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Updated August 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best baby gates

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.

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Safety gates are a secure way of cordoning off areas of the house where a baby might be unsafe, such as the kitchen, stairs, pantry, and so on.

Types of baby gates

Pressure-mounted 

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 from one another. Walls that aren’t completely flat are also incompatible with this type of system.

Hardware-mounted 

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, hardware-mounted gates are great for the most hazard-prone areas of your home, such as the top of the stairs and around your fireplace.

Freestanding 

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 a pricey entertainment system. Of course, you can only get away with this keep-out tactic for so long.

"Just like pressure-mounted gates, it’s important to follow the installation instructions precisely when setting up a hardware-mounted gate."
STAFF
BestReviews

Features

Height and width

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. Some can even stretch 192 inches across to use as an enclosed pen.

By the time your child reaches 36 inches in height, a gate isn’t likely to deter their 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.

Slat spacing

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 their head between two slats and suffer bruising or even strangulation. For this reason, potential buyers should pay attention to the number of inches between each slat. This distance should not exceed three inches.

Expert Tip
Make sure that the distance between slats is not too wide for small babies.
BestReviews Baby and Child Expert

Latch

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.

Auto-close

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.

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Expert Tip
Resist the temptation to climb over the baby gate. Babies are always watching your behavior, and seeing you climb over will make them want to climb over too.
BestReviews Baby and Child Expert

Material

When choosing your material, keep the following tips in mind:

  • A wooden baby gate may give off splinters. Since babies explore much of the world with their fingers and mouths, make sure the wood on your gate is sanded down and the edges rounded.
  • Metal is generally more durable than wood and plastic. As such, a metal gate might be a sturdier option.
  • Some people prefer a mesh baby gate because the screen usually retracts (and disappears from view) when not in use. If you’re concerned that a particular mesh product might not be as safe as metal, plastic, or wood, check to make sure the mesh gate has been certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, or JPMA.
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Expert tip
Never use a pressure gate at the top of the stairs
BestReviews Baby and Child Expert

Other considerations

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:

Where will your gate go?

Most people place baby gates in doorways, entryways, at the top and bottom of stairs, and in spaces without walls like the outdoors.

  • A baby gate at the top of the stairs needs to be ultra-sturdy. In this situation, a hardware-mounted gate usually provides the most protection.
  • A baby gate stationed in a high-traffic area (like a kitchen door) may need to be moved frequently. In this situation, you might prefer a pressure-mounted gate that you can easily take down and put back up.
  • Freestanding gates must be able to reliably stand on their own. If you doubt the sturdiness of a freestanding gate, don’t use it.
  • The width of the area you wish to barricade will need to be measured first, as manufacturers specify dimensions on baby gate packaging.

How tall is your child?

When measuring your doorways, take a minute to measure your child’s height, too. This will help determine the gate height you should choose.

  • Your baby gate should stand at least three-quarters of your baby’s height. So if your child is 24 inches tall, the gate must be at least 18 inches tall.
  • Once your baby stands taller than 36 inches or weighs more than 30 pounds, you should no longer rely on your gate for safety. Kids usually reach this height and weight around age two.
Expert tip
Don’t install your baby gate too high. A large gap underneath the gate may create an entrapment hazard if your baby tries to crawl underneath.
BestReviews Baby and Child Expert

Swinging door or barrier gate?

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?

  • If you’ll be walking through your gated area frequently, a gate with a swinging door allows you to easily slip in and out.
  • If you won’t be passing through the gate very often, a barrier gate may be a more appropriate choice.

Baby gate safety tips

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:

  • Use a hardware-mounted gate at the top of the stairs, and make sure the gate swings away from the stairs, not toward them.
  • Install pressure-mounted gates with the pressure bar side away from where your baby will be. Otherwise, the child could use it as a step to climb over the gate.
  • Keep the gate closed at all times. Remind others to close the gate behind them as they pass through.
  • An installed gate loosens naturally over time, becoming less secure. Inspect your pressure- and hardware-mounted gates regularly to make sure they’re still doing their job. Tighten connections and make other adjustments as necessary.
  • As mentioned above, gates should come with a seal from the JPMA to ensure they meet minimum safety requirements. These requirements pertain to the gate’s height, the amount of space between the floor and the bottom of gate, the distance between slats, the safety of the latching mechanism, and the overall strength of the gate.
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Always check that the safety of your product of choice has been endorsed by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, or JPMA.

FAQ

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.

Expert tip
Always keep gates closed and latched.
BestReviews Baby and Child Expert

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.

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