We finally got to work on this comprehensive baby gates buying guide to assist parents looking to babyproof their homes with the best possible solution for their needs. Having babyproofed our house myself, I know it can be quite the process to find what you’re looking for, so I hope this guide will help!
6 years ago, Consumer Reports stopped testing and providing ratings of various baby gate brands in the market and like other baby gear items such as baby monitors, parents haven’t had a reliable way to compare or to even judge one brand’s feature against another. Strollers, cribs, and bassinets are among the few products that CR still rates.
Getting started with babyproofing:
At around the 6th month when your baby starts to crawl, it’s time to start thinking about baby-proofing your home. I would recommend starting with a few basics such as:
-door knob covers
And then once you have those in place, you can start to think about getting a baby gate which you can use from the 6th month to when your baby is 2 years old.
Now, there are quite a few different types of baby gates on the market and it can be overwhelming trying to decide which one is right for you and your home. In this guide, we’ll go over the different types of gates available and their pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.
Types of Baby Gates:
These are the most secure type of baby gates as they’re screwed into the wall or door frame, making them more difficult for a determined toddler to dislodge. 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.
Below is an example of Kidco hardware-mounted baby gate with screw attachments to the wall.
- More reliable as they can’t be accidentally left open
- They are more difficult for a toddler to dislodge
- Available in a wide range of styles to match your home’s décor
- 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
- 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.
Below is a quick 71-second video showing how to install hardware-mounted safety gates;
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
Pressure-mounted 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.
Below is an image of Safety 1st pressure-mounted baby gate;
- 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
- 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:
At the bottom of the stairs, kids can dislodge them but the worst it can happen to them is that the gate falls on them but the babies themselves don’t fall – for example on top of the stairs.
- Between rooms:
Pressure-mounted gates are great for use between rooms as they’re not as obtrusive as hardware-mounted styles.
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 are a type of gate that is not hardware-mounted and can be placed anywhere in the home. They’re ideal for use in doorways and other openings where a traditional gate would be obtrusive or difficult to install. Freestanding gates are pressure-mounted and while that ensures you don’t get any damage on the walls or frames, it is easier to push them over. If you have an active toddler, this type of gate will fall easily if they happen to lean on them.
Below is an image of a freestanding baby gate by Summer Infant
- Can be placed anywhere in the home
- Great for use in doorways and other openings where a traditional gate would be obtrusive
- Not as secure as hardware-mounted gates
- Can be pushed over relatively easily
Locations to install free-standing models:
- In front of the fireplace
- Between rooms
- 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. A wide 8+ ft. base is also a good indicator of stability. The mesh should also be see-through so that you can still keep an eye on your baby while they’re in another room. Another important factor to consider is portability as you may want to take the gate with you when traveling. Finally, make sure that the installation instructions are clear and easy to follow.
As you pick your choice, make sure the gate is the right size for your opening. Also, ensure that the gate can be opened and closed with one hand as you’ll likely be carrying your baby when using it. Pay close attention to the installation instructions as some models can be tricky to set up. Check that the gate is JPMA-certified and meets CSPC safety guidelines.
Auto-close baby gates are a type of hardware-mounted gate that features a spring-loaded mechanism that closes the gate automatically. 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.
Below is a self-closing/auto-closing baby gate brand by Munchkin;
The 1:40-mins video below shows how self-closing gates work;
- Can’t be left open by accident
- Great for use at the top of the stairs
- 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 back swing feature as it can be very annoying. Finally, check that the installation instructions are clear and easy to follow.
Retractable Baby Gates:
Retractable baby gates are a type of hardware-mounted gate that features a mesh screen that can be pulled across an opening and retracted when not in use. They’re ideal for use in doorways and other openings where a traditional gate would be obtrusive or difficult to install. However, they can be more expensive than other types of gates and may not be as secure.
