Baby trying to get through a stair gate

Stair gates can be a bit of a nuisance: they take up space, hinder passageways through the house and can damage fittings when taken down. So there’s nothing more irritating than spending lots of money and time putting one up to find it doesn’t even do the job you need it to.

Instead, you want to find one that actually suits both your home and lifestyle. Our Buyer's Guide should answer any questions you might have about size, fit or price. To get those answers, we needed to do some serious stair gate testing. Before we even got the things, we did a mountain of research into the best companies and quickest assembly times. We also scoured the Mumsnet Talk forums for recommendations and every relevant review site. We even swatted up on European safety directives, so you don’t have to (feel free to breathe a sigh of relief).

After weeks of research, we were left with 11 stair gates with a range of features and of price points.

Which stair gates did we test?

Lindam Sure Shut Deco – Best Stair Gate 2018
Safetots Advanced Retractable – Best Retractable Gate
Bettacare Child and Pet Gate – Best Stair Gate for Pets
Baby Dan Flexi Fit – Best Stair Gate for Wider Spaces
Lindam Easy Fit Plus Deluxe
Baby Dan Premier
Fred Clear View
Safetots Self-Closing
Safety 1st Flat Step
Baby Dan Guard Me
Hauck Baby Park

Who tested the stair gates?

Our tester is an experienced mother of three who has battled with a fair few stair gates in her time. During the five-month testing period, her youngest child (12-17 months over this time) was old enough to need a safety gate but also strong enough to put it through its paces.

Older children need to be able to open a stair gate without help, and tend to be far less gentle than any adults in the house, so it was invaluable that our tester had two 'bigger little ones' in the house to really put the gates through their paces. We can confirm the gates recommended are as robust as they come (a couple of the others literally crumbled under the pressure).

How did you test for ease of assembly?

First (importantly) we looked at the ordering process. Was it easy to see exactly where this gate could be used? Did it have a minimum-to-maximum width that made it a good choice for a wide range of doorways? Were extensions or other kits required? If so, was it easy to order them and how much would they cost? Did the gate come with any kind of guarantee?

Once the gates arrived, our inspection began. We noted whether the gate came fully or only partially assembled and how many small parts you needed to juggle. We scored the usefulness of the instructions and checked whether the companies had online tutorials.

We then timed the assembly from getting the gate out the box to using it for the first time. We took into account whether you needed tools and if so, whether they were ones you were likely to already own.

When it came to screw-fit stair gates, we counted the number of screw holes you’d end up with in your walls and skirting, which is an important consideration if you’re living in rented accommodation – or simply don’t want lots of holes to fill in later (understandable). With pressure-fit stair gates, we noted any damage pressure cups made on the walls.

How did you test for day-to-day usage?

Our tester installed all the gates in 'high traffic' areas of the house, so they’d be opened or closed at least 40 times a day.

We asked whether the gate stayed put, felt solid and kept the toddler away from dangerous areas. We paid particular attention to the open-and-close mechanisms, and noted exactly what was necessary in each case. Could it be used one-handed by an adult? We also wanted gates that could be managed by older children – there’s nothing worse than having to rescue an older sibling from behind a stair gate 10 times a day.

If the gate was self-closing, we measured its reliability: how many times out of 10 did it close and latch successfully? Was the speed of closure convenient, or did it take too long or close so quickly it banged the back of everyone's legs?

Finally, if the gate featured a bottom bar, we measured it and noted whether it was a trip hazard. If the gate was retractable, we looked at how unobtrusive it was when fully open: how far the mounting bracket stuck out from the wall, and whether it was likely to get in the way.

How did you test for safety?

Armed with the latest European Safety Directive, we assessed the strength of the gate and made sure it made an audible, obvious noise to notify parents it was properly closed.

At the beginning and end of the test, we looked at fittings to see whether there were any shoddily-made parts or detachable pieces that could be a choking hazard. We examined the hinges to see if fingers could be trapped and analysed the open-and-close mechanism for any potential hazards.

Our adult testers applied a large amount of force to each gate at the beginning and end of the test – shaking it with all their might to see how firmly it stood in place. We checked whether there had been any deterioration in the fittings over time, and whether pressure-fit gates in particular needed to be tightened or had slipped out of place entirely. For the retractable models, we measured how taut the gate material was when closed, and how far it could be pushed out of position.

How did you measure value for money?

At the end of the process, our tester had a considerable amount of data about each gate.

All the gates were tested in the same conditions, by the same people, making detailed and objective comparisons. Our tester was then able to make a realistic evaluation of whether the gate was worth its cost, regardless of whether it stood at the cheaper or more expensive end of the market. Each of the gates was scored in various subcategories, and badges were awarded based on those totals.

The Lindam stair gate the Sure Shut Deco performed brilliantly in every category and was awarded Mumsnet Best Overall 2018.

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