This article is part of “Death by Delay,” a series on how consumer product hazards have cost lives.
Window blinds, curtains and shades can injure or kill young children if the dangling cords are accessible to tiny hands. In the last 50 years, hundreds of children in the United States have gotten the cords looped around their necks, strangling themselves to death.
An NBC News investigation found that at least 440 children ages 8 and under have been strangled to death by corded window coverings since 1973. About nine children under age 5 still die every year because of this hazard, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“They’re very curious and they love playing with anything besides toys, so they get tangled up in them and they don’t developmentally have the awareness of how to untangle themselves,” said Christine Vitale, manager of injury prevention at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics looking at injuries related to blinds and shades from 1990 to 2015 found that children were most likely to be injured on the cords that people use to operate the window coverings, though some are also injured from the inner cords that hold the blind slats together.
“In many of these cases, these were children who were put in their own bedroom to go to sleep,” said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and one of the study’s researchers. “The parent left the room to allow them to go to sleep, didn’t understand that the window blinds that they had in the room had accessible cords and the child must have climbed over and started playing with them.”
Experts say there are clear ways to prevent injuries.
The best option: Cordless window coverings
The safest course of action is to replace any window coverings that have cords with cordless versions, Vitale said.
In 2018, the window covering industry released a safety standard with new requirements for stock window coverings purchased off the shelf, instructing manufacturers to make them cordless, limit operating cords to 8 inches long or make the cords inaccessible through a safety device like a rigid covering. The standard was voluntary until 2022, when the CPSC made the requirements mandatory for all stock window coverings.
However, since the rule is relatively new and window coverings typically aren’t replaced often, many households still have window coverings with hazardous cords. And the rule doesn’t apply to operating cords on custom window coverings.
Gabe Knight, a policy analyst for Consumer Reports’ safety policy team, advises that when shopping online “make sure the product is described explicitly as ‘cordless,’” since corded window coverings are still available.
If replacing all the blinds in a home isn’t an option, safety experts recommend starting with places where children spend the most time, such as bedrooms and living rooms.
Death by Delay
- Hundreds of children have been strangled on cords from window coverings in the past 50 years. Officials and manufacturers knew about the danger — why didn’t they do more sooner?
- Popular baby loungers are tied to more deaths than U.S. officials previously announced.
- Babies set to sleep on nursing pillows can stop breathing in minutes. Dozens have died.
If cordless isn’t possible, a few devices can help
Both the CPSC and the Window Covering Safety Council, an industry coalition, urge consumers to use cordless products in homes with young children.
But people can take other steps to make window coverings safer, even if they don’t fully eliminate the risk.
Most importantly, families should try to keep dangling cords out of reach, experts said.
One option for pull cords is to cut them shorter. The blinds should still work properly, Vitale said. “You just don’t want to have them hanging down where they can form a loop.”
Tying the cords in a knot, however, isn’t a good idea because it can create a dangerous loop, experts said.
Safety devices are also available to make cords less accessible and hazardous.
People can order free kits online from the Window Covering Safety Council that include stationary cord holders, sometimes called cleats, which can be mounted high on a wall with the cords wrapped manually around them. The cords need to be rewrapped every time the window coverings are opened or closed.
For cords or bead chains that form a continuous loop from top to bottom — the kind raised or lowered by pulling on opposite sides of the loop, often used for roll-up shades — consumers can purchase a tension device that keeps the cord taut and is anchored to the floor or wall. They can also order one for free through the Window Covering Safety Council.
For roll-up blinds or Roman shades, kits are available that require people to remove the operating cord, then attach metal rings or plastic clips to hold the blinds in place when they’re raised.
To reduce the danger from the inner cords that run through window coverings, experts recommend cord stops, which are also available for free. The doughnut-shaped plastic devices hold the inner cords in place so kids can’t pull them through blind slats or make them into a loop. The CPSC advises placing them within an inch or two from the top of the blinds when the blinds are fully lowered.
Another option is a small device called a cord wind-up, some experts said. The round, plastic product clips to and hangs on blind cords, and can be twisted to wrap up the cord, so it’s harder for young children to reach.
Move furniture and toys away from windows
Finally, caregivers can move furniture such as cribs or beds away from windows to reduce the risk, since children can climb on them to access window coverings; they should also avoid placing kids’ toys near windows.
But caregivers should be aware that children can move furniture and other objects over to the window and climb on them to reach for cords.
Experts said it’s easy to overlook a hazard linked to such an ordinary household product.
“There are safe alternatives on the market that would prevent these deaths,” Smith said, but “these kids are continuing to be put in harm’s way and consumers don’t necessarily understand that it can happen to their child.”