Do You Really Need To Sterilize Baby Bottles?
You don’t have to sterilize baby bottles and other feeding items after each use.
However, cleaning baby bottles is very important to reduce contamination risks. Bacteria, viruses, and other germs can quickly grow in your baby’s bottle, especially if it isn’t washed properly.
When & How Often To Sterilize Baby Bottles
Although you don’t have to do it all the time, these are the best times to sterilize your baby’s feeding items:
First Use Or When Your Bottles Are Brand New
They might look clean straight from the packaging, but new bottles can harbor pathogens. So, it’s good to sterilize these products before using them for the first time.
This rule also applies to second-hand bottles or those you kept in storage from your older child. Always check for signs of cracking and other issues before using these old bottles.
For Premature, Young (Under 3 Months Old), Or Immunocompromised Babies
These babies might have a weaker immune system than older babies. Because they’re more susceptible to diseases, it’s crucial that you regularly sterilize bottles for these babies.
If Your Little One Goes To Preschool Or Daycare
A daycare or preschool setting exposes your little one to possible germs and illnesses due to contact with more people. There’s also a chance that the bottles might have been accidentally switched.
Because young children’s immune systems are still developing, it’s good to sterilize their bottles after a day outside your home.
Whenever The Water Supply Seems Sketchy
Although municipal waters are generally clean these days, watch out for local warnings about tap water quality issues.
You can always opt to use filtered water or simply sanitize your bottles regularly until the water supply is better.
This also applies to trips outside the country where you’re unsure of the water quality.
When Your Little One Has Been Sick
Germs can linger in baby bottles, so it’s important to avoid reinfection by sterilizing them.
When To Stop Sterilizing Baby Bottles
Once your little one is older than three months, you can stop sterilizing their bottles if you want to. But you can also continue doing this until they’re one year old for your peace of mind.
It’s also good to check the items, particularly glass bottles, for signs of cracking, splitting, chipping, or warping. Stop sterilizing these products if you notice these signs of damage.
7 Ways To Sanitize Baby Bottles
After washing and rinsing your baby bottles, you can sanitize them using any of the following methods:
How Do You Disinfect Baby Bottles With Boiling Water?
All you need is a pot of clean water large enough to hold all the bottles you need to sanitize.
- Place bottles inside the pot upside down, making sure there aren’t any air bubbles at the bottom.
- Bring the water to a boil. Let it continue boiling for around 5 minutes (check the manufacturer’s instructions for the required time for your product).
- Use tongs to remove the bottles and all the other items.
- Allow to air dry on a clean dishcloth.
Can You Boil Plastic Baby Bottles?
Although many plastic bottles can be boiled or steam sterilized, always check the manufacturer’s instructions for your product.
Some manufacturers don’t recommend sterilizing plastic baby bottles because they can melt at high temperaturesor leech chemicals.
Sterilizing With A Microwave
If you’re using a microwave baby bottle sterilizer, you can simply place the bottles inside, put the lid on, turn on to your desired settings, and wait until the machine is done.
Use tongs to remove the sterilized bottles.
If you’re using a regular microwave oven, you need to fill the baby bottles around halfway with clean water. Microwave for one or two minutes.
Use clean oven mitts to remove the bottles and dump the remaining water. Allow to air dry on a clean dishcloth (you can also use a burp cloth).
Sterilizing With An Electric Steam Sterilizer
Read the manufacturer’s instructions. Different models work differently, but most will follow similar steps to the following:
- Put water inside the designated container.
- Place bottles on the slots or arrange them on the designated platform or level.
- Turn to your desired settings and press “On” or “Start.”
Most of these sterilizers have an automatic shutoff feature.
Sterilizing With A UV Sterilizer
Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Some machines require dry bottles, while others have a drying cycle before sterilization.
Most UV sterilizers only require you to place bottles inside, close the lid, push a button, and they automatically do the rest of the sterilization process for you.
Bottles are often dry after the process, so it also eliminates the air-drying process you do for the other options.
Sterilizing With A Dishwasher
- First, check if your baby bottle or other feeding item is dishwasher safe.
- Take the bottle apart.
- Rinse under running water. It can be hot or cold as long as it’s clean water.
- Place bottles in the dishwasher (top rack).
- Put small items inside a closed-top basket, and also put them on the top rack.
- Run the dishwasher using hot water.
- Put it in the sanitizing setting or heated drying cycle.
- Wash your hands with soap and clean water before handling the newly sanitized products.
- For items that are still wet, dry them on top of a dish towel, but don’t rub or pat dry because that can transfer germs into the sterilized parts.
Sterilizing With Cold Water & Sterilizing Tablets
Food-grade, chlorine-based sterilizing tablets can effectively sanitize your baby bottles, although it’s best to reserve this option if regular sterilizers are unavailable, such as when you’re traveling.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions printed on the pack for safe and proper sterilization.
