Baby Gates

How to Choose a Safe Baby Gate

Sandra W Bullock

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If you’ve ever found yourself sitting at home, feeling alone and disappointed because of a faulty baby gate, I want you to know that you’re not the only one. I’ve been there too.

Even though I only spent less than $100 on an unsafe baby gate, I still felt like I had been cheated when it failed to deliver on its promised functionality. My suspicions were aroused as soon as I received the product, as it turned out that the package contained the wrong item, which was essential for the installation process.

I mentioned that to offer you a bit of solace, reminding you that even a baby safety expert like me can occasionally be lured in by flashy marketing tactics. So, let me underscore the significance of conducting diligent research and thoughtful consideration before buying any safety gear for your little one.

As an experienced baby safety expert, I have had the privilege of testing and evaluating various baby gates available in the market. I also understand in detail the different brands and how they’ve designed their safety gates to meet the ASTM F1004-19 safety standards. I also keep myself up to date with the latest research from various journals such as the Journal of Pediatric Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

I believe my insight and expertise can provide you with valuable information on choosing the right baby gate for your child. If you have any questions regarding any material in this guide, feel free to reach out.

Let’s get started!

Which Baby Gate to Get?

Contents (Show)

When it comes to starting your search for baby safety products, it is crucial to start by exploring the different types of that particular product – in this case, find out all the types of baby gates.

Get to know their safety gates like a pro! Consumer Reports has an incredibly comprehensive guide in an easy-to-follow format. And if my guide seems a bit long-winded, well, I promise it’s worth the read! And it is free, unlike Consumer Report’s content behind a paywall.

Types of Baby Gates to Consider Buying

Hardware-mounted Safety Gates

These are the most secure type of baby gate that we wholeheartedly recommend here at SFB. These gates utilize hardware, specifically screws, mounting brackets, and metal plates to attach the gate directly to the walls or door frames.

They’re also less likely to be accidentally left open as they require two hands to open. However, they can be more difficult to install and aren’t always possible to use in all situations such as at the top of the stairs.

Image showing where to install hardware-mounted gates
Image showing where to install hardware-mounted gates

This type of baby gate is ideal for top-of-stairs use, as it provides a sturdy barrier that can withstand even the strongest of pushes from your little one.

Pros:

  1. More reliable as they can’t be accidentally left open
  2. They are more difficult for a toddler to dislodge
  3. Available in a wide range of styles to match your home’s décor
  4. Stronger than pressure-mounted models and are great for the top of a stairway where there is a risk of child falling down the stairs

Cons:

  • Can be more difficult to install
  • Not always possible to use in all situations such as at the top of the stairs
  • You may need to drill into your wall or door frame which some people are not comfortable with

Locations to use hardware-mounted styles:

  • The bottom of the stairs
  • Between rooms
  • At the top or bottom of the staircase (pressure-mounted may be an option here too)

What to look for when choosing a hardware-mounted baby gate:

  • Choose a model that is made of sturdy materials such as metal
  • Check that the installation instructions are clear and easy to follow
  • Make sure the gate is the right size for your opening
  • Ensure the gate can be opened and closed with one hand as you’ll likely be carrying your baby when using it

I have reviewed some safe gates mounted with hardware here.

Pressure-mounted Safety Gates

The second type of baby gates that we don’t recommend a whole lot is pressure-mounted gates. These gates use tension to stay in place and are held in place by adjustable posts that fit snugly against the door frame or opening. They’re much easier to install than hardware-mounted models as no drilling is required. However, they’re not as secure as hardware-mounted gates and may not be suitable for the top of the stairs. They can also be more difficult to open and close as they require two hands.

Pros:

  • Much easier to install than hardware-mounted models
  • Available in a wide range of styles to match your home’s décor
  • No damage to your home with drilling
  • Cheaper than hardware-mounted models

Cons:

  • Not as secure as hardware-mounted gates
  • May not be suitable for the top of the stairs: Because gates can fall over if not properly installed at the top of the stairs, always use a hardware-mounted gate here
  • More difficult to open and close as they require two hands
  • Can be knocked over by a determined toddler

Locations to use pressure-mounted styles:

  • The bottom of the stairs:
  • Between rooms:

What to look for when choosing a pressure-mounted baby gate:

