Safety Gate Buying Guide

A safety gate is a mechanism for preventing access to certain areas of a household. Made with a variety of materials, safety gates have two main installation approaches – pressure-fittings that allow them to open by being entirely removed and wall mountings, which attach swinging or retracting gates permanently to one side of the area or entrance they block. There are many considerations to take into account when buying a safety gate.


The first thing to determine when buying a safety gate is what purpose(s) you intend for it to serve. For many people, safety gates are primarily associated with child safety and keeping children from venturing alone into areas in a household that cannot be rendered childproof (like the kitchen, the bathroom, and staircases). However, buying a safety gate can also help mature individuals, such as people with dementia or sleepwalkers, from getting into problematic or dangerous situations. In addition, another primary or secondary use of safety gates is to control the territory of household pets.

The second part of the purpose has to do with location: if the gate will be used in only one particular spot in your home, a wall mounted gate may be best, while a pressure mounted gate is portable and can be moved from place to place in your home, or taken with you when you visit other residences.


The main considerations in buying a gate will be:

  • the size of the opening
  • the open/close mechanism
  • the mounting (pressure or wall mount)
  • the construction materials

  • Size

    Not every gate model comes in every size. If you have, say, a cut out opening (rather than a standard doorframe, between your living room and dining room, your choices will be limited to gates wide enough to fit or specific types of gates that can be linked together to fill a wider area. Although many standard gates have a maximum width of about 40 inches (1.01 m), there are some that are up to 24 feet (7.31 m) in length and can be used to form a wide protection around a hearth or create a self-contained area in the center of a room.

    The height of the gate is also a consideration. Those whom the gate is protecting should not be able to climb over. However, you may wish to choose a style of gate that the household adults can climb over in order to avoid frequent opening and closing. Your decision in this regard will partly have to do with how often and how long you envision using the gate. If the gate will be used for child safety, ask yourself how old and what height is the child likely to be when you choose not to use the gate any more.

  • Open/Close Mechanism

    Those who need to be able to open the gate—which may be different in these different situations—should be able to do so with one hand and quickly in an emergency. Those whom the gate is set to keep safe, should not be able to open it.

  • Mounting

    When buying a safety gate, choosing the appropriate mounting depends on location as well as the material that the gate will come in contact with on each side. Pressure mounts can be installed without tools, but are not considered suitable choices for blocking off stairways, and wouldn’t fit or be stable in many cases (e.g., with a newel post). And speaking of newel posts, the hardware mounted gates may have special installation kits for different materials (drywall/plaster; brick/concrete; wood newel post; wrought iron), which may render them safer than one-type-fits-all installation.

  • Construction Materials

    Gates may be made of steel, wood, plastic, or mesh. Some gates materials (laminated mesh) are nearly opaque, so consider the effects of having the view both in and out of the area diminished – it may be both an aesthetic and a safety issue.

Safety Issues

In the past, accordion style gates were used, but they are no longer recommended or manufactured: children may get pinched or otherwise caught in them. Gates with slats should follow the same standard as for cribs, i.e., no more than 2 3/8 inches (6.03 cm) between slats.

Voluntary standards for safety gates are set by the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) and administered by the Juvenile Products Manufacturer’s Association (JPMA). Look for the JPMA approval on any safety gate you consider purchasing.

home institute 1 Before buying a safety gate, check for recalls. Check the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Keeping Baby Safe web sites for details about safety gate recalls. Consumer Reports is also a good source.

As with all child safety products, there is no substitute for supervision.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

Related Home Institute Articles

  • Childproofing the Kitchen I
  • Childproofing the Garage
  • Emergency Information
  • Childproofing the Bedroom
  • Childproofing the Living Room
  • Childproofing the Bathroom
  • Highchair Buying Guide
  • Stair Safety
  • Safety Gates