Baby gates provide a convenient way to block off unsafe areas
Childproofing is an important task, especially once babies grow strong enough to start scooting, crawling or walking around the house. Unfortunately, parents can only childproof so much, and some areas, such as stairs, will always remain a no-go for little ones. That makes baby gates, which can keep small children out of potentially risky areas, a must-have item. Like baby monitors and portable cribs, which we cover in separate reports, baby gates are designed both to keep children safe and make parents' lives a little bit easier.
Most baby gates don't require drilling holes
Many baby gates provide a stable barrier without requiring parents to drill holes in walls or doorways. This is undeniably convenient, especially for renters who want to minimize damage to someone else's property. These pressure-mounted gates are easy to install and are typically strong enough for use in most low-risk situations. However, they're not recommended for use at the top of stairs because they are not as stable as hardware-mounted gates. Also, even though you don't have to drill holes, even pressure-mounted gates can pull paint off walls when removed or tightened, and they may damage drywall.
Baby gates for stairs add more stability, security
The major difference between normal baby gates and baby gates for stairs is that the latter are hardware-mounted instead of pressure-mounted. Hardware-mounted gates are attached directly into a wall or banister using bolts, screws or other hardware. That lessens the risk that children will push over the gate and tumble down the stairs. Baby gates for stairs may also open in only one direction and feature wider openings without any bars to step over, minimizing the risk that parents or children will trip. While these gates do require permanent mounts, many of the gates can be removed from the wall mounts when not in use.
Remember to check for baby-gate recalls
While it's tempting to accept hand-me-down baby gear from friends or relatives, or to pick up an inexpensive baby gate at a garage sale, remember that baby gates take a lot of abuse in most homes. Gates may not appear damaged until they break. Like all baby products, gates have been subject to many safety recalls. Most recently, Ikea recalled 80,000 of its Patrull safety gates in July 2016 because of a faulty lock. Always check for recalls at the Consumer Product Safety Commission website.
How we chose the best baby gates
There are scattered expert reviews and roundups of baby gates that helped narrow a relatively wide field. Those included recommendations from the book "Baby Bargains," LuciesList.com, and BabyCenter.com. However, owner feedback proved much more useful in this category, as parents can better attest to how baby gates hold up to long-term use and abuse. The largest and most detailed collection of baby gate reviews is at Amazon.com, but retailers including BabiesRUs.com, Target.com and Walmart.com also have a wide-ranging collection of opinions.
The best baby gates
The Summer Infant Multi-Use Decorative Extra Tall Walk-Through Gate (Est. $65) is a parent favorite for several reasons. With a bronze or beige finish and arched gate, it's easier on the eyes than other models, but it's also easy to use. It can be pressure- or hardware-mounted, and can span openings from 28 to 48 inches wide.
Reviewers say the Multi-Use Decorative gate is sturdy and stable even when shaken or scaled by a determined toddler. Because it's 34 inches tall (36 at the top of the arch), it's well-suited for families who need to keep older, taller toddlers or kids from a certain area. While the gate does include hardware that allows it to be more securely mounted to block stairs, some reviewers expressly warn against it. That's because they say the opening is too narrow to easily navigate at the top of the stairs, and there's also a bar along the bottom of the gate's opening that could pose a tripping hazard.
The Multi-Use Decorative gate has a convenient auto-close feature, a nice bonus for busy parents who may forget to latch the gate after rushing through. Reviewers do have a small quibble here: They say the gate is quite noisy when it slams shut. On the bright side, most say installation is easy and, because the gate is tall, there's little need for most adults to stoop down to operate the latch. Meg Collins and Aquina Aiga of LuciesList.com call that latch "really easy to open with one hand and intuitive for guests," unlike many of the other gates they've tried. Reviewers agree, but several complain that the opening itself, roughly 17 inches wide, is too narrow to squeeze through with laundry baskets or grocery bags. A stopper prevents the gate from opening in both directions, but it's easily removed.
