in 1991 by Steven B. Dunn, the company makes a line of safety gates that “meet or exceed rigorous safety standards.” Along with safety gates, the company makes bath toys, cleaning/drying racks for nursery feeding accessories, sippy cups and other feeding accessories, travel accessories, and more. Available at CVS, Rite Aid, and wherever juvenile products are sold.
www.munchkin.com

North States Industries

In business for more than 50 years, the company is a supplier to many large, specialty, international, and online retailers. The company offers versatile and economical baby gates, child play yards, and enclosures. Visit the company website for retailers near you.
www.northstatesind.com

Regalo

This Minnesota-based company manufactures bed rails, safety gates, portable toddler beds, and booster seats and chairs at midlevel prices. Available wherever juvenile products are sold.
www.regalo-baby.com

Retract-A-Gate

This Iowa company focuses exclusively on innovative retractable safety gates for home or business. Available through the company website.
www.retract-a-gate.com

Safety 1st

A division of Dorel Juvenile Products, Safety 1st entered the juvenile market in 1984 with its now classic and internationally recognized "Baby on Board" sign.  Fueled by the immediate success of the sign, the company claimed a market niche in child safety and became the first brand to develop a comprehensive line of "childproofing" products. Available everywhere juvenile products are sold, and online.
www.safety1st.com

Summer Infant

The founder of this company invented the baby bouncer seat for his new daughter in 1985. Since then the company has been making baby care products such as bathtubs, nursery products, health and grooming kits, travel gear, and more. Available everywhere juvenile products are sold, and online.
www.summerinfant.com

The First Years

A division of TOMY International (formerly RC2/Learning Curve)—a designer, producer, and marketer of toys, collectibles, and infant and toddler products—The First Years offers children’s products for feeding, playing, traveling, sleeping, health, and safety. Available wherever juvenile products are sold.
www.thefirstyears.com

Shopping tips

Decide where you'll use it

A hardware-mounted gate is harder to dislodge than a pressure-mounted one. That's why it's the only safe choice anywhere there's a falling hazard, such as the top of a stairway. For less-dangerous areas, such as between rooms, a portable pressure-mounted gate might do the trick.

Size up the slats

Safety gate slats should be less than 3 inches apart to prevent head entrapment, or even closer to avoid letting feet or hands slip through.

Check construction

Look for sturdy construction and an even finish. Wood surfaces should be smooth, splinter-free, and fashioned with rounded rather than squared edges. Look for a gate with JPMA certification.

Do your homework

Bring width measurements of doors or openings to the store. And try to avoid gates that will need to be at their maximum width to fit, because they might not provide enough security for an ambitious toddler.

Try before you buy

If possible, test models in the store to make sure that they're easy for you to use. Once you choose a gate, don't forget to show visitors and or baby sitters how it works. Warn them to resist the temptation to climb over the gate rather than open it.

What not to buy: Old-fashioned accordion-style gates without a horizontal filler bar at the top

The gates with diamond-shaped spaces between the slats and V-shaped openings at the top pose safety hazards. Newer gates with a similar look have a horizontal rail or filler bar across the top to make the gates safe. You might run across gates with the open V-shape in a secondhand store or flea market, or perhaps someone will offer one to you. But we don't recommend them, even those that meet current ASTM standards.

   

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