Childproofing the Kitchen

Safety products and common sense can help keep children safe.

By James Scott | Updated Jul 2, 2020 10:28 AM

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Many child-safety experts believe that children should be kept out of the kitchen and that no amount of childproofing can make a kitchen safe. Jay Hanc of Safe Beginnings, a baby-proofing and safety company in Brookline, MA, says, “My first suggestion is don’t allow kids in the kitchen. Between cooking and cleaning, the kitchen is not a safe place. If they are in the kitchen, they should be in their high chair.”

To keep children safe, all kitchen entrances should have a safety gate to keep children out. “The biggest frustration for me is hearing parents complain about the looks of some of the safety measures,” says Mat Dann, a firefighter and paramedic. “You can stain or paint safety gates to match your kitchen or your baseboards. The most important thing is the safety of your child.”

Cabinets and Drawers

Cabinets and drawers are major culprits for injuries to toddlers. Drawers, which are often at the height of a toddler’s head, should be installed with automatic closing slides that keep the drawer shut even after a hard shove. Better yet, Merillat makes the Soft Action Drawer Guide System, which regulates the closing of the drawer to prevent drawer slams and pinched fingers.

Cabinets and drawers should all be secured with internal locking devices because external locks that need to be put back in place after each use are often forgotten. One highly rated product is the Safety 1st Tot Lock system, which is installed inside drawers and cabinets that are 0.5 to over 1.5 inches thick and utilizes magnets as a locking mechanism. A switch on the locks disables them when they are no longer needed.

Electrocution Dangers

The 911 Infobook reports that 86 percent of electrocution injuries involve children ages one to four, with the highest concentration of emergencies occurring at mealtimes. The likely reason is that outlet covers have been removed, appliances are out, and children are in the kitchen during busy meal preparation.

While outlet covers are the most common solution to keep children from electrocution, Hanc warns, “They’re a choking hazard if they’re left off, which all too often, unfortunately, they are.” Hanc prefers a self-closing outlet cover that slides back into place when the outlet is not in use.

GFI (ground fault interrupter) outlets are required in new buildings in most areas, and have cut down on electrocution injuries, but cannot accommodate a self-closing outlet cover. Make sure no appliance cords dangle within reach of children. A slide-out appliance shelf high up in a pantry with a recessed power strip is easy to install but difficult for children to access.

Burn Prevention

According to the Burn Resource Center, burns and fires are the leading cause of accidental death in the home for children 14 and under. Children from birth to two years are most frequently admitted for emergency burn care and are most frequently burned in the kitchen. “Many of the accidents we see are from children pulling on a tablecloth,” Dann says. Small placemats that do not hang over the edge of the table or counter are the easy answer. Skid resistant placemats are an even better solution.

The latch to the dishwasher should be locked at all times, with locking straps as an available second measure of protection. “Run the dishwasher after the children have gone to bed,” Dann says, “because the steam escaping can scald a small child.” The oven and stove can also be made safe. “Turn your pot handles toward the wall, and if you’re not using all your burners, use the ones at the rear of the range,” Dann says.

Hanc recommends glass-top stoves because they have no open flame, preferably one with a heat warning light and burners set back from the edge of the stove. He also suggests finding an oven with the knobs at the rear of the stove where children can’t get to them, or failing that, knob covers. Induction cooking surfaces stay cool to the touch, but are pricier than other alternatives.

Stove guards, like the one produced by Prince Lionheart for around $25, are essentially plastic shields that prevent children from reaching onto the stove. Children pulling on or leaning against a hot oven door can burn their hands, however, so Omega Appliances produces an oven with a quadruple-glazed oven door that remains cool to the touch even during cooking. Electrolux ovens also feature Cool-Touch oven doors.

Self-cleaning ovens feature locks that can double as safety locks to keep children out, but several companies make separate oven locks. “They’re not always attractive,” says Dann, “but they are a necessity.”

“A lot of this is common sense on the part of the parents. One thing people often forget is to never keep treats above the stove or near appliances,” Dann says, “Kids are curious, and they are resourceful.” A kitchen designer will take children into account when planning a kitchen by placing outlets higher up, selecting child-safe appliances, or creating appliance garages. Take advantage of their expertise when planning your new kitchen or kitchen remodel.