Electrical outlets are to babies and young children what boobs are to men: irresistible (snort).
Since the human body is 70% water, it makes for an unfortunately good conductor of electricity. Each year, some 2,400 children are hospitalized due to electric shock, with injuries ranging from minor burns to death.
Keys and coins are the top two favorite items for kiddos to stick into electrical outlets (because, why not?).
Not to worry—there are a variety of easy products on the market that will keep your child safe from electrical shock.
First, a lesson in electrical hardware:
If you have a newer home (built in 2008 or later), you probably already have tamper-resistant receptacles, or “TRRs.” These outlets look like regular outlets, except they appear to have a backing, which are actually spring-loaded shutters that close off openings to the contacts. The shutters only open when they are both compressed simultaneously (i.e. a competent adult plugging something in).
These outlets are also clearly labeled with the letters “TR” (in red (left) for illustration).
One option for homes built prior to 2008 is to upgrade them with these babyproof receptacles. TRRs only cost about 50 cents more than non-TROs (tamper-resistant outlets); it’s really the labor that’s the priciest component of the task. However, if you and/or your partner are competent in the home improvement department, you can probably do it yourself.
You can buy a standard tamper-resistant duplex outlet for about $2 each at your local Home Depot or hardware store.
Alternatively, a simple outlet cover will also do the trick.
I. Empty Outlet Covers
To cover empty outlets (and those that are rarely used), the cheapest solution is a simple plastic outlet cover that costs about 8 cents a pop (36 for $3.00).
Our favorite “cheapies” are…
Mommy’s Helper Outlet Plugs ~$4 for 36
Safety 1st Deluxe Press Fit Outlet Plugs ~$3 for 8
Safety 1st OutSmart Outlet Shield ~$4 for 2
Sliding Plate Covers
A better solution that costs a bit more is to use horizontal sliding plate covers, which automatically slide back into place after use. Sliders are probably the next best thing to retrofitting with TRRs.
Our favorite is the…
Mommy’s Helper Safe Plate Slide Covers ~$15/3-count
Keep in mind that some retractable covers prevent plugs from fully engaging, which can lead to sparking and overheating with high-power items like vacuums.
* Remember, this is just for unoccupied outlets; for occupied outlets…
II. Occupied Outlet Covers
I didn’t know what else to call these, but for outlets that are already “plugged into” by permanent things like lamps, TVs, etc., the easiest thing is to block them with a piece of furniture to make them inaccessible, even if it means throwing off the symmetry of the room a bit.
When it’s not possible to block them with furniture, get a plug cover, such as…
The favorite cover for outlets that are “plugged into” is the LectraLock.
This one is better for frequent access because it’s easier for parents to get on and off. Note that it now includes the Duplex style—the old standard with two separate round outlets (labeled “Outlet,” below left)—and the Decorator (or “Decora”) style, which is the newer outlet style that is one single large rectangle, see below right).
III. Power Strip Covers
Ah yes, power strips. We all have them in the increasingly electronic world we live in. They’re usually harder to cover with furniture because they poke out so far. Plus, you kind of want them to be more accessible for convenience, aye?
For this task, our favorite product is the…
Fits over most power strips 7.5 – 10” long and can sit on the floor or be mounted on the wall.
Note that with enough effort, little hands can still squeeze into the slot where the plugs go, but I think it would be very difficult for them to insert an object into it (unless that object is rather long). A baby or toddler can also yank the plugs out of the strip if they pull hard enough, just to piss you off. Thus… this product is a step in the right direction, but not 100% foolproof. For most, it’s enough of a deterrent. It will also prevent your little one from flipping the power switch on and off. Repeatedly. Over and over…
If you have any long cords in your house that could pose a strangulation hazard, you might want to “deal with them.” If you can wrap it with a zip tie or a twisty tie and tuck it under/behind something, do that. If not, you can use…
A simple cord shortener that eliminates excess slack in electric wires. This isn’t a perfect product (ahem — it’s pretty cheap in terms of the quality), but it works for most, and it’s the right price.
Wiremold Cord Covers ~$24
A separate way to approach excess cordage (is that a word?) is to get a cord cover. Wiremold makes a single, medium (conceals up to 3 cords/cables at once), or high (conceals up to 5 cords/cables at once) capacity version.
SnapPower Guidelights ~$8/each
You can always get plug-in night lights, but they can be easily removed and lost, leaving the outlet exposed to little fingers. SnapPower Guidelights are easy to install, keep both outlets open for use, and are great for helping parents and kiddos get around at night. Plus they’re beloved — people love these things! Having a nightlight and outlet in one is not only convenient, but a wonderful safety innovation (note: you’ll still want to cover any unused outlet with a plug cover).
Ok, that’s it in the electrical department. One down, ten to go! Teehee.