The best baby gate has
- A secure, stable mount. Pressure-mounted gates for hallways and doorways should easily maintain tension. Gates for use at the top of stairs must be hardware-mounted in order to prevent children from toppling them.
- Easy-to-use latches. The best baby gates feature latches that are easy for adults to open with one hand, but impossible for toddlers to figure out.
- Doors that open the right direction. If the baby gate will be used in hallways and other busy areas, look for one with doors that open in both directions. A single-direction option is better for the top of the stairs and should swing open away from stairs.
- The right height. A baby gate must be at least 22 inches tall to obtain certification from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. Better yet, look for one that's at least three quarters of your child's height to prevent climbing, but don't rely on baby gates to contain children much past age 2, note experts at ConsumerReports.org. Parents may find taller gates more convenient since they won't require stooping to use.
- Ample durability. Baby gates should be able to handle all manner of toddler abuse without collapsing, including shaking, banging, pulling and climbing. If you like the look of a wooden gate, be sure it has a smooth finish that is free of splinters.
- Safe construction. The safest baby gates 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. A wider opening may be helpful as well. If you are trying to block off a large area of a room or a room feature such as a hearth, look for a gate that is freestanding but can be wall mounted.
What size is the opening? Before you shop for a gate, measure all openings carefully both at the lower and higher threshold, as openings in older homes or in earthquake-prone areas may not be the same. Write down the measurements and take them to the store with you. Some gates may include the extensions you need to fit the doorway, but 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, and some may also struggle to open the toddler-proof latch and end up climbing the gate, which isn't safe. In families with older children, consider a gate that automatically swings shut, and make sure older kids practice unlatching the gate without assistance.
Do you care about design? While most people buy baby gates with function in mind, manufacturers are increasingly recognizing that buyers want nicer-looking options, too. If you're purchasing a gate that will be used in a high-traffic, high-visibility area, consider whether you want something that better blends in with your home's décor. There are a number of more attractive options that blend wood and metal, incorporate design elements such as arches, or keep slats and latches sleek and streamlined for more modern homes.