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If your little one recently began crawling or walking, chances are you already understand the importance of having a baby gate.
A baby gate can prevent your toddler from tumbling down the stairs. It can act as a barrier between a curious child and an off-limits room, such as a kitchen with a hot oven. It can separate an overly friendly baby from an overzealous pet.
We at BestReviews understand how crazy life gets when a baby discovers her walking feet. For this reason, we want your shopping experience to be as stress-free as possible. Through diligent product research, we’ve identified five top-quality baby gates that earn consistently high marks from owners.
Our mission is to arm you with the knowledge needed to make a truly informed purchase that satisfies and delights you. To that end, we never accept free samples from manufacturers. We buy the products we test off of store shelves, just like you do. And when we’re done testing, we donate them to charity.
So what type of baby gate should you buy? Three types exist: pressure-mounted, hardware-mounted, and freestanding baby gates. We provide an outline of the basics in our shopping guide, below, as well as some additional product advice.
Pressure-mounted baby gates are easy to install, as no hardware is required. Tension created between a spring rod and two walls holds the gate in place. This type of gate typically costs less than a hardware-mounted gate, and you can find them in a variety of styles. As such, they are a popular choice among parents.
The biggest complaint about these gates is that they can fall over. That’s a nuisance at best, and a safety hazard for everyone — children, adults, even pets — at worst. A pressure-mounted gate won’t stay in place if you try to install it between walls at odd angles with one another. Walls that aren’t completely flat are also incompatible with this type of system.
Read the installation instructions carefully before setting up your pressure-mounted gate.
Hardware-mounted gates provide more security than pressure-mounted models. As the name suggests, you install the gate by screwing hardware directly into the woodwork of your home. This could be a door frame, wall, or banister. The hardware holds the gate securely in place.
The biggest drawback of hardware-mounted baby gates is the fact that, when all is said and done, you end up with several small holes in your wall. Of course, you could always patch these holes with joint compound when the child grows a bit older.
Some people also dislike the fact that you cannot take down a hardware-mounted baby gate quickly. For example, if you’re having a party and want the gate gone for a night, you’ll have to disassemble the entire thing. And later, when the party is over, you’ll have to put it up all over again.
But a hardware-mounted gate is a strong gate. It can uphold a baby’s weight without slipping, and unlike its pressure-mounted counterparts, you can mount it securely between angled walls. For these reasons, we recommend hardware-mounted gates for the most hazard-prone areas of your home, such as the top of the stairs and around your fireplace.
Just like pressure-mounted gates, it’s important to follow the installation instructions precisely when setting up a hardware-mounted gate.
As the name suggests, a freestanding gate remains upright on its own. You don’t have to deal with screws or holes in your wall, and you don’t have to finagle the tension rod just right between two walls. You just push the gate into position, and voilà! Your barrier is set up.
Many caretakers use these gates to keep little ones away from household items that pose a safety threat or could break easily. For example, you may see a freestanding gate guarding a crackling fireplace or pricey entertainment system. Of course, you can only get away with this keep-out tactic for so long.
Once the child is strong enough to move the gate (or knock it over), it’s no longer a trustworthy barrier.
When choosing a baby gate, you’ll need to know how tall and wide it must be to fit your home.
A “standard” gate stands approximately 30 inches tall and spans anywhere from 29 to 45 inches. A standard interior doorway ranges in width from 24 to 36 inches, with the most common dimensions hovering in the 28- to 32-inch zone.
Some extra-wide baby gates can stretch six feet from left to right. But that’s not all. Through the course of our research, we actually found a gate that can stretch 192 inches across. This extremely large gate can also be configured as an enclosed pen.
By the time your child reaches 36 inches in height, a gate isn’t likely to deter her exploratory activities. But if you wish to keep using a baby gate past this developmental stage anyway, you’re not alone. A market exists for extra-tall baby gates. Just look for the words “extra tall” in the product name and/or description.
Baby gates with mounting clamps are portable — a very handy feature for moving from one room to another, or taking the gate along for visits or when travelling.
Some baby gates have vertical slats. If these slats are too far apart, they pose a safety threat to children and animals. For example, a child could inadvertently lodge her head between two slats and suffer bruising or even strangulation. For this reason, we urge all potential buyers to pay attention to the number of inches between each slat. This distance should not exceed three inches.
Many gates sport a dual-action latch that you must push down to release the gate. Other latch types include a pressure-release handle and a squeezing mechanism. If possible, test a few different latch types at a store or a friend/relative’s home to determine which type works best for you.
Some baby gates are engineered to close automatically when you release them. There’s no need to physically shut the gate; technology takes care of that task for you. This hands-free feature serves harried parents (who usually have their arms full) very well.
Some gates have a latch indicator that “clicks” to signify the device is secure. Some even have a color indicator or alarm that activates if the latch is left open.
When choosing your material, keep the following tips in mind:
Baby gates are made of various materials: plastic, wood, metal, even mesh.
Of course, you’ll want to put some thought into your purchase before you lay your money down. Ask yourself the following questions before making your final selection:
Most people place baby gates in doorways, entryways, at the top and bottom of stairs, and in spaces without walls like the outdoors.
For pressure-mounted or freestanding safety gates, take extra care when installing it at tops of stairs or any elevation as they might shake loose if bumped too hard.
When measuring your doorways, take a minute to measure your child’s height, too. This will help determine the gate height you should choose.
Do you want a baby gate with a door that swings out and in? Or would you prefer a traditional barrier gate that opens horizontally?
For many caretakers, the superficial marks left by a hardware-mounted gate are more than worth the safety and peace of mind that such a sturdy gate provides.
A baby gate should never take the place of adult supervision. It can only enhance what you’re already doing, which is protecting your innocent little one from the hazards — seen and unseen — that lurk inside your home.
Of course, it’s important to set up your baby gate precisely as the manufacturer instructs. That’s the best way to minimize the risk of a faulty gate.
Below are more safety tips:
Q: How can I prevent a pressure-mounted gate from leaving rubber marks on my walls?
A: Some manufacturers have created products that stop pressure gates from leaving rubber marks on the wall. These products are similar to furniture sliders with grip. For example, Safety Innovations makes a “Wall Saver” product for use with pressure-mounted baby gates.
Q: I don’t want to drill holes in my walls. Which type of gate should I get?
A: As you know, a hardware-mounted baby gate requires you to drill holes in your walls. In the interest of safety, it’s the best type of gate for the top of a staircase. But you could certainly buy a pressure-mounted gate for use in other areas of your home. Pressure-mounted gates require no screws or other tools for installation.
Q: Are all safety gates safe for use at the top of the stairs?
A: No. As mentioned above, it’s highly recommended that you purchase a hardware-mounted gate for the top of the stairs. These gates are screwed into place, minimizing the child’s chance of crashing through and tumbling down the steps.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.