Best practices for baby bottle sterilization

In today’s society of on-the-go parenting, it is common to purchase bottles, bottle nipples and feeding accessories for babies. Parents have many choices, so it can become challenging to know what to buy and exactly how to clean items. Sometimes, a period of trial and error is necessary before settling on a type of bottle and cleaning system. 

Newborns and infants have under-developed immune systems and need to drink from clean bottles. They are vulnerable to infections by viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi, which can all lead to illness. Germs can grow quickly if breast milk or formula is added to a partially used bottle that hasn’t been cleaned well. 

When you first buy bottles, it is important to sterilize them at least one time. After that, it is no longer necessary to sterilize bottles and their accessories. Many years ago, when water supplies were not reliably clean, baby items required sterilization, but nowadays, this is thankfully not an issue. Washing items thoroughly with hot water and soap is all that is required to remove most harmful germs from bottles. If bottles and nipples are labeled “dishwasher safe,” you’re also in luck — you can put them directly in the dishwasher, using heated water and a hot drying cycle to clean them. Make sure to take bottles apart during the cleaning process. It is also important to always wash your hands before handling baby bottles or when feeding your baby.

Are there added benefits to sterilizing baby bottles and accessories more frequently?  

Sterilization is an added step that can help kill more germs than traditional cleaning. It provides extra protection against germs, but is not necessary for healthy infants who have access to clean water sources and strong immune systems. That being said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states sterilizing feeding items can be done at least once a day. There are several recommended ways to sterilize bottles including using boiling water, microwavable bottle sterilizers or electric steam sterilizers. One is not necessarily superior to the other. Electric steamers plug into outlets and work by using high temperatures and steam to kill germs.

Much like boiling water, sterilizing works by raising temperatures to kill bacteria. There are several different types of sterilizers available on the market including microwave-friendly sterilizers. The key is to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Make sure bottles, nipples and caps are thoroughly cleaned before you begin the steam or sterilization process. Microwave sterilizers kill bacteria by also using hot steam to kill germs. Water is poured into the sterilizer and microwaved for several minutes. This method usually takes less time than an electric steamer.

If you cannot boil, steam, use a dishwasher or don’t have clean water, the CDC condones the use of bleach to clean baby bottles. This can be done by preparing a solution of 1 teaspoon of unscented bleach per 16 cups of water. Items should be soaked for at least two minutes and removed with clean tongs. Any remaining bleach will break down quickly during the air-drying process and will not harm your baby.

Cleaning bottles while traveling

If you’re traveling with your little one and are concerned about access to soap and hot clean water, it may be best to take a portable sterilization system with you such as the ones mentioned above. You may also boil items the traditional way, by placing disassembled items into a pot, covering them with water, bringing to a boil and allowing them to sit for five minutes. As with any system involving hot water or hot steam, keep items away from children and ensure you are handling things with care in order to avoid burns.

It is recommended to use good cleaning practices for all baby equipment. If you are going to sterilize equipment, this is recommended by the CDC for the first three months of life, if you have a premature infant or if your child has a weakened immune system. Daily sterilizing of feeding items may not be necessary for older and healthy babies. At 1 year of age, the AAP also recommends weaning babies off bottles and pacifiers and transitioning to a sippy cup, which can also be washed using dishwashers and/or hot water and soap. 

Post by:

Samira Armin, MD, FAAP

I have longed to be a pediatrician since I was four years old. In my spare time I enjoy writing fiction, playing tennis and raising my two little girls.