Family health

Start baby proofing! These are the 17 worst hazards in the home for kids

We talked to the experts to find out the most dangerous items that are commonly found in homes and learned how to fix them to keep kids safe.

Start baby proofing! These are the 17 worst hazards in the home for kids

Photo: iStockphoto

Those custom-made Roman blinds seemed like a fabulous idea—until the kids came along and started pulling at the cords. It turns out a lot of everyday objects become downright dangerous in the hands (and mouths) of wee ones.

When baby-proofing your home, awareness is key, says Don Marentette, director of Canadian Red Cross first-aid education programs. And that means parents should start by getting on their hands and knees to survey the landscape from a little person’s perspective. “Do that pre-scan thinking: ‘From the child's eyes, what am I going to see? What am I going to grab? What's there to put in my mouth?’” suggests Marentette. Here are some of the worst household hazards moms and dads commonly overlook.

Baby gates

Parents install gates to protect their crawling infants from stairs and other dangerous situations, which is great—as long as they’re used properly. “From my experience, 95 percent of the time, parents don't follow manufacturer’s instructions, so they are actually creating a hazard in their home,” observes Nancy Reynolds, who owns and operates Babysecure, a child-proofing company in Montreal. When you use a gate that doesn’t fit the walkway, don’t install it properly or try to customize the gate (say, so a pet can get underneath), children can get hurt. In fact, a 2014 study published in Academic Pediatrics found that five kids wind up in the emergency room each day with everything from cuts to traumatic brain injuries because of incorrect use of baby gates.

TIP: Follow instructions and be sure to get the right gate for the job. For example, don’t use pressure gates at the top of stairs because kids can push them out of the way and take a nasty tumble. Retractable fabric gates aren't a good idea either, since they are flexible.

child playing behind safety gates in front of stairs at home ronstik / Getty Images


Shockingly, Fluffy’s little water bowl is a drowning hazard for kids. And that dog kibble? One of those hard nuggets can easily block a child’s airway. The pets themselves can also cause injuries. “Dogs love to run with toddlers,” explains Marentette. “Slips and falls happen all the time because they’re both competing for the same space.”

TIP: Keep pet food and water gated off in an area separate from the kids, and keep a close eye on playtime. The Canadian Institute of Child Health recommends never leaving children alone with pets.

Close up of dog Golden Retriever licking baby feet Cheng NV / Getty Images


Detergent pods

Those colourful, chemical-filled pods we toss in our dishwashers and laundry machines pose a serious threat to kids who are tempted to play with them or put them in their mouths, which can result in chemical eye burns, cardiac arrest and comas. Despite widespread warnings, a 2016 study discovered a 20 percent increase in calls to poison control centres because kids were exposed to these pods.

TIP: Use traditional detergent or keep the pods up in a cupboard with a proper, child-safe latch.

baby in laundry basket PeopleImages / Getty Images

Button batteries

Those small, flat, shiny batteries can be found in many items around the house, including children’s toys, musical greeting cards and remote controls. Dozens of Canadian kids end up in emergency rooms every year after accidentally swallowing them. Once ingested, the batteries can cause choking, serious chemical burns and poisoning.

TIP: Reynolds says children should never be left alone with anything that contains a button battery, including toys. When not in use, store these items out of reach. “Parents often think to tape down [battery],” she says. “But the tape will often dry on the edges and curl. That’s where little people like to pick.”

baby age of 4 months with remote control ivolodina / Getty Images


Some babies are tempted to chew on cables and cords, which can cause an electric shock. Kids can also yank on cords, resulting in heavy items, like lamps, toppling on them.

TIP: Place a piece of furniture in front of standing lamps. For any lamps on side tables, wind the cords around the legs. Cord channels are also a great option because they conceal the cords while fastening them to the floor.



Ever open the door to the dishwasher mid-cycle only to be blasted by a cloud of steam? This could have much worse consequences for children whose skin is thinner. And don’t underestimate your toddler’s ability to pry the door open from below.

TIP: Parents can get safety straps that prevent little fingers from pulling the dishwasher door open. Better yet, just run the dishwasher at night, says Reynolds.

Child playing around the dishwasher encrier / Getty Images


Remember those coil doorstops you used to flick as a kid to hear the vibration? If you have any in your house, give the plastic tips a hard yank—some are easy to pull off. “That’s a choking hazard many people don’t think about,” says Reynolds.

TIP: Replace any flimsy coil stops with solid ones, which are safer and cost less than $3.

toy by door Searsie / Getty Images


“If you have a crib or a dresser up against a window, and a child can get onto that, they'll push that screen out,” says Marentette. “And that's the only thing between them and the ground below.” They could also reach window covering cords, which pose a serious risk for strangulation if they’re longer than 22 centimetres.

