Furniture Tip-overs: Myths, Facts, and Prevention

Jill Blackford
Jill Blackford
Contributing Writer

Running, playing, exploring. Once a child learns to walk, days are filled with never-ending discovery as little ones start to experience the world — a time filled with excitement and wonder for both little ones and caregivers alike. 

But it’s also a time when exploration can lead to accidents. In fact, preventable injuries are the number one cause of child death in the U.S. One of these potential threats is the continuing epidemic of furniture tip-overs in the home. One study found a 41% increase in furniture tip-over incidents from 1990 to 2007, and despite the interest of consumer advocates, NGOs, government legislators, and even many furniture manufacturers, this increase has not subsided. Every 17 minutes an injury is caused, and every two weeks a child dies from a piece of furniture, TV, or appliance tipping over. 

Whether it’s poorly made products, unsecured pieces, or moments of a lack of supervision, furniture tip-overs are a crisis that requires both awareness and action on the part of caregivers and beyond. The good news? Staying informed and taking initiative on this issue will help prevent tip-over accidents — and will ensure your home is safe and secure.

Understanding Why Furniture Tip-overs Happen

Myth vs. fact of furniture tip-overs

While tip-overs are gaining more attention — from both media and now even Netflix — and many nonprofit groups and individual parents are helping to raise awareness, a lot of misconceptions remain about this home safety concern. Here are a few of the still-pervasive myths and how to think about them instead.

Myth #1: Toddlers are the only ones to pull down furniture on them

While toddlers are a highly at-risk group, the most injuries due to furniture tip-over affect children aged 8 years old and under. As Laura Jana, M.D., author of “The Toddler Brain,” told Consumer Reports, “Between the ages of 3 and 5, children are only beginning to develop the executive function skills necessary to anticipate consequences or to stop and change their course of action if and when they realize something is wrong — when a dresser is unsteady, for example.” This means children beyond toddler age still have brains that are still developing, making certain key functions for self-governed safety difficult. 

Myth #2: The dresser is so heavy, it will not tip over

During their exploration-driven early years, many kids like to climb, and dresser drawers can be easily opened to create a tempting “ladder” for little imaginations. When dresser drawers are opened, the center of gravity can quickly shift so that any weight (or height) of dresser can tip over — even without a child climbing on it.

Myth #3: Parents are irresponsible if they have experienced a tip-over

Along with the connection and joy that social media brings, it also has given rise to another not-so-positive trend: social shaming. In a bold move, parents Richard and Kayli Shoff chose to post a video of their 2-year-old sons playing on a dresser, along with the accident that followed when it fell on one of their sons, in order to increase awareness of the furniture tip-over issue. Thankfully, the children both survived and the video did give rise to greater awareness. But instead of blame, we need to focus on action — and the fact that without broad-reaching knowledge of the issue and what steps to take for prevention, more children may be at risk.

Myth #4: The only way to prevent a tip-over is to buy really expensive, heavy furniture

When it comes to furniture tip-overs, heavier, real-wood, or more high-end dressers can still be hazardous. And some pieces from more inexpensive retailers like global outlet IKEA have actually become among the safest on the market. In 2018, the IKEA NORDLI dresser, which costs $69, passed Consumer Reports’ furniture tip-over testing, alongside higher-end pieces. Whatever the material or price point, the key to safety is to make sure it’s secured.

Myth #5 Small furniture is always safe

For furniture safety, it turns out size doesn’t matter. All shapes and sizes of dressers are prone to tipping, and even dressers as low as 27.7 inches have been linked to deaths. Make sure to stay aware and take precaution not only for dressers, but also for bookshelves, and other pieces of furniture that may not be tall, but can still tip.

A child’s point of view on tip-overs

It may be hard as an adult to step back into the wonderment and constant “newness” of taking those first steps into the big, wide world. But seeing things through your child’s eyes is key to helping you keep them safe from harm. Since every child is unique, understanding how your child sees things can give you insight into their early decision-making processes — and help you take proactive measures to secure your home.

Eliminate temptation

It’s logical to keep items that aren’t safe or desirable for little ones (think their favorite candy or the TV remote) on top of a taller bookshelf or dresser so it remains out of reach. But this practice can be a recipe for an accident if the item is still visible. Kids are not only curious, but also creative, and the easiest path to seek out those forbidden items may just be to climb on a dresser to get there. Instead, store items that may be tempting to a child not only out of reach — but also out of sight.

Reserve active play for outside

If the high energy of most children isn’t channeled, it can be expended in less than desirable ways — like making your home a veritable indoor jungle gym, resulting in furniture climbing. Make sure children have plenty of time to play outside, on a playground, or with other children in a safe, contained environment so that energy can be expelled in healthy ways.

Find safe ways for your child to express self-sufficiency

As children grow, they want to become more and more independent. Yet while this increasing need for self-sufficiency is a wonderful stage of healthy childhood development, it also means it’s time for more vigilance on the part of parents. Remember that a desire for doing it themselves can lead to children taking on more than they are quite ready to handle. For instance, little ones may want to get dressed all by themselves, including taking items out of their dresser. This can prove to be a tip-over hazard as children may not be strong enough to open drawers properly. Help keep them safe by allowing kids to assert their independence in other safer ways, such as laying out various clothing items and allowing them to choose. 

