A baby brings joy to the home, but she also brings a lot of work for the adults in that home. Parents who need some time to clean the house, make a phone call, or simply sit down for a minute need a safe place where the child can rest or play. For many, a playpen is the ideal solution.
If you’re not sure where to start your search for a new playpen, you’ve come to the right place. At BestReviews, we want to be your go-to site for reliable product information and reviews. We conduct in-depth research, consult experts, and test products so we can bring you honest opinions. To maintain our unbiased nature, we always decline free manufacturer samples.
The shopping guide below delves into the most important playpen features we think you should consider. When you’ve finished reading, jump to the product list above where you’ll find information about our favorite five playpens on the market today.
Playpens provide a way for your baby to explore the outdoors in a confined space. You can get some yard work done without worrying about your child’s whereabouts.
Types of playpens
A standard playpen comes with plastic or wood panels that can be removed, added, or arranged in various configurations and sizes. It does not have a floor.Look for these features:
Between four and 14 panels
Feet or suction cups for stability
Slats no more than 2 3/4 inches apart
Portable playpens work well in the yard, at the beach, or in the park because the floor provides extra protection for your baby and his toys. Look for these features:
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Toys tied to the panel of a playpen pose a strangulation hazard. For safety, only leave toys inside the playpen.
Playpen panels: plastic vs. wood
Should you opt for a playpen with panels made of plastic or wood? Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each type.
Wood playpens may or may not have feet on the panels to help with stability and protect hardwood.
Pros: Though comparable in price to plastic, wood panels have a more formal look that some people like.
Cons: Wood doesn’t hold up as well as plastic when exposed to moisture or chewing.
Plastic playpen panels are usually thicker than wood but lighter in weight. The panels may have slats or a grid pattern.
Pros: Plastic is durable and easy to clean. It’s also less likely to scratch hardwood floors. You can find plastic playpens in fun colors, and some have activity panels with dials, pictures, and games for your baby to play with.
Cons: If you plan to use the playpen outside, the plastic may fade and weaken over time due to sun exposure.
Did you know?
Plastic playpens are gentler on floors but also lighter in weight. As such, a stronger baby may be able to push the playpen around, potentially causing damage.
A note about panel quantity
Playpens come with as few as four panels and as many as 14. How often you plan to use the playpen – and where you plan to put it – will affect the number of panels that would best suit your needs.
For example, if you have a large home or want to use the playpen outside, more panels would probably be better. Just be sure you have storage space for the playpen when it isn’t in use.
Some manufacturers offer extension panels. Other panels are equipped to connect with another set. Notably, some panel configurations are more stable than others.
Playpen features to consider
A playpen should have a Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) certification label so you know it meets all safety standards set by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
If you have a playpen with mesh siding, note that the holes in the siding should not be larger than 1/4 inch. Regularly check for holes or tears that could present a strangulation hazard.
Check all hinges and locks for potential pinching or cutting hazards.
"For sanitary reasons, you’ll want to wipe down the playpen panels fairly often, especially if you a have child who likes to chew. It’s a good idea to clean in between slats and grids, too."
Of course, you want a playpen that’s stable enough to stand its ground and keep your child safe while she’s playing in or around it.
Locking mechanisms and feet (with or without suction cups) on the bottom of the panels offer extra stability.
Notably, some playpens are most stable in one particular configuration, such as a square or rectangle. Others are more flexible, allowing you to form a hexagon, octagon, rectangle, or square play area, all with equal stability.
Playpen panels should stand at least 20 inches high so your child can’t climb out. Many models are much taller than this.
The higher the panels, the longer your child will be able to use the playpen.
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"We don’t recommend buying a used playpen, as an older model may not meet current safety standards."
Playpen hinges should have a locking mechanism for stability.
Some playpen hingest have a self-locking mechanism that works only in certain configurations.
Manually locking hinges offer a little more versatility in the shape of the playpen.
Some mechanisms will prevent you from connecting too many panels together.
Some playpen models have a locking gate for entry and exit.
A playpen gate that you can open and close with one hand is very convenient. You’ll have one hand free to maneuver your child.
If you choose a playpen without a gate, you’ll have to lift the child in and out of the playpen.
Did you know?
Manufacturers usually list on the packaging the dimensions of the fully assembled playpen as well as the square footage of the enclosed area.
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For under $60, you can find a portable playpen with mesh sides and a fabric floor. There are a few inexpensive plastic or wood models with four to six panels as well.
From $60 to $100, you’ll find many six- to eight-panel models with one-hand opening mechanisms. The plastic models in this price range are thicker and sturdier.
For over $100, you’ll find playpens with 10, 12, or 14 panels. These products are versatile in their configurations and large in area.
Never leave your baby in a portable playpen without the sides secured. He could become trapped between the mesh and the floor.
Fluffy blankets or pillows should not be left in the playpen with your child. Even for older babies, these items pose a suffocation hazard.
A cord hanging from your drapery could strangle your child if she were to become entangled. Keep the playpen away from all strangulation hazards.
Some plastic playpens easily scoot around on hardwood floors, making it tough to keep your child in one spot. Look for a plastic model with suction cups that hold the playpen in place.
When determining the size of a playpen, check out the dimensions and square footage of the enclosed space to get a better idea of how much room it will occupy. These specs should be listed on the packaging.
Before you leave your baby with a sitter, demonstrate how to set up and safely use the playpen.
Q. Could I use playpen panels to make one long barrier that keeps kids out of a specific area of the house?
A. Playpens with hinges that can adjust to any configuration can be used in this way. However, please know that some playpens come with auto-locking hinges that only lock when in a certain configuration. These models do not allow the panels to be arranged in a straight line.
Q. Do standard playpens fold up for storage?
A. No, but the panels can be taken apart and stacked to take up less space. Some manufacturers list the storage dimensions on the packaging, which can help you get a good idea how much storage space you’ll need.
Q. Can I buy extra panels, or do I have to buy a second set?
A. Many manufacturers offer an extension package that includes extra panels. If not, you will have to purchase a second set of panels to create a larger play area.