Sterilizing With Diluted Bleach Solution
As much as we can, we recommend using natural cleaning products for your baby’s feeding items to avoid chemical exposure.
However, many natural cleaning products don’t contain the disinfectants necessary to kill bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. (1)
That’s why the CDC recommends using a diluted bleach solution in sterilizing your baby’s bottle-feeding accessories.
We understand some parents will feel uneasy about this method, so just do skip it in favor of any of the other ones mentioned.
Steps for sterilizing baby bottles and feeding items using diluted bleach:
- Prepare the diluted bleach solution as follows: 2 teaspoons of unscented bleach per 16 cups or 1 gallon of water.
- Immerse the items in a bowl or basin filled with the bleach solution. Check for air bubbles in the bottles.
- Soak all the items for 2 minutes.
- Squeeze the solution through the nipple holes.
- Use tongs to remove the sanitized items from the bleach solution.
- Don’t rinse.
Although you might feel worried about the bleach mixing with your breast milk or baby formula, the CDC clarifies that any remaining bleach from the solution will break down as the item dries. The solution is dilute, and the broken-down bleach isn’t likely to hurt your baby. (2)
However, using this diluted bleach solution should be your last resort. Only use it if a baby bottle sterilizer or other options are unavailable to keep your little one away from chemicals as much as possible.
Which Sterilization Method Is The Best?
All the sterilization methods can kill bacteria, viruses, and other germs to keep your baby safe.
The best method is the one that suits your needs:
What’s The Safest Way To Sterilize Baby Bottles?
Sterilizing with an electric steam sterilizer is the safest way to sanitize your baby bottles. As long as your baby bottle is sterilizer-safe, you can put them in the machine and leave it for a few minutes.
Most machines automatically shut off once the process is complete.
What’s The Fastest Way To Sterilize Baby Bottles?
UV sterilization is the fastest way to sanitize your baby bottles because you’ll only need about a minute or two to set up the bottles inside the machine to sterilize and dry off automatically.
Is It Better To Steam Or Boil Baby Bottles?
Steam sterilization can reach temperatures higher than boiling, potentially killing more bacteria and pathogens.
However, not all baby bottles are sterilizer-safe. If your baby bottles aren’t sterilizer-safe, then boiling can still be a good way to sanitize them.
How Do You Sterilize Baby Bottles Without A Sterilizer?
As explained above, you can use other methods if you don’t have a sterilizer:
- Using a microwave
- Soaking in diluted bleach
- Soaking in food-grade chlorine-based sterilizer tablets
Safety Precautions In Sterilizing Baby Bottles
Check The Product Label Or Packaging Instructions
Not all baby bottles are sterilizer-safe. So, check the label on the packaging or the manufacturer’s instructions.
Be careful in heating plastic products because they can contain toxic chemicals that can be released at high temperatures.
The toxic chemical BPA (bisphenol-A) is no longer used in manufacturing baby bottles, sippy cups, and other baby products. The FDA banned it in 2012. (3)
However, BPA-free replacements can still have a similar negative effect on babies, including issues with their reproductive, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. (4)(5)
Breastfeeding can be the safest option to avoid chemicals in baby bottles, but if that isn’t possible, you might also want to consider using glass bottles.
They’re free from toxic chemicals, although they do have other disadvantages, such as being heavier, more expensive, and more prone to breakage.
Wash Your Hands
Always wash your hands before handling sterilized baby bottles to prevent recontamination.
Use Tongs Or Clean Oven Mittens
Sterilized baby bottles can be hot. Use tongs or clean oven mittens to protect your hands.
Aside from washing the bottles, it’s also important to wash the other cleaning or formula supplies.
How Do I Clean Brushes & Basins Used To Wash Bottles?
Keep your bottle brushes and basins clean to avoid contamination while washing baby bottles.
You can also sanitize these in the dishwasher if they’re dishwasher safe or clean them by hand.
Only steam or boil if the manufacturer specifies these because the products can melt at high temperatures.
Do I Need To Clean The Infant Formula Scoops?
You don’t have to regularly clean infant formula scoops as long as you always handle them with clean, dry hands.
If they’re accidentally dropped or soiled, clean carefully with soap and water, then air dry before returning to the formula container.
Do I Need To Clean The Infant Formula Containers?
Like the scoops, the original formula container doesn’t require cleaning as long as you handle it with clean, dry hands.
If you’re using travel formula dispensers or separate formula containers, you can clean these after each use. Use soap and water. Air dry only.
Make sure that these dispensers or containers are dry before using them again.
Things to Avoid While Sterilizing Bottles
- Avoid using concentrated, undiluted, or improperly diluted bleach. It’s actually a potent, toxic chemical if ingested. Always follow the correct dilution (2 teaspoons of unscented bleach per 16 cups or 1 gallon of water) and make sure the baby bottle is dry before using it again. Drying breaks down the remaining bleach.
- Avoid touching the hot bottles with your hands. Use tongs or clean oven mittens instead.