Check out the video below of a retractable baby gate;
- Can be used in doorways and other openings where a traditional gate would be obtrusive
- Easy to use
- More expensive than other types of gates
- May not be as secure
Locations to use retractable style:
- Doorways: Retractable gates are ideal for use in doorways and other openings where a traditional gate would be obtrusive.
What to look for when choosing a retractable baby gate:
The best retractable gate is made of a strong durable mesh that’s hard-mounted on the wall to give it stability. A good mesh should also be see-through so that you can still see your baby while they’re in another room. Ease and smoothness of operation/retractability is also an important factor to consider as you don’t want a gate that’s difficult to open and close.
As you pick your choice, make sure the gate is the right size for your opening. Also, ensure that the gate can be opened and closed with one hand as you’ll likely be carrying your baby when using it. Pay close attention to the installation instructions as some models can be tricky to set up. They should also have a smooth-operating retractable mechanism that can be easily operated with one hand. Check that the gate is JPMA-certified and meets CSPC safety guidelines
Safety is Paramount – 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.
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).
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.
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 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’s 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.
Get gate with suitable width or get extendable ones:
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 particular parts 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, there are some that 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 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.
- Kidco – founded in 1992
- Evenflo – around for more than 90 years
- Dream Baby– Been in business since 1983
- Munchkin – Since 1991
- North States Industries– More than 50 years in business
- Safety 1st
- Summer Infant – Since 1985
- 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.
What not to Buy:
- 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.
Parts in a baby gate:
- Top Lock: Most baby gates have a mechanism at the top that you need to use two hands to open, which is great for preventing little ones from opening the gate on their own.
- Bottom Lock: Most gates also have a lock at the bottom that can be used to keep the gate extra secure, or to create a small space at the bottom so your pet can enter/exit without opening the entire gate.
- Hinges(top and bottom): The hinges on the gate allow you to open and close the gate as needed, and also give you the option to have the gate open in either direction.
- Screws: The screws on the gate (usually at the top) can be used to make the gate more secure, or to adjust the width of the opening. They are also essential in putting together some of the more complex gates.
Tools used in gates installation:
- Allen wrenches: These are small hexagonal-shaped wrenches that come in a set of different sizes. You’ll need these to tighten or loosen the screws on your gate, depending on the model.
- Drill: A power drill will make quick work of any holes you need to make for installation, but a hand-held screwdriver will also do the trick if you’re patient.
- Level: This is essential for making sure your gate is installed level and not crooked. A simple bubble level will do the trick.
- Tape measure: You’ll need this to measure the opening where you want to install your gate, as well as the width of the gate itself.
- Baseboard spacers: These plastic or metal discs will help keep the tension even on both sides and prevent the gate from bowing in the middle.
- Wall achor: if you’re mounting the gate to a wall, you’ll need a wall anchor to make sure it’s secure.
Q: What makes a good baby gate?
A: A good baby gate is one that is made of sturdy materials, has a weight limit that is appropriate for your child or pet, comes with clear instructions, and has safety features like an indicator that shows if the gate is locked properly.
Q: Are all baby gates JPMA certified?
A: No, not all baby gates are JPMA certified. When picking the most ideal gate to babyproof your home, check for brands that have subjected themselves to voluntary JPMA certification processed and were indeed certified. Check for the JPMA certification seal on the box or product page.
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Sandra W. Bullock is a grand-mom to two boys and is part of the review board here at Motherhoodhq.com. She is responsible for the quality control of content and is among our most experienced moms. She has over 20 years of writing parenting content online focussing on baby safety indoors and outdoors. She has written widely on babyproofing nurseries and homes for infants and toddlers and published work on privacy and the safety of baby monitors. She is a renowned advocate for non-wifi baby monitors that cannot be hacked and spends a lot of time educating parents on how to secure their homes – including ways to secure the baby from harm in and around homes. Sandra is a native of Atlanta where she also works. She can be reached using her email, Sandra.w(at)motherhoodhq.com