The pressure-mounted safety gates rely on the gate’s structural soundness for stability and are appropriate for room-to-room installation or at the bottom. For this reason, choose a model that is made of sturdy materials such as metal and make sure it is JPMA-certified and that it meets CSPC safety guidelines. Check that the installation instructions are clear and easy to follow and make sure the gate is the right size for your opening. Also, ensure the gate can be opened and closed with one hand as you’ll likely be carrying your baby when using it

Free-standing Baby Gates:

We are cautious when recommending the third type of baby gate called the freestanding baby gate. While we highly endorse 6-panel freestanding gates that create an enclosed space like a playpen, we strongly discourage parents from purchasing single-panel freestanding gates without side attachments as they can be easily toppled over.

6-panel freestanding gates are hardware mounted and have mounting brackets and screws to fit it on the floor or the walls ensuring that they are firmly secure and stable. On the other hand, standalone freestanding gates do not have any attachments on the sides or only rely on limited leg stands which makes them unstable and easy to tip over, creating a safety hazard for your child.

Pros:

  • Can be placed anywhere in the home
  • Great for use in doorways and other openings where a traditional gate would be obtrusive

Cons:

  • 1-panel gates are not as secure as hardware-mounted gates
  • 1-panel gates can be pushed over relatively easily

Locations to install 6-panel free-standing models:

  1. In front of the fireplace
  2. Between rooms
  3. At the bottom or top of the stairs (a hardware-mounted gate should always be used at the top of the stairs)

What to look for when looking to buy a freestanding baby gate:

The best freestanding gates are those that meet stability test in that they won’t get toppled over by an adventurous toddler. They should be hardware mounted and have mounting brackets and screws to fit it on the floor or the walls ensuring that they are firmly secure and stable. Look for freestanding gates with wider bases, as this increases stability and reduces the chances of tipping over. Additionally, ensure that the gate is tall enough to prevent your child from climbing over.

I have reviewed some reliable freestanding gates here.

Self-closing Baby Gates ideal for Busy Parents

Our next baby gate type are easy-to-close or auto-closing gates. As their names suggests, they are designed to close automatically and securely behind you. These gates feature a self-closing mechanism that ensures the gate closes behind you, even if your hands are full with your little one. This is especially convenient for busy parents who may forget to close the gate behind them or for when you have your hands full with groceries or other items.

They’re ideal for use at the top of the stairs as they can’t be left open by accident. However, they can be more difficult to install and may not be suitable for all doorways and staircases.

Pros:

  • Can’t be left open by accident
  • Great for use at the top of the stairs

Cons:

  • More difficult to install
  • May not be suitable for all doorways and staircases

Locations to use auto-close style:

  • The top of the stairs: An auto-close gate is a great choice for the top of the stairs as it can’t be left open by accident.

What to look for when choosing an auto-close baby gate:

The best self-closing gates have very strong springs that close the door automatically and firmly. Also, make sure that the model you pick has a JPMA certification seal and meets CSPC safety guidelines. Read the reviews and pay close attention to what other users think about the bounce or backswing feature as it can be very annoying. Finally, check that the installation instructions are clear and easy to follow.

Retractable Baby Gates:

Our last type of baby gate you can consider is a retractable gate which is made of a durable mesh material and can easily be retracted when not in use. These gates are ideal for areas with limited space, such as doorways or hallways. They also feature an easy-to-use locking mechanism that allows you to quickly secure the gate in place.

Pros:

  • Takes up less space
  • Easy to retract when not in use
  • Can be used in doorways and other openings where a traditional gate would be obtrusive

Cons:

  • Not suitable for use at the top of stairs
  • Can be more expensive compared to traditional gates

Locations to use retractable style:

  • Doorways and hallways: Retractable gates are perfect for doorways or hallways as they take up less space and can easily be retracted when not in use.

What to look for when choosing a retractable baby gate:

When choosing a retractable gate, make sure to look for one with a sturdy and durable mesh material. Also, check that the locking mechanism is easy to use and secure. Consider the height of the gate as well to ensure it will be tall enough to keep your little one from climbing over.

I also recommend picking those with transparent sides and with certification seals, indicating that they meet CSPC safety guidelines. Additionally, it’s important to read reviews and pay close attention to what other users think about the gate’s bounce or backswing feature as it can be very annoying if not functioning properly.