- Avoid holding your baby while sterilizing their bottles, particularly if you’re using steam sterilization. They can get scalded by steam or hot water.
- Avoid heating glass bottles with cracks or chipping areas. The bottles can break with the heat. It’s best to discard these damaged glass baby bottles to avoid accidents.
- If possible, avoid frequent use of microwave or boiling plastic baby bottles because they can speed up the breakdown of its chemical components. (6)
Cleaning Infant Feeding Items
Always make sure to clean the baby bottles before you sterilize them.
How To Clean Baby Bottles
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends using soap and water to wash baby bottles, spoons, cups, pacifiers, baby teething items, and plastic baby toys.
You can disinfect these by boiling or using a bleach solution (discussed above). (1)
Cleaning Baby Bottles In The Dishwasher
You can put the baby bottles in the top rack of your dishwasher, but make sure to check if they’re dishwasher-safe. Always check the label before putting them in the machine.
Take the bottle apart, including rings, nipples, valves, or silicone sleeves for glass bottles, and rinse them before putting them in the dishwasher. Place small bottle parts in a container, so they don’t end up in your dishwasher’s filter.
Some dishwashers can also run a sanitizing cycle.
Cleaning Baby Bottles By Hand
If cleaning by hand, you should still take the bottle apart. Rinse them under running water.
Use soapy water and a clean bottle brush to remove formula residue from the bottles and parts. Squeeze soapy water through the nipples to clean the holes.
Don’t put the bottle parts and the brush on the sink. You can use a basin to avoid contamination.
Rinse the bottle parts in clean water.
You can sterilize these bottle parts as needed before air drying on clean, unused dish towels. Don’t rub or pat dry.
Handwashing Versus Dishwashing Baby Bottles
Both options can get your baby bottles clean. Just make sure to check if the bottles are dishwasher-safe because they can melt with the heat if they aren’t suitable for this machine.
How Often Should Baby Bottles Be Cleaned?
Always clean baby bottles after each feeding. This can help avoid germ buildup in the bottle, which can be dangerous if the bottle isn’t cleaned properly before using again.
Storage & Handling After Cleaning & Sanitizing
How Can I Store Infant Feeding Items Safely?
Once they’re sterilized, be sure to air dry all the feeding items before putting them back together.
You can store these items inside a clean, dry container or a closed kitchen cabinet used for storing clean dishes. Don’t store with food or other kitchen items.
Air-drying Infant Feeding Items On A Clean Towel Vs. Using A Drying Rack
It’s better to air dry the baby bottles and other infant feeding items on a clean towel or dishcloth because a drying rack can actually trap moisture, allowing molds and other germs to grow.
However, if you prefer using a drying rack, be sure to also clean it regularly. Only use the drying rack for your baby’s feeding items.
Wash Hands Before Handling Sterilized Baby Bottles
Always wash both hands with soap and water before handling the sterilized baby bottles, no matter what kind of sterilization method you’re using.
This helps avoid contamination of the clean, sterilized products.
What Happens If You Don’t Sterilize Baby Bottles?
Your baby can get sick if they ingest breast milk or formula placed in a contaminated bottle.
Sometimes, some bacteria and pathogens might still thrive even after you wash the bottle with soap and water. This could be due to possible germ buildup in the scratched parts that you might not notice.
Because you can’t see germs, it’s better to sterilize baby bottles to kill these pathogens to reduce the risks of your child getting sick.
Can I Reuse My Old Baby Bottles?
Yes. However, it’s best to check for cracks, chips, scratches, and other damages that could compromise your baby’s safety.
Are Bottles the Only Things That Need Sterilizing?
It’s ideal to sterilize all the bottle parts and infant feeding items your baby uses, including:
- Medicine cup
- Supplemental nursing system
- Syringe (for babies fed in this manner)
- Sippy cup
- Baby teething items
However, check the manufacturer’s instructions for the sterilization types you can use for each product.
Products For Cleaning & Sterilizing Baby Bottles
Here are some baby essentials for cleaning and sterilizing items for formula feeding:
- Philips AVENT Microwave Steam Sterilizer
- Munchkin Steam Guard Microwave Sterilizer
- Dr. Brown’s Deluxe Electric Baby Bottle & Pacifier Sterilizer
- Baby Brezza One-Step Bottle Sterilizer and Dryer
- Nanobebe Microwave Steam Sterilizer
- EVLA’s Baby Food Makers (with sterilizer function)
- QOOC Baby Food Makers (with sterilizer function)
Best Dish Soap for Baby Bottles
You can ask your pediatrician for the dish soap brand they recommend for use with your baby bottles.
But here are also some options for you to try:
- Elysium Eco World Natural Baby Bottle Liquid Dish Soap
- Dapple Baby Bottle And Dish Soap
- Babyganics Foaming Dish + Bottle Soap
- Seventh Generation Dish Liquid Soap
- Dapple Baby Bottle & Dish Soap