The Regalo Easy Step (Est. $35) shares some of the high points of the Summer Infant Multi-Use Decorative gate, but at about half the price. Made of utilitarian-looking white metal, it's definitely not as pretty, but it can also be pressure- or hardware-mounted. This gate can span openings from 29 to 39 inches, and extensions such as the 12-inch Regalo Extension for Safety Gate (Est. $20) can add more length.
At 30 inches tall, the Regalo Easy Step is a bit shorter than the Summer Infant gate. Reviewers say it's plenty tall enough to foil young toddlers, but probably not the best choice for corralling slightly older children. Still, it's reportedly sturdy enough to withstand intrepid climbers and other jail-break attempts, with a latch that foils little hands. Though the gate comes with hardware for a more-stable installation, reviewers warn against installing it at the top of the stairs for the same reason they advise against the Summer Infant: There is a bar along the bottom of the opening that may trip up users, and the opening is quite narrow.
That narrow opening is probably the biggest complaint about the Regalo Easy Step: At roughly 16 inches, it's even more narrow than the Summer Infant's, and some parents report having to negotiate it sideways. The Easy Step latch gets mixed reviews: Some parents say they can use it with one hand, but others say that's tricky and it's much easier to operate with both hands. Reviewers say installation is easy and, while some wish for a self-close feature, others appreciate having the choice to leave the gate open when small children aren't around.
Wide baby gates can block off open areas
Basic baby gates are convenient, but today's open-floor-plan homes often have a myriad of features they can't protect. Those may include larger doorways, wide-open kitchens, large hearths, exposed media centers and other tricky hazards. In these cases, wide baby gates that can protect irregular doorways and spaces may come to the rescue.
Reviewers say the Evenflo Soft and Wide Gate (Est. $40) is an easy, inexpensive way to block off larger openings between rooms. Comprised of a metal frame with a fabric barrier, this pressure-mounted gate can be stretched to cover openings from 38 to 60 inches wide.
The Soft and Wide gate is very stable, users say, and it can't be shaken loose or scaled by small toddlers. However, it does not have a walk-through opening for parents, which means that it can trip up parents attempting to step over it too quickly. For that reason, it's not the best for high-traffic areas. It also measures just 27 inches tall, which means taller toddlers and older children could be able to climb over sooner than later.
On the bright side, the Soft and Wide is quick and easy to install between two solid surfaces and typically doesn't cause any paint damage. It can also be removed and stowed against a wall when not in use. Because it's so easy to put up and take down, it can be a good option for families who need a baby gate while they're on the road. Babies can lean against the gate comfortably and can see through it easily, and reviewers say it's easy to wipe greasy hand and face marks from the fabric, too.
If you've got a big or abnormally shaped opening to block off, or you simply need to safely corral a baby in an impossible-to-childproof space, the North States 3-in-1 Metal Superyard (Est. $120) can function as both a play yard and a baby gate. It has 24-inch-wide panels that can span a total width of up to 12 feet or form a 10-square-foot enclosure. An optional 2-Panel Extension (Est. $50) can increase that space to 19 square feet.
Built of sturdy metal, the 3-in-1 Metal Superyard is stable and well-balanced when used as a freestanding play yard or in a half-moon position, users say. The panels, all 30 inches high, interlock with hinged attachments, making it possible to angle them for greater stability. Reviewers also say the Superyard works well mounted on a wall, but some say the included plastic mounting hardware is too flimsy, causing them to opt for higher-quality hardware or professional installation. Users say the double-action locking mechanism is easy for an adult to open, but too hard for a child. The Superyard's vertical spindles thwart eager climbers, and parents report that the panels don't collapse during climbing attempts.
According to parents, it's easy to assemble the 3-in-1 Metal Superyard. The panels are attached via poles in plastic sleeves that can be loosened to make adjustments or remove a panel, or tightened to create a rigid angle between two panels. Tightening the connections maintains the stability and shape of the enclosure, but parents warn that moving the gate while the connections are tightened can break the connection sleeves. Most users say that the gate is easy to open with one hand, but the opening is narrow. The gate does not swing shut, which is convenient for parents who want to leave it open when kids aren't present, but it requires greater diligence when kids are around. Many parents report that it is easy to fold and unfold the gate, but those using many panels say it can be heavy and cumbersome.