Home Safety: How to Child-Proof Your Kitchen

Your busy kitchen can be the most accident-prone place in the house. Here’s how to child-proof your home, starting with the most essential and simplest steps.

Safety locks on drawers keep little hands from getting ahold of things that can hurt them. Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

Child-proofing your kitchen takes constant vigilance. As youngsters grow and gain mobility, you’ll need to work harder to keep your kitchen safe. Here’s how.

Purge the problems

If it’s not in your house, you don’t have to worry about it. So get rid of stuff you don’t use or that poses a threat.

  • Throw out seldom-used cleaning products, such as bleach and drain cleaner. Use inexpensive green cleaners instead, and toss unused portions when you’re done.
  • Small kitchen magnets are a choking hazard; if you must post photos on your fridge, use magnetized vinyl pads.
  • Old kitchen blinds with free-hanging pull cords pose strangling dangers. Replace with wooden shutters or peel-and-stick vinyl window films.
  • Did you know that dry dog food pellets are a choking hazard? When Bowser is done chowing down, clean out leftovers by dumping the doggie dish.

Put it out of reach

Use childproof locks (more on that later in this article) to secure all kitchen cabinets. A good safe place for chemical cleaners and hazardous items is a cabinet over a refrigerator.

  • Move the cleaning products you still use to cabinets or shelves that are above a child’s reach.
  • Elevate knives, medicines, and alcoholic beverages.
  • Keep salt and vanilla extracts out of reach. Salt is easy for a kid to pour out and eat (it’s surprisingly poisonous to children even in relatively small doses). Vanilla and other extracts, such as almond and lemon, contain alcohol.
  • Some houseplants are poisonous and need to go on a high shelf — or out of your house. Check out the New York Botanical Garden’s advice on poisonous houseplants.

Change your habits

For infants, the greatest dangers in a kitchen are having things spilled on them or being tripped over, so changing your habits is a critical part of child-proofing.

  • Never carry an infant and hot food at the same time. An infant’s skin is far more tender than yours. Even 1 second of skin contact with a 140-degree drink can burn an infant, so if you spill tea or coffee at a common serving temperature, 160 to 180 degrees, a burn is almost inevitable.
  • Set your baby in a safe place while you cook and serve. Car carriers work great for infants. For toddlers, you might need a playpen or kitchen gates.
  • Heat baby bottles in a pan with warm water, and always test the milk temperature by dribbling some on your skin before you begin feeding your baby. Remember that drinks heated in a microwave may be much hotter than their containers.
  • Place pots at back of the stove, with the handles turned inward.
  • Keep electrical cords for small appliances up on the counter so a coffee pot or toaster doesn’t land on a kid’s head.
  • Use placemats instead of tablecloths; tablecloths have corners that are so much fun to tug on.

Lock out

Time to invest in some of the clever products that help make kitchens safer for kids. Many of these focus on blocking kids’ access to dangerous things, such as electrical systems.

Outlet covers: The common plug-in types are simple to install. Socket Lockits have squeeze-type locking guards that adults can remove ($9.95 for a pack of 8) but kids can’t. The Mommy’s Helper Safe-Plate electrical outlet cover ($4.99) has plates that slide into place as plugs are removed.

Cabinet locks: If you want something that’s visible and easy to operate, Kiscords Childproof Cabinet Locks ($4.95 for 2) gets high ratings. If you prefer a hidden mechanism, consider Tot Lok magnetic cabinet locks, which come with a magnetic key that’s too big to be a choking hazard ($29.99 for 5 locks and 2 keys). Pass the key over the cabinet to unlock it. Installation requires drilling into the back of the cabinet doors, and you’ll also need a foolproof place to store the magnetic key.

Safety gates: Depending on how your kitchen is set up, safety gates can be godsends in keeping kids out of the kitchen or the cooking area when meal prep is under way. For kitchen duty, you’ll probably want the type that presses into place and is easy to set up and remove. Look for one that’s certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. Good bets are the AutoLock Pressure Gate by Cardinal Gates ($92), and Evenflo’s Memory Fit gate ($29.99).

Other safety tips

  • If you have a slide-in range, make sure it’s securely attached to the wall. Otherwise, a kid could open the oven door and cause the range to tip. If you have kitchen bookshelves, strap them to the wall as well.
  • Tape a note with the poison control number for your area and emergency contact information to your refrigerator, or post the note by phone.
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm if your stove burns gas or propane. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible, and it can kill or make children seriously ill in small doses that might not noticeably affect adults.