What is a safety gate?
Safety gates are designed to prevent your child falling down the stairs (or climbing up them) and to prevent them having access to selected areas of the home, such as the fireplace or kitchen. They can sometimes be known as stair gates, though balcony and banister guards are also available.
In general safety gates range in size from widths of about 60cm to as wide as 10 metres and are around 1 metre in height.
All safety gates should comply with safety standard BS 4125. Safety gates can be made from metal (often the cheapest price), wood or fabric.
When should you buy a safety gate?
Most experts advise you to buy a safety gate before your baby can walk, and definitely as soon as your baby is mobile - even a bum-shuffling baby can make it to the top of the stairs. Safety gates are not essential, but if you choose not to use them you're going to have to be hyper-vigilant and/or in the same room as your baby at all times.
What type of fitting you want?
There are two types of fittings: pressure-mounted and wall-fixed.
Pressure-mounted fittings are easy to fit without the need for screws or permanent adhesives. They basically expand outward until they become wedged into the doorframe. These gates are ideal for separating rooms that are on the same level but they aren’t for use at the top of stairs as they can come loose and there’s a bar across the bottom that can easily trip your baby (and you) up! On the plus side they can be moved fairly easily and they don't cause any damage to your walls.
Wall-fixed gates are seen as being safer and more secure. They can be used at the top of stairs or on doorways, but you’ll need to get out your drill to fix them in place, and once removed there's going to a hole or two in your wall. On the plus side, there's usually no bar at the bottom to trip up the unsuspecting walker.
How will you use your safety gate?
Safety gates aren’t just for the stairs. They can be used to contain a baby in a room or place (where they double as a playpen), or to protect a baby from falling through the gaps in a balcony or banister rail. Some are multi-use and can be angled around fireplaces or other dangerous items. Some parents choose to use a safety gate to protect a baby from a dog or other family pet (or vice versa!).
Before you buy a safety gate you need to measure the gap, taking into account banisters, skirting boards and door frames. Many models have extension kits available and there are also some narrow gates for more unusual gaps. Remember that pressure-fitted gates aren’t particularly recommended for use at the top of a staircase.
Do you want 2-way or 1-way opening?
Safety gates can swing open, slide open, roll out or lift off. If you're opting for a swing-open gate you need to decide if you want 2-way or 1-way opening. The advantage of a 2-way opening gate is that adults can pass through the gate more easily as they don't have to step back to swing the gate towards them. A gate that only opens one way is much better at the top of the stairs though, and it should open towards you when you're at the top facing down the stairs, as it's difficult (and dangerous) to open a door towards you when you're coming up the stairs because it forces you to lean backwards. This is especially tricky if you're carrying your baby!
What type of opening/closing mechanism do you want?
While you want a gate that’s too hard for a toddler to open, you’ll also want something that won’t drive you mad trying to undo to get through yourself.
Swing open safety gates often require you to squeeze two parts together and lift a safety catch - they are purposely hard to open so that toddlers can’t crack the code! However, this also means they’re often difficult to open one-handed and therefore tricky if you're carrying a baby or cup of tea.
Lift off gates are extremely safe and most useful for doorways or in playpens. They can be a pain for adults to use though, and you'll probably find yourself climbing over them. And guess who's going to be trying to copy you before too long?
Roll out options are usually for fabric-style gates, and they're very fiddly one-handed.
Some expensive safety gates come with alarms if they're not shut or even self-close behind you. On balance you need to weigh up convenience for grown-ups with safety for your baby.
What other safety gates and barriers might you need?
Other types of safety gates and barriers include travel safety gates, which are collapsible gates for travelling. They're pressure mounted so there’s no fixing required, and are generally made of heavy-duty nylon and mesh and weigh between 2kg-3kg. There are also fireguards and bed guards, extension gates and gates for unique spaces where, for example, there are no opposing and parallel walls. Aside from travel safety gates, other gates are less common and you might need to shop around if you have a particularly unusual opening to protect.
What safety advice do you need to know?
The number of safety barriers you need comes down to your personal perception of risk, and/or how gung-ho your baby is. As a minimum most experts recommend gates at the top of the stairs, but you may wish to consider gates on your child's bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, amongst others. Safety gates prevent accidents – statistics indicate that of all toddler falls in the home roughly 70% involve the staircase to some degree, so fitting gates on your stairs is probably a given. Other safety barriers are up to you, but you'll probably have greater piece of mind, but more frustration walking round your home, if you fit others.
Most safety ages are usually only suitable up to the age of 24 months, although each gate is different. You'll also need to fit them correctly, and to regularly check and re tighten pressure-mounted gates. It's also important to read the instructions
If you're buying second-hand think about how old the gate is – does it conform to current safety standards or has it worn over time?
Finally, think like a toddler – could you fit your little feet into the safety gate and thus use it as an improvised climbing frame?
Where do you start?
If you need help making your decision on which safety gate to buy check out our in-depth reviews of safety gates and other safety products. Alternatively, you can buy playpens which can be used as stair gates too. Take a look at our best playpens for babies and toddlers.