How to Buy a Baby Safety Gate

Updated March 31, 2013

What the best safety gates have

  • Secure mounting options. Gates for use at the top of stairs must be hardware-mounted. Pressure mounted gates for hallways and doorways should be stable and maintain tension.
  • A door. Latches should be easy for adults to open with one hand and impossible for toddlers to open. Doors should be bidirectional if used in hallways and other busy areas and have a single-direction option if used at the top of the stairs.
  • The right height. To be considered safe, gates should be at least three-quarters of the child's height. A height of least 22 inches tall is recommended. Taller gates should be used for taller toddlers.
  • Durable construction. The gate should be able to handle toddler abuse, including shaking, banging, pulling and climbing attempts, without pulling loose or loosening the spindles. Wood gates should have a smooth finish that is free of splinters.
  • Protection against climbing and/or entrapment. Gates should have a straight top edge with rigid vertical slats or spindles to prevent climbing, or a finely woven screen that won't trap fingers or provide footholds for climbers. Slats should be spaced no more than 3 inches apart to prevent head entrapment. Closer spacing is better, as some toddlers will be able to stand on the bottom bar of the gate with this spacing and ride the door when it opens.

Know before you go

What kind of opening do you need to block off? If you are blocking off the top of stairs, a hardware-mounted gate is a must. If you are blocking off a heavily trafficked area that you frequently have to navigate with your hands full, look for a gate that opens easily and can be kicked close or closes automatically. If you are trying to block off a large area of a room or a room feature, look for a gate that is freestanding and can be wall mounted.

What size is the opening? Before you shop for a gate, measure all openings carefully both at the lower and the higher threshold, as openings in older homes or in earthquake-prone areas may not be the same. Write the measurements down and take them to the store with you. Some gates may include the extensions you need to fit the doorway; you will have to purchase extensions separately for other gates.

Who will be using the gate? Families with older children who don't need to be gated will encounter multiple areas of potential frustration: Older children may forget to close the gates behind them. They also may struggle to open the toddler-proof latch and end up climbing the gate, which isn't safe. In families with older children, consider a swing closed style gate, and make sure older kids practice unlatching the gate.

How tall are the home's occupants? Gates should be at least three-quarters of the child's overall height. Also, taller adults report that bending over to open a lower gate is frustrating, making them more likely to step over the gate or leave it open. If you or other adults in your home are very tall, consider a taller gate option.

Buying tactics and strategies

Test the gate before buying. Before going to the trouble to buy and install a gate, make sure that the latch is easy and comfortable for you and the members of your family to use.

Be prepared to turn to an expert. If you are not confident with tools and need to install a gate at the top of your stairs, consider hiring a professional for proper installation. This will be money well spent if it prevents a bad fall.

Avoid used gates, and check for recalls. While it's tempting to accept hand-me-down baby gear from friends or relatives -- or to pick up an inexpensive gate at a garage sale -- be aware that safety 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. Check for recalls at the