How to Sterilize Baby Bottles the Easiest, Safest Way

So what’s the deal? Do you really need to sterilize baby bottles after every use? Find out how often to do the deep clean, plus get step-by-step directions.

So what's the deal? Do you really need to sterilize baby bottles after every use? Find out how often to do the deep clean, plus get step-by-step directions.

Breast milk or formula? Glass bottles or plastic? We, as mothers, can’t help but be extremely paranoid about what goes into our babies’ mouths—especially when they’re brand new. And for good reason. Immune systems are at their weakest at birth and slowly strengthen as the growing child is exposed to bacteria, both good and bad. (source) So it stands to reason that in those first three months we do have to take some extra precautions—not just with the milk they drink, but also how we sterilize baby bottles.

With that in mind, this article will discuss:

  • How to sterilize baby bottles
  • How often to sterilize baby bottles
  • Plus, the surprising reason you could be overdoing it

How to Sterilize Baby Bottles

It’s easy to get caught up in baby accessory mania, but there are quite a few gadgets out there that just take up unnecessary space. A bottle sterilizer is one of them. All you need to sterilize baby bottles, whether glass or plastic, is a pot and boiling water. A simple process indeed, but there are a few things you need to know before you get started.

Use the Stovetop

A stovetop is a safe and simple way to sterilize baby bottles. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stovetop. Make sure the pot isn’t cover in teflon or other toxic materials. (Learn how to choose safe cookware.) You need your pot to also be large enough to cover all of your bottles and their parts. (This is a nice, large one that’s made with safe materials.)
  2. Take the bottles apart. Separate all of the pieces—the top from the bottle and the nipple from the top.
  3. While you’re waiting for the water to boil, clean the bottles in soapy water. I know this may sound redundant, but you want your bottles cleaned of milk and other substances before you begin the sterilizing process. If you skip this step, the milk may crust onto the bottle.
  4. Submerge bottles and bottle parts for 3-5 minutes in the boiling water. Use stainless steel tongs to avoid burning yourself.
  5. Carefully remove bottles using tongs and set out on a clean, dry dish towel to air dry. Note: Air-drying on a clean dish towel or paper towel is a better option than a drying rack. Those “grass” drying racks can trap moisture, making them a hot bed for mold and germs. If you prefer a drying rack, use a stainless steel one and make sure to wash and sanitize it on a regular basis.

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Use the Dishwasher

In a hurry? Glass bottles can also be sterilized in the dishwasher, but you need to hand wash first if there was milk in bottles. Here’s how to wash bottles in the dishwasher:

  1. Take the bottles apart. Separate all of the pieces—the top from the bottle and the nipple from the top.
  2. Rinse the bottles in soapy water. I know this may sound redundant, but you want your bottles cleaned of milk and other substances before you begin the sterilizing process. If you skip this step, the milk may crust onto the bottle.
  3. Place small parts (rings and nipples) in a dishwasher-safe basket. If your dishwasher has a top rack for utensils, this space works, too.
  4. Place bottles with the rest of your glasses. In some models, this is the top rack; in others this is the middle rack.
  5. Run this dishwasher on a hot water cycle, complete with a heat dry. Some dishwashers even offer a sanitizing cycle.
  6. Remove bottles from the dishwasher. If bottles are still wet, let them air dry on a clean dish towel or stainless steel drying rack before reassembling and storing.

Don’t Use Plastic Microwave Bags or Electric Steamers

Plastic steam bags and electric steamers promise to sterilize baby bottles in mere minutes. Sounds like a dream, right? Manufacturers boast that these products are made without BPA, that doesn’t negate the fact that heating plastic to high temperatures can increase the risk of harmful chemicals leaching into the bottles.

The AAP recommends parents avoid heating plastic bottles or food in the microwave when possible. Why would microwaving a glass bottle in a plastic bag or heating glass bottles in a device made largely of plastic be any different?

How Often to Sterilize Baby Bottles

Before the first use

Always sterilize baby bottles before first-time use. You never know what bottles come into contact with during production, or what other hands have touched the bottles. Sterilizing them right away ensures a fresh, clean start.

Beyond the first use

The CDC does recommend sterilizing baby bottles at least once a day for the first three months, but most pediatricians agree that daily sanitizing is not necessary—as long as bottles are thoroughly cleaned between each use.

Experts say water that’s safe enough to drink, is safe enough to clean with. Using this as a guideline, you don’t have to sterilize baby bottles on a regular basis.

There are two exceptions, though:

  • Illness: If your little one is sick, you should go back to being extra diligent about how often you sterilize baby bottles—consider sterilizing after every use during illness.
  • Compromised immune system: Babies with compromised immune systems or certain medical conditions may receive special advice from their pediatrician. Talk to your own healthcare provider to find out what’s right for your child.

Don’t Go Overboard…

Though sterilizing is important, don’t take it to the extreme. While it’s important to use clean bottles for baby, over-sterilizing isn’t good either and can compromise the amount of good bacteria in baby’s gut. In fact, there’s some evidence that the shortage of microbes babies are exposed to explains the sharp increase in childhood allergies.

Stick to the guidelines: Sanitize before the first use, but then ease up—unless baby is sick or you’ve received different advice from your pediatrician.

How About You?

How do you sterilize baby bottles? Any tips or tricks for making the process more efficient? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

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