TIP: Health Canada recommends using cordless blinds, especially in kids’ rooms. Keep the windows themselves shut, locked and clear of furniture. If you need air circulation, don’t open the window more than an inch. You can also gate the window, but most importantly, Marentette says, “Be aware of it.”

Little baby boy crawlibg near big window sandsun / Getty Images


Fridge magnets and bags

Tiny, cute magnets may make your fridge look whimsical, but they're a major hazard for babies. Swallowing more than one magnet can cause damage to the GI tract. Shopping bags also pose a hazard.

TIP: Magnets can fall from the top of the fridge, so it's best to remove them completely until your toddler is older. Plastic bags, in particular, are seemingly innocuous items that can suffocate an infant, so store them far away from low drawers.

Cute Baby Boy Playing with Mom and Magnet Letters Text on Refrigerator Onfokus / Getty Images


Carpets and rugs make tiles and hardwood floors a softer, warmer place for toddlers to play and land. But they present a fall hazard for your newly crawling or walking baby, and you can trip on them while carrying your little one.

TIP: Consider purchasing a rug with a non-slip backing, or, if you invested in a rug pre-baby, you can buy rug grips for the corners or non-slip pads to prevent the mat from moving about.

A boy reading a book to his rabbit Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

House plants

House plants can liven up your interiors and bring a touch of the outdoors into overly sanitized modern homes. However, they're generally not meant to be touched or ingested, and some can cause significant symptoms in babies and pets who explore the world with their mouths and don't know better. Common indoor plants of concern include pothos, philodendrons, poinsettia, and peace lilies.

TIP: Swap out poisonous plant varieties for non-toxic ones like the areca palm, prayer plant, and dracaena.

Baby boy playing and discovers the leaves of the decoration plant in the house in front of the window Massimiliano Finzi / Getty Images


Pre-loved toys

Second-hand toys from family, friends, and thrift stores are an environmentally-friendly way to keep your baby occupied while managing your budget. Your toddler may also encounter communal toys in waiting rooms. You can't clean everything, but keep in mind these aren't fresh-out-of-the-package playthings.

TIP: Beyond checking for cleanliness, you should also steer clear of battery-operated toys and old toys that are red, yellow, or black. When chewed, they may release harmful chemicals. In addition, vintage toys may not have undergone the rigorous testing of today's toys, so use them as decoration and wait til baby's older to let them play.

Baby boy playing with a red toy watermelon Dusan Stankovic / Getty Images

Spout covers

Faucets are metallic, unyielding, and sometimes sharp. During bathtime, your energetic child can slip and bump their head or another part of their body on your tub's faucet. It's a nightmare best avoided.

TIP: Prevent scratches and sore spots with a spout cover made of more forgiving material. It's affordable, easy to use, and will give you peace of mind. You'll need to find one that fits your faucet (measure its width).

Baby girl taking bath with foam FamVeld / Getty Images

Hot water settings

Babies have thin, sensitive skin and can't tolerate the temperatures grown-ups are used to in the shower. Your baby's bath temperature should be around 100° F.

TIP: Feel the water, and if you're not sure, use a thermometer that doubles up as a toy to test the temperature before you place your munchkin in the bath. Avoid accidents altogether by setting your thermostat to below 120°F; you'll also save on your bills!

turning on the water of bathtub yipengge / Getty Images


Toilet locks

You'll soon realize your baby is fascinated by the toilet bowl, which is low enough for tots to touch. So, how do you keep toddlers out of your germ-infested bathroom (which may also be home to hazardous cleaning products and medicines)?

TIP: For starters, keep the bathroom door locked and dangerous products well out of reach. If you forget to lock the bathroom door, a toilet lock is a handy backup. It keeps the loo closed and deters unhygienic water play.

Baby pulling toilet paper off the roll markcarper / Getty Images

The TP roll rule

Kids under four are at risk of choking on small toys. So how do you know whether a toy is too small or not? Use the toilet paper rule!

TIP: Take a toilet paper roll and drop the toy over the hole in the middle. If it goes right through, toddlers can swallow it with fatal consequences. Coins are a no-no, as are mini bouncy balls. You can teach slightly older siblings this easy method for checking toy safety too.

Toddler playing with mother on the garden uchar / Getty Images

Radiators and vents

Curious toddlers may want to stick their fingers into floor vents. Wiggling them in is straightforward. Taking them out? Not so much. They may also drop items inside or lift the vent, which can be sharp or pinch tiny digits.

TIP: Try magnetic mesh vent covers or radiator guards. Childproof your HVAC registers by securing them with glue or screws. Fix a dryer sheet to the vent, or hide the vent under furniture that won't block airflow.

Toddler baby holding on to the radiator, child hand on the heating system close-up. White radiator for heating the home room and children's hand Andrey Zhuravlev / Getty Images
This article was originally published on Jan 10, 2021

Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners

I understand that I may withdraw my consent at any time.