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Watch out for these seven stair gate mistakes

Your safety barrier will fail to protect your child properly if it's not installed and used correctly

Watch out for these seven stair gate mistakes

A baby stair gate or barrier is a useful piece of kit to keep any intrepid explorers away from stairs or out of rooms that they shouldn’t be in, but we’re concerned about the risks of installing them incorrectly.

Find out why installation is a key safety issue, as well as other stair gate hazards you need to avoid when installing your safety barrier.


Head straight to our Best Buy stair gate reviews to see those that impressed in our tests


1. Not screwing in stair gates at the top of the stairs

The biggest mistake is not screwing your stair gate in when it’s installed at the top of stairs, and we’ve found that one in five parents are taking this risk.*

We always advise installing a screw-fit gate, or screw in a pressure-fit gate at the top of your stairs. This is for two reasons.

  • Screw-fit gates don’t usually have a U-bar frame that runs along the floor and can pose a trip hazard. This can be particularly dangerous if you’re at the top of the stairs going down through the gate and you trip over it and fall.
  • They tend to be a more secure fit than pure pressure-fit gates because they’re fixed with screws.

It’s less important to use a screw-fit gate at the bottom of the stairs, but it’s probably still a good idea as nobody wants to trip up the stairs or on the last step.

If you live in a rental property and can’t leave holes in your wall, make sure you choose a pressure-fit gate to go near the stairs that’s passed all our safety testing to ensure it stays securely fastened.

Woman installing a stair gate

2. Not reading the instructions

Avoid reading your safety barrier instructions at your peril.

Over the years, we’ve tested gates from a wide range of brands, and come across some that market themselves on their own and retailer websites as pressure-fit gates that don’t need screwing in.

But on closer inspection of the instructions, it will state the wall cups, which hold the pressure fixings in place, need to be screwed in.

If parents haven’t checked the instructions properly, they may install the gate incorrectly by not fitting the wall cups with screws.

This can be frustrating if you purchased the gate thinking you wouldn’t need to make holes in your walls or door frame, especially if you’re in rented accommodation with no option of screwing a safety barrier in.

Do your research and if possible, check what the manufacturer of the gate says (rather than what’s stated in the product description of the retailer).

3. Forgetting about other rooms

Safety barriers are most commonly used to block stairways, but it’s worth considering placing a gate at the entrance to kitchens or utility rooms, to stop inquisitive babies and toddlers from getting into a room that has a host of dangers.

These can include hot oven doors, pans on stoves and washing tablets under the sink.

baby stair gate

4. Not inspecting the adhesive pads

Safety barriers that are fitted using pressure and wall cups often come with a couple of sets of adhesive sticky pads. These help to hold the wall cups in place.

However, it’s worth inspecting the pads more closely. Our tests have found that some gates have sticky pads where the glue has started to deteriorate and this can affect how well the wall cups stay in place.

If the sticky pads look a little old or yellow, you should try and purchase replacements. Check if the manufacturer provides additional pads or search for 3M double-sided sticky pads online.

5. Not checking your auto-close gate shuts properly

An auto-close gate is one that will close automatically behind you, clicking shut without you having to do it manually.

The mechanism for this is based on the gate being pulled wide open and swinging back via the momentum of a spring in the closing mechanism.

However, you should always glance back to make sure it has locked properly. We’ve tested gates that don’t always lock properly if they’re not let go from the widest opening position and this could be a real safety risk.

baby reaching through stair gate

6. Forgetting about skirting boards

Some stair gates will require a wall or door frame that is completely inline, so that the top and bottom gate fittings are directly above each other.

If you have a skirting board, this could mean you need to purchase ‘spacers’. These are an additional piece of plastic which builds up the wall area to the equivalent width of the skirting board, so that the fittings are perpendicular.

These can usually be purchased from the manufacturer, so check this is the case before you buy.

7. Not examining your gate regularly

Take a look at your gate at least once a month and tighten any fittings or screws if needed.

This is to check that any repeated rattles or shoves by a determined toddler haven’t loosened anything, which could affect the structural integrity of the gate.

Failures in Which? stair gate testing

Why Which? stair gate testing matters

We test stair gates to the latest EU safety standard, putting them through their paces with a range of checks to ensure they’re sturdy and secure.

These include attaching a clamp to the top of the gate and pulling it back and forth 10,000 times to mimic a child pulling on the gate over time.

We also hit the gate in different parts, including on the fixing points, to replicate what might happen if a child kicked at the gate in case parts can break or come loose.

If the gate comes loose, we make it an automatic 0% Don’t Buy product, with a safety alert attached to it.

This is because the gate has failed at its primary purpose; to remove access to certain areas of the house.

Find out more our rigorous testing by reading our guide to how we test stair gates.

* In March 2020, we surveyed 521 parents with a child under five years old and who own a stair gate.

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