4 Top ways to sterilise baby bottles
As parents, our highest priorities are keeping our children safe and healthy and sterilising baby bottles is one key way we can protect our little ones.
We’re all also aware of the added expenses that arise when we ‘start a family’. So, when we invest in tools, like baby bottles, that will help us care for our children, we want them to last a long time. That’s why it’s important to not only sterilise baby bottles, but to also choose the best sterilisation method for the bottles we have chosen.
In this article, we’ll examine the 4 top ways of sterilising baby bottles and help you choose a method that will also prolong the life of your bottles.
Why sterilisation is important
I’ve said that sterilising baby bottles is a key way of keeping babies safe but you may be wondering why it helps. Indeed, your mother and grandmother most likely used boiling water to sterilise baby bottles (if they used them) but nowadays, some doctors are saying that this is no longer necessary as our drinking water is so much safer. So, is it really necessary?
It is true that many parents and some pediatricians have become less concerned about sterilising baby bottles as well as the water that is used to make up baby formula. However, many are rethinking this reasoning due to contaminated city water supplies in some areas.
As such, sterilising baby bottles and teats is still widely regarded as important for protecting babies from bacteria, viruses, parasites and other pathogens that can make babies sick. Sterilising your baby’s bottles may help protect Bub from illnesses such as thrush, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Babies need to be cared for in this way because their immune systems are under-developed. For instance, a 12-month-old still only has 15-17% of an adult level of the IgA immunoglobulin, which is important for fighting the bacteria that causes gastro.
Now, I can hear you thinking that sterilisation must be pointless once Bub starts putting everything in his/her mouth but this isn’t the case. You see, milk is a good material for growing some of the nastiest pathogens so unsterilised bottles have the potential to make your baby very sick.
Note that cleaning, disinfecting and sterilising are different processes. Cleaning removes foreign particles like formula, milk and dirt. Disinfecting destroys pathogenic (disease-causing) microorganisms and removes most organisms from the surface of an item. Only sterilisation eliminates all forms of life including ‘transmissible agents’ such as spores.
When to sterilise baby bottles
Baby bottles should be sterilised every time they’re used, ideally directly before they are filled with formula, expressed breast milk or any other liquid. You can, however, sterilise them a little in advance if required; the exact length of time depends on the sterilisation method.
The National Health Service (NHS) advises caregivers to sterilise all baby feeding equipment until Bub is at least 12 months old.
What you need to sterilise
All your baby’s feeding equipment should be sterilised. This includes bottles and all their components (such as collars), teats, lids, seals and any travel containers (when you’re going to use them). If you express breast milk, you also need to sterilise the components of your breast pump (follow the manufacturer's directions about which components need to be sterilised and for advice on how to carry out the process). Pacifiers can be sterilised too.
To make this article easier to read I refer to sterilising bottles and teats throughout, but I use these terms to represent all of the above items.
There are two main ways to sterilise baby bottles and teats. You can either treat them with a disinfectant that is also capable of sterilising them or you can heat them. The top 4 methods are described below.
Note that most dishwashers do not get hot enough to sterilise baby feeding equipment thus I don’t discuss it in this article.
Boiling is the most basic method of sterilising using heat. To sterilise your baby bottles and teats by boiling them, follow these steps:
- Check that your bottles, teats and anything else you wish to sterilise are all able to be boiled safely.
- Put all the items you need to sterilise into a large pot.
- Fill the pot with water until all the items are completely submerged. You also need to make sure there aren’t any air bubbles inside any of the bottles or teats.
- Bring the water to a rolling boil.
- Boil the water for 10 minutes.
- Leave the items in the pot until you’re ready to fill them. Or you can store them in a sterilised container in the fridge. When removing your bottles and teats, make sure the water has cooled enough that you won’t burn yourself.
- Repeat this process if you don’t use your bottles and teats within 24 hours of boiling.
- This is the cheapest method of sterilisation.
- You do not need any specialised equipment to use this sterilisation method.
- Teats tend to degrade faster with this method of sterilisation.
- There is a risk you may burn yourself using this method.
All Minbie products can be sterilised by boiling. I recommend using this method at least the first time you sterilise a Minbie bottle and teats.
Cold-sterilisation chemicals work by disinfecting bottle feeding equipment. There are a range of sterilising chemicals available. Some are ready-made liquids, others are dissolvable powders and some manufacturers sell effervescent tablets. The active agent varies but many products rely on sodium hypochlorite or sodium dichloroisocyanurate for their disinfectant properties. In order for these chemicals to disinfect and sterilise baby bottles and teats, the instructions on the product must be followed to the letter.
To sterilise using one of these products, follow these steps:
- Make up the sterilisation solution according to the manufacturer’s instructions (if you’re not using a pre-made product) in a dedicated sterilisation container.
- Put the items you wish to sterilise in your chosen container, making sure they’re covered by the sterilisation solution and that there aren’t any bubbles trapped anywhere inside your bottles or teats.
- Leave your bottles and teats in the solution for at least the recommended time (usually about 30 mins but be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions). Whatever container you choose to use for this process, make sure you have a plunger or floating cover that you can use to keep your bottles and teats completely submerged under the liquid for the entire time.
- Leave your sterilised items in the solution until you need to use them, provided you don’t leave them in there for longer than 24 hours. After 24 hours, you need to replace the sterilisation solution.
You should wash the container you use to sterilise your bottles with warm soapy water before filling it with each batch of fresh sterilisation solution. Don’t store cold-sterialisation liquid in a metal container otherwise, the chemicals will slowly eat away at the metal.
- Once you’ve made up a sterilisation solution, you can add and remove items throughout the day for as long as the solution remains effective (this is usually 24 hours but refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific product you’re using).
- This method of sterilisation can be used when you’re out and about and don’t have access to the equipment needed for other sterilisation methods.
- This method of sterilisation shouldn’t cause your bottles and teats to degrade more quickly provided you only leave them in the sterilisation solution for the minimum amount of time required for successful sterilisation.
- Not all baby bottles are compatible with the chemicals in these products.
- Your baby may be sensitive to one or more of the ingredients in these products.
- These products have a use-by date.
- It can be more difficult to use this sterilisation method properly (for instance these products only work if the chemicals are used in the right concentration so if you’re not using a pre-mixed solution you need to be able to accurately measure the water you use to prepare them).
- Leaving your baby bottles and teats in cold-sterilisation chemicals for extended periods of time may cause them to degrade more rapidly than other sterilisation methods.
This sterilisation method can be used on Minbie teats and plastic bottles (and associated parts). You must not put glass Minbie bottles