A retractable baby gate is a unique alternative to hardware mounted and pressure mounted baby gates. All of these gates have a common purpose: to block access to unsafe areas, such as kitchens, living rooms with fragile objects, and stair cases. Retractable models are more versatile in some respects, and less so in others.
How Retractable Baby Gates are Different
Child safety gates of any kind use a set of brackets that attach to a door frame, the newel post of a staircase, or its opposite wall. Hardware mounted gates usually have a hinge on one side, so that the entire gate swings open when an adult presses or squeezes the release latch. Pressure mounted models have a smaller gate in the middle of the frame, so that the edges of the frame stay in place when the gate is opened.
Retractable gates use a polyester mesh screen rather than pickets of wood, plastic or metal. The user closes the gate by unspooling the screen across the opening, much like a window shade mounted sideways; and like a window shade, the screen retracts into a roller when the gate is in the open position. The narrow roller can be detached from its mounting bracket, making it compact for storage in tight spaces when not in use.
Retractable models with clamping mounts are extremely portable, ideal for moving from room to room, or taking along for use during visits to other parents’ homes. While they’re the easiest type of safety gates to uninstall and reinstall, they’re also convenient for facilitating adult access when left in place. When the screen is drawn, adults have the option of simply unlatching them to walk through, then reattaching them. If the screen needs to be left open for a while, it can be wound up into the roller. Most units wind manually, but some will wind up automatically when the release latch is pressed.
Limitations of Retractable Gates
Since retractable baby gates use a flexible screen rather than rigid bars, they’re effective for discouraging kids from walking through them, but they’re not invulnerable to penetration. A child who runs into the screen, or a toddler who falls into it, has a chance of falling through. This is a minor problem on a level floor, since children seldom harmed seriously by falling a couple of feet. But many baby gates are purchased for use at the top of stairs. While some retractables are JPMA certified for top-of-stairs installation, this particular use case is not recommended. Falling from the top of stairs is clearly more dangerous than falling from and to the same floor.
Retractable gates with manually wound rollers leave it up to the adult user to reattach the screen after walking through the doorway. While this isn’t inherently a problem with the gate itself, the extra step of winding the rollers encourages less responsible users to leave the screen hanging limp in the middle of the opening, creating a trip hazard or unintentional access for children. Auto-winding rollers are preferred. A baby gate only needs to be inadvertently left open once to defeat its purpose.