February 13, 2007

Choke-Proofing Your Child-Proofing: Outlet Cover Edition

There are a couple of solutions for making electrical outlets safer for mobile kids. Especially when bite-sized outlet covers can be nearly as hazardous as the sockets themselves.

In DC, the real electrical outlet threat is in the living room, but we instituted a "don't go in that corner, don't go near the wires" rule early on, and we just rely on vigilance and the fact that we usually sit obstructing the two most accessible outlets anyway.

In New York, though, we went with the standard, buy-em-by-the-dozen plastic outlet covers. My mother-in-law has similar, clear plastic ones with little contoured flanges to make them [slightly] easier to get out.

What I've found is that the choke hazard doesn't come from the kid prying those suckers out; it's from the parents. The covers are so hard to get out, I found I've been prone to leave them out for a while, lying around. So in order not to have the kid choke on them, covers need to be:

A) more convenient for adults to take out--and put back in,
B) less choke-hazardous, maybe by being bigger.
C) non-removable, like the way gas caps have little chains.


The Safe-Plate outlet cover is like option C. It stays covered until you plug something in, then you have to slide open the prong cover. [They have outlets like this all over Europe, btw.] They're $6/cover, $4 if you shop around or don't mind beige, but they're probably not necessary for every plug in the house. [AT's The Nursery pointed to a good thread about outlet covers at House In Progress.]


SafetyCaps, meanwhile, are for option B. They were developed by a dad, George deCell, whose own daughter choked on a standard, smaller outlet cover. SafetyCaps are a full inch wider than other covers, but they're just as cheap: $3 for a pack of 20.

I can't help but feel like the Safe-Plate's overdoing it a bit, but the shameful reality is, it's probably the best the kid's gonna get to protect her from a forgetful slack-ass like me.

Buy white Safe-Plate outlet covers, $5.99/each [right start/amazon]
Buy SafetyCaps online, $2.97/20-pk [safetycaps.com]


We tried one with a safety button and side tabs like a pill bottle. When we wanted to use the outlet, it took a week of trying, pinched and scraped fingers, and eventually a pair of vise-grips and a screwdriver to pry the little fucker out. We threw those away and went with the cheap plugs. But...

When I was painting our kitchen, I put blue painter's tape over the outlets to keep em clean. The kid was fascinated with 'em, but she couldn't peel the tape off. It keeps her fingers out, but wouldn't stop a bobby pin or something from getting jammed in there.

I actually can't remember if we used outlet covers -- maybe not, because virtually every wall in every place we've lived has been covered with bookcases. But when the kid was ten months old or so, she did choke on something -- badly enough to turn a serious shade of blue.

It took three deep sweeps of her throat to find the culprit -- a thin, small, crystal clear strip of cellophane that had come off of some packaging and apparently floated down invisibly next to the floor molding. She was fine, but sheesh . . .

Quite the wake-up call -- up till this little incident 'choking hazard' had pretty much meant chunks of plastic. Go for the outlet covers, but vaccuum a lot, too.

My high-tech/low-tech solution was a bunch of the expensive sliding ones for the most used outlets, and some clear packing tape for lesser used ones. Seems good so far... those sliding ones are great, but as you mentioned, a bit pricey. Our current apartment has a ton of outlets (probably because it's the first building we've lived in built this millenium) so it would set us back quite a bit to do all of them.

The other advantage of the plates is that if you unplug something, you don't have to go search in a drawer for a cover.

duct tape. comes in lots of colors. she cant peel it off. though we also use the standard caps, I have found that you can stick the plug 'prong' under the plastic cap to get the leverage you need. we did a renovation right before the birth and I tried to get the electirician to not put plugs everywhere [for many reasons, my wife is a painter and we use the walls for studio visits], but those pesky building codes got in the way.

We tried not to go crazy with the whole baby proofing thing but outlets I dealt with throughly. Those safety caps were a total pain so we ditched those entirely and put the safety plate covers on all outlets lower that 3 Ft. However I found that with all the things around the house that stay plugged in (lamps, monitors, cordless phones, etc) the real problem was fear of our son partially unplugging something and then touching the metal (shiny, shiny!) - For that I found these "Big Box Outlet Covers" that cover the entire outlet with the things still plugged in - also large enough for those pesky ac adaptors. Not to put on an outlet that you want to access frequently but does the deed - Beware there are two versions (standard and decora) the distinction is one or two screws fixing the plate of your existing outlet - I think that decora was for two screws, if I remember correctly

Not outlet-related, but babyproofing question for anyone who has an answer -- anyone found anything for successful oven latching? Our son has recently discovered the joy in putting random stuff in the oven. Fortunately not while it's been on/hot, but still, it'd be nice to be able to put it on lockdown, and there are surprisingly few options out there that don't get thoroughly panned.

The cover plates work great, however, they have been known to start fires. The Cover Plates do not allow a corded plug to be inserted all the way, the little slideing door is about 1/8 of an inch thick' and the device that you are plugging in can over heat and start a fire.

Just food for thought.

[and a place to roast that food, a twofer! Considering you have a competing product though, I'd like to see some citation or report that addresses your not-implausible-but-unsupported claim. Just sayin', -ed.]

The sliding plate option is a fine one, but its expensive and a hassle to change every outlet. I like the safety outlet plugs best. They are reasonable and today, they are much harder to remove than the days of old.

Heck, I can barely remove them myself, which is why my wife ended up buying us this other new product called WedgEZ (bought online at www.wedgez.com). This tool is made specifically to remove outlet plugs.

Regardless which way you go, definitely protect your home from child electrical shock.

Are outlet covers really necessary? Even a baby's fingers aren't small enough to fit into an outlet. It has been my experience that you need to try really hard to shock yourself with an outlet. Like take TWO paperclips, and stick one in EACH slot. Don't ask me how I found that out...

wow - hope you dont have kids!!! ha ha!
Yes, SafetyCaps are great. Cant believe I used the regular ones for all those years....they seem so tiny and inadequate now. Also, SafetyCaps are easy to buy online and also get packs for my friends (baby showers etc).

[haha! i don't know what's funnier: obnoxious judgmentalism or infant electrocution! -ed.]

I agree with Chris. Does anybody have any statistics on this? How many infants really get electrocuted per year on uncovered outlets? I'll bet it's a teeny number. Most likely smaller than the number that choke on small plastic doo-hickeys. That's probably the real demon.

Having 7 kids, I could probably answer that safety question. It only takes YOUR kid getting electrocuted for you to wish you'd spent $20 on outlet caps.
One of my kids took a coin and stuck it in the outlet. (not a baby, just an idiot boy) Amazingly, he didn't need to stick one in each slot and touch them both to get a reaction! It MELTED the coin, and thankfully tripped the breaker. My son wasn't visibly injured, but it could have done some internal damage. I did not find out about it until I found the half melted coin a few weeks later and the kids confessed.

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