In every child’s life, there comes a point at which they want to be in places they shouldn’t – and at some point, they gain the mobility to get there. Enter the stair gate (or safety gate): a barrier that keeps toddlers away from hazards, like fireplaces or stairways, or rooms that you’d like to keep out of bounds, while allowing adults and older children to get through (mostly).
Because they’re a child safety product, each model is regulated and controlled by European safety bodies, and has passed some pretty thorough tests before going on sale. For this reason – and despite what Pinterest and Youtube might say on ’how to make your own stair gate’ – we wouldn’t ever recommend doing that. There’s lots to learn, though, from the various safety requirements to which types are best for which spaces. We’ve put it all together in an easy-to-follow guide.
Types of stair gate
Stair gates come in three main varieties:
- Pressure-fitted gates, which use the pressure of the frame to ‘stick’ the gate to the doorway
- Screw-fitted gates, which have mounting brackets screwed into the wall
- Travel gates, which function as temporary barriers, and need to be entirely removed each time you want to step through.
Most screw-fit stair gates have a traditional metal or wood framework, but you can now get ‘retractable’ models, which are made of a foldable or rollable material (usually plastic panels or mesh), and can be opened across the space and secured, then retracted back when not required.
You can also find extra-tall stair gates in both pressure-fit and screw-fit varieties, which are good for use with pets as well as children. Indeed, if you are looking for something that doubles as a dog gate for stairs, be aware of the different considerations.
Pressure-fit or screw-fit gate?
Pressure-fit gates are quick to assemble, easy to adjust, can be tightened up when they get slightly loose, and don’t involve drilling holes in your walls. Most use wall cups secured by sticky pads, but be aware that these can still be tricky to remove after some time and may leave marks.
That said, if you’re renting and have restrictions about wall fittings in the property, a pressure gate is the option to go for – you’ll just have to be super careful when removing it.
Because a pressure-fit gate needs a full frame and equal force on each corner to keep it secure, it can only be used in standard doorways and at the bottom of stairs, and will need to be altered to fit different sizes using extensions.
Pressure-fit gates are not recommended for use at the top of stairs because of the potential they have for loosening over time and the risk that the necessary bottom bar can be a trip hazard.
The other major downside is that there’s a great deal of variability in how effective the pressure points are at keeping the gate secure. Some stay really steady; others work their way loose quite easily, and some of that depends on the space you put it in so you won’t know for sure until it’s in situ.
Screw-fit gates are a more permanent fixture but usually more flexible than their pressure-fit counterparts.
Screw gates do mean that you’re committing to drilling holes in your walls or skirting, and those mounting brackets will be a fixture in your home until you decide to remove them. But their design and the lack of bottom bar means that screw-fit gates can be used at both the top and bottom of stairs, in uneven doorways (great for older properties) and even outside – and the best models manage all of the above. They should also stay put for longer, giving you more peace of mind.
The trade-off is that screw-fit gates are almost always more complicated to assemble, requiring a drill or screwdriver and a decent amount of time (and some swearing). You might not be in a position to damage your walls at will if you rent, and if you go to the trouble of installing a screw-fit gate that then doesn’t work for you, there’s an inconvenient mess to sort out.
Retractable gates are great in locations where space is at a premium, because the mounting brackets tend to be slimline and discreet, and can often be placed on both the inside and outside of door frames. If you don’t like the look of gates in your doorways, or prefer to have free passage through your house after bedtime, a retractable gate has the advantage: it only blocks the way when you need it to, and stays out of the way when you don’t.
Narrow stair gates
Narrow stair gates can be harder to find (and therefore more expensive) than their standard-size counterparts. If you have extra-narrow or wide spaces, a retractable gate or a screw-fitted all-rounder like Baby Dan stair gate the Flexi Fit might be a more cost-effective option for you.
Price of stair gates
Stair gates range from around £25 for something quite basic, to up to £100 and more at the luxury end of the market. It’s worth measuring your doorways carefully first, though, because most manufacturers sell the extensions and banister kits separately, and fitting a series of gates with full extensions can add up very quickly indeed. If extensions are going to increase the cost enough, it might be worth looking at spending more on a model that will fit without those add-ons.
How to choose the right stair gate for you
Before opening your wallet, it’s worth doing some prep first. Here are a few things to consider before you buy:
Where will the gate be fitted?
- At the top of the stairs? If so, it will need to be screw-fitted, and might need a banister kit.
- In a small space? A retractable model might suit you better.
- In a rental property? Look for a good pressure-fit model.
- In a high-traffic area of the house? Read reviews carefully to see how easy it is to open and close.
What’s your budget like?
At the top end of the market, gates come in elegant, muted, wood-and-metal combinations with thicker slats, or even clear acrylic. These are aesthetically pleasing in their own right, and might suit your décor if the gate will stay up in a visible area for some time – but they can easily be four times the price of perfectly decent entry-level models and, if they’re not going to be up for long, you might want to look at a more budget model.
How do you put up the stair gate?
Almost all manufacturers include videos that demonstrate installation and use. Watch for how many pieces you’ll have to put in place, how thorough the instructions look to be, and whether you’ll need any tools of your own (some require an electric screwdriver or drill).
What will it be used for on a daily basis?
If you choose a tricky-to-open gate in haste, you’ll repent at your 3am leisure.
Videos from the manufacturer should demonstrate how each gate opens and closes, and almost all reviews mention it. Look carefully at the motion required and see whether you think you and your older child could manage it easily.
It’s also worth considering adults who will need to use it regularly. If grandparents help with childcare but your mother has crippling arthritis, that’s obviously something to take into consideration. As much as you don’t want a toddler making off through the gate in the manner of Harry Houdini, you also don’t want your poor mum stuck inside it with the baby.
Check whether it has a bottom bar that could be a trip hazard, and consider whether you’d like a gate that swings shut by itself. This is convenient sometimes, but not always, especially if you have a toddler that might be following you through the gate unnoticed, like a ninja, and could get their fingers trapped.
Still stuck? Ask for other parents’ advice on our forums.