The Importance of Securing Your Home

Each year, thousands of injuries caused by furniture tip-overs are serious enough to send children to the emergency room. While legislation in the U.S. is starting to catch up, such as initiatives like the Schakowsky Bill being passed by the U.S. House in 2019, furniture tip-over injury and death is still a prevalent danger. And while the impetus largely remains on manufacturers to produce more stable furniture, the good news is that in the meantime, there are simple things you can do to reduce the risk.

As of now, there is no governing body officially regulating the furniture industry. ASTM International, a standards organization, has a voluntary tip-over standard stating any dresser taller than 30 inches should stay upright with 50 pounds of weight hanging from an open drawer. Yet because the ASTM standards are voluntary, manufacturers are not required to conduct testing prior to sale. This is why it’s essential for consumers to take initiative to educate themselves on the safest products.

Tips on securing the home and preventative measures

Anchoring furniture

A survey of over 1,500 adults in the U.S. showed that only about a quarter of Americans have anchored furniture in their homes. And yet anchoring is the single most important step in preventing injury or death from furniture tip-overs. From tall (and even short) bookcases, to chests with drawers, to armoires, to furniture with shelving, every single piece needs to be secured. Anchoring safely will take diligence, conscientiousness and time, but it’s well worth it when the safety and wellbeing of little lives are at stake. 

Here are a few things to consider and how to to do it right:

  • Purchase furniture with anchors. Keep in mind that  furniture under 30 inches is not required to come with restraints even with the voluntary standards, so make sure to purchase anchoring support separately from a safety specialist for all pieces of furniture that do not come with anchors. And don’t forget to secure other items in the home, including large mirrors, coat racks, and bookshelves.   
  • Make sure to place anchors only on solid backing. Note that many units use thin pieces of particle board on the back of the unit versus solid wood, so ensure that you attach the anchor to the solid wood area only. 
  • Attach anchoring to the stud in the wall. Because furniture restraints need to withstand tip-overs that can pull the unit straight out from the wall, they need to be attached into a wall stud to be secure. Use a stud finder if needed, and never use drywall anchors like those for hanging pictures. Also consider hiring a professional to ensure anchoring is completed correctly, especially for first-time anchoring.
  • Use at least two restraints per furniture piece. Even small pieces of furniture require two restraints, and wider items may need additional anchoring. For stacked pieces of furniture, make sure to also anchor the base of the top piece to the bottom unit before anchoring to the wall.
  • Mount TV units securely into a wall stud as well. Don’t forget that TVs also need to be restrained, and must be anchored into a stud only. Also ensure that any old, unused TVs that may be stored elsewhere in the home are either on the floor or are also safely secured. 

Monitoring your child

Monitoring your children is key to not only to help prevent furniture tip-overs, but for overall home safety as well. Try placing the children’s play area in common or visible rooms only, and lock or close doors to spaces that aren’t used as much. A motion-sensor toddler room monitor can be helpful for when kids are sleeping (or not!), as nap time isn’t always fun for little ones and they may get out of bed or leave the room. 

Monitoring when babysitters or other temporary caretakers are watching children can be a helpful extra precaution as well. You may also consider a home security system that allows you to sync to your devices in order to keep a closer eye on children while they are playing to keep them safe while at home. Add cameras outside the home where there are outdoor play areas with furniture, and make sure all outdoor playsets are also anchored well. Home safety is an important consideration, especially for young children, and monitoring kids in and around furniture inside and outside will allow them the freedom to safely explore.

Proactive measures 

Furniture tip-over protection is not a “once-and-done” task; it needs to be continually checked. In addition to keeping items tempting to a child out sight (not just out of reach), it’s also a good idea to place yourself in your child’s shoes to ensure safety measures are in place from that new perspective, ensuring heavier items are stored on bottom shelves of bookcases, and that shelves, cabinets, and dressers aren’t overloaded.

It’s also important to take a look at existing furniture and anchoring systems regularly to make sure there’s been no damage or wear, such as the anchoring beginning to detach from the wall. Any aging systems should be removed and replaced. And if you ever have concerns about how well items are anchored, consider professional installment.

And don’t forget to talk to your kids about furniture safety — keeping in mind that little brains don’t have the skills yet to always grasp consequences, so you’ll need to continue keeping a close eye on them. You can also consider reaching out to any daycare providers to ensure they have taken all the necessary precautions as well. 

And remember to do your homework before purchasing any new furniture pieces. There is a wealth of information out there to help, especially from reputable nonprofits and consumer organizations. Check the full list of product recalls from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and consider taking this online furniture safety quiz

Stay aware of the risks, or even get involved in spreading the word and encouraging manufacturers to take action towards safer products. By staying proactive, you can make smart, informed furniture-buying decisions for your family, and ensure the safety of everyone in your home.