Lastly, always check that the installation instructions are clear and easy to follow. The last thing you want is a complicated and time-consuming installation process. With all these factors in mind, you can find the perfect retractable gate for your home and keep your baby safe and secure.

Outdoor Baby Gates:

If you have a backyard or patio, you may want to consider purchasing an outdoor baby gate. These gates are specifically designed to withstand the elements while providing a safe barrier for your child. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering an outdoor baby gate:

  • Material: Look for a gate that is made from weather-resistant materials such as metal or plastic.
  • Height: Make sure the gate is tall enough to prevent your child from climbing over it.
  • Locking mechanism: Choose a gate with a secure locking mechanism to prevent your child from opening it on their own.
  • Portability: Some outdoor baby gates are designed to be easily moved and repositioned, which can be beneficial if you have a larger backyard or want to bring the gate with you on trips.
  • Childproofing: Some gates come with additional features such as childproof latches or a self-closing door, providing an extra layer of safety for your little one.

Check out our review of outdoor baby gates here.

Gates for Stairs:

When it comes to the safety of your child, stairs can be a major concern. To prevent accidents, it’s important to choose a gate specifically designed for use on stairs. Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting a stair gate:

  • Height: The gate should be tall enough to prevent your child from climbing over it.
  • Mounting options: Look for a gate that can be securely mounted to the wall or banister with hardware such as screws and mounting bracket, as this will provide the most stability.
  • Width: Measure the width of your stairs and make sure the gate you choose can accommodate it. Some gates are adjustable, while others come in specific sizes.
  • Banister compatibility: Some gates come with additional hardware to attach to banisters or uneven surfaces, so make sure to check if this is necessary for your stairs.
  • Locking mechanism: As with any gate, make sure the locking mechanism is secure and not easily opened by a child.
  • Design: Stair gates often come in different styles to match your home decor. Consider the design of your stairs and choose a gate that will blend in seamlessly.

Gates for Uneven Walls:

If you have uneven walls or doorways, finding a gate that fits securely can be challenging. Luckily, there are gates specifically designed for this purpose. Here’s what to look for when choosing a gate for uneven surfaces:

  • Adjustability: Look for gates with adjustable panels or extensions that can accommodate varying widths and angles.
  • Pressure-mounted vs hardware-mounted: Depending on the severity of the unevenness, you may need to choose between a pressure-mounted gate or a hardware-mounted gate. Pressure-mounted gates use tension and do not require drilling into walls, while hardware-mounted gates offer more stability and are better suited for larger gaps.
  • Flexible hinges: Some gates come with flexible hinges that can adjust to different angles, making them ideal for uneven surfaces.
  • Locking mechanism: As always, make sure the locking mechanism is secure and not easily opened by a child.
  • Wall cups: If you do opt for a pressure-mounted gate, make sure to use the included wall cups for added stability on uneven walls.

Features to consider when picking the best baby gate:

Get the appropriate Height:

While a baby gate should be at least 22 inches tall, go for models that are at least three-quarters of your child’s height. At 75% of their height, it is difficult for them to climb. If your child is very tall, go for models with higher height clearances of up to 39 inches.

When a child is over 36 inches or heavier than 30 pounds at around their 2nd birthday, your usual baby gate isn’t effective anymore. If your child is younger than 2 years and is tall, just go for taller models.

Check for JPMA-certification seal:

JPMA’s certification program is the most well-known product safety certification for baby and children’s products in North America. The JPMA Certification Seal lets you know that a product has been tested by an independent, accredited third party to meet or exceed specific safety standards. Here is a list of the 10 safety standards set by CPSC.

JPMA sets voluntary standards on a variety of safety and performance metrics, including the components’ strength, the size of the openings (to prevent finger or toe entrapment), and the latch’s security.

The JPMA standards further specify that the gate should be at least 22 inches tall and that the distance between the bottom of the gate and the floor should be less than 3 inches to allow for a small torso to pass through without risk of a head or neck becoming caught.

Brands that have subjected themselves to the rigorous JPMA certification process to get the JPMA Certification Seal on their product include Evenflo, North States, Regalo, Kidco, Summer Infant and Munchkin.

Consumer Report further listed the following brands as having been certified by JPMA; Cardinal Gates, Safety 1st, GMI, Lascal/Regal Lager, North States Industries, Retract-A-Gate/ Creative Frontier, Dream Baby, and TOMY International (formerly RC2/Learning Curve).

Go for models with sturdy construction:

The best baby gates are those that are made of sturdy construction. Look for models that have a steel frame as they will be more durable than those made of plastic. Also, check that the gate has a wide base so that it is less likely to tip over.

You may want to make sure that you get a model that doesn’t have a support bar that crosses the floor beneath the gate as it usually causes tripping.

Get the right Slat Spacing:

According to the Consumer Report, you should make sure that the space between the slats of the gate is no wider than 3 inches (7.62 cm) so that your child’s head can’t get stuck. KidsHealth.org recommends even smaller spaces between rods. KidsHealth.org advises that the “rigid vertical slats or rods should be no more than 2-3/8 inches (6 centimeters) apart, so that the child’s head cannot be trapped between the slats.”

If you have a playful or curious climber, the bottom rail should be designed so that they can’t use it as a foothold to reach the top of the gate. With that in mind, consider KidsHealth’s advisors that “there should be no more than 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) between the floor and the gate bottom to keep a child from slipping underneath.”

Check that the Latch is Easy to Use:

The latch should be easy for adults to open and close but difficult for children. Avoid models with a knob or lever that a child can easily figure out how to operate. Look for models with a one-handed push-button release that is out of a child’s reach.

Some models have an auto-close feature that is handy if you have to open and close the gate frequently. Just make sure that the mechanism is not too sensitive as it may cause the gate to slam shut, which can be dangerous for fingers.

Choose a model with Auto-Close Feature:

If you have an active toddler, go for models that have an auto-close feature. This will ensure that the gate closes automatically behind you, even if you’re carrying your baby and some groceries.

Just make sure that the mechanism is not too sensitive as it may cause the gate to slam shut, which can be dangerous for fingers.

Consider ease of installation:

Some models come with mounting hardware while others don’t. If you’re not handy, go for models that come with all the necessary hardware and clear instructions. Otherwise, you may have to hire someone to do it for you.

If you’re renting, look for models that can be easily removed without damaging the walls.

Consider the installation flexibility:

Go for models that can be installed in the least-expected or not-so-common places such as stair balusters, uneven walls, angled banisters, and drywall with no wood framing. With flexible styles, you can mount gates on these areas with the help of an additional mounting kit that you’ll have to get. There are some models such as Kidco that you can purchase an additional installation kit for as low as $13 to $50 as stated by Consumer Reports on their guide here.

The flexibility you get with the installation usually comes with a higher price tag. But, if you have an irregular home, it may be worth the investment as you won’t have to make any permanent changes to your home.

Find a gate that has the appropriate width or consider getting an an extendable gate.

You’ll also want to take into account the width of the gate. Most gates are designed for standard doorways which are around 32-36 inches wide. If you have a particularly wide opening, you may want to look for an extra-wide gate or one that can be expanded with extension kits.

Pick models that your toddler won’t open:

Ensure that the baby gate you’re picking can be easily opened and closed by an adult but is challenging enough for a baby or toddler so they can’t figure it out and open it themselves. It defeats the purpose of having a gate if your child can easily open it!

Ensure your pick has advanced safety features:

Check if the gate has an indicator that will let you know whether it’s properly locked. In addition, make sure the gaps between the bars are small enough so that your baby’s head wouldn’t be able to get stuck in them.

Also, look for a baby gate with a built-in stop mechanism that will prevent it from swinging out over steps or stairways. This is an important safety feature to have as it can help prevent serious accidents.

Also, look for gates with a one-hand locking mechanism so you can easily open and close the gate with one hand while holding your baby in the other.

You should also make sure the finish on the gate is non-toxic and safe for your little one

For each part of your house, make sure you’re getting the most appropriate gate:

While most baby gates can be used in multiple places around the house, some are specifically designed for certain areas such as the top of the stairs or the bottom of the stairs.

If you’re looking for a gate to use at the top of the stairs, you’ll want to make sure it’s mounted securely to the wall so there’s no risk of it coming loose and your child falling down the stairs. For the bottom of the stairs, you’ll want to look for a gate that has a small lip so that it sits flush against the ground and doesn’t leave any gaps for your baby to crawl under.

Pressure-mounted gates are designed to be used in doorways and other areas where there’s no risk of your child falling downstairs. They’re easy to install and remove and can be taken with you when you travel. Hardware-mounted gates are more permanent and are ideal for use at the top of the stairs or in other high-traffic areas where you want a more secure installation.

Some gates come with a pet door so your furry friends can still get through even when the gate is closed. If you think this would be a useful feature for you, make sure to look for it when picking out your gate.

Other features to consider:

Some models come with a pet door so that your furry friends can go in and out without you having to open the gate every time. If you have a big dog, make sure that the pet door is big enough for them to fit through.

Some models come with an indicator that shows if the gate is properly locked or not. This can be handy if you’re unsure if you’ve locked the gate correctly.

If you have a wide doorway, look for models that come with an extension kit. You can usually purchase these separately as well.

Some manufacturers offer an extra-wide version of their baby gates. If you have a particularly wide opening that you need to block off, or if you have twins or multiple children, an extra-wide gate may be a good option for you. Just make sure that the gate is tall enough so that your child can’t climb over it.

Most baby gates are made of either wood or metal, with plastic models being less common. Wood gates tend to be more expensive than metal gates, but they can also be more stylish and look nicer in your home. Metal gates are usually more durable and sturdy, but they can also be more difficult to install.

Some top Baby Gate Brands:

Cardinal:

Cardinal is one of the most popular baby gate manufacturers that has been around since 1993. While it provides a wide range of products to suit any need, they are most known for making lightweight gates using all-metal-constructions of mostly aluminum which makes them stronger and durable. Here is a link to one of their patent for a balanced freestanding design which they got in 2000.

Others:

  1. Kidco – founded in 1992
  2. Evenflo – around for more than 90 years
  3. Dream Baby– Been in business since 1983
  4. Munchkin – Since 1991
  5. North States Industries– More than 50 years in business
  6. Regalo
  7. Retract-A-Gate
  8. Safety 1st
  9. Summer Infant – Since 1985
  10. The First Years

Best Baby Gates Shopping Tips:

Identify your babyproofing needs:

When shopping for a baby gate, it’s important to keep in mind the specific needs of your home. If you have a wide doorway, look for a gate that comes with an extension kit. If you have a pet, look for a gate that has a pet door. And if you’re not handy, go for a gate that comes with all the necessary hardware and clear instructions.

Check the dimensions:

Before you buy a baby gate, make sure to measure the width of the opening that you need to block off. Most baby gates are between 24 and 48 inches wide, but some manufacturers offer an extra-wide version of their gate.

Get a model that can grow with your child:

Some baby gates come with an optional panel that can be added to the gate to make it taller. This is a great feature if you want to be able to use the gate for a longer period of time.

Check the weight limit:

Most baby gates have a weight limit of 50 pounds, but some models are rated for up to 100 pounds. If you have a bigger dog, make sure to get a gate that can accommodate them.

Choose the right material:

Baby gates are typically made of either wood or metal. Wood gates tend to be more expensive than metal gates, but they can also be more stylish and look nicer in your home. Metal gates are usually more durable and sturdy, but they can also be more difficult to install.

Check for safety features:

Some baby gates come with an indicator that shows if the gate is properly locked or not. This can be handy if you’re unsure if you’ve locked the gate correctly. Other models come with a pet door so that your furry friends can go in and out without having to go over the gate. Also, check for the JPMA certification seal.

Baby Gates to Avoid Buying:

  • Don’t buy cheap, flimsy baby gates that are not worth your money. They will not last long and could pose a safety hazard to your child.
  • Don’t buy a used baby gate. You don’t know if it’s been properly maintained or if it has any hidden damage that could make it unsafe.
  • Don’t buy a standard accordion gate with gaps between slats, as well as V-shaped openings at the top, which are potentially dangerous. Models with these V-shaped openings are not common in the US anymore and most new designs have a horizontal rail or filler safety bar across the top to make the gates safe
  • Don’t buy a baby gate that doesn’t come with clear instructions. Installing a baby gate can be tricky, and you don’t want to end up with a gate that’s not installed correctly.
  • Don’t buy a baby gate that doesn’t have a weight limit listed. If a gate can’t handle the weight of your child or your pet, it’s not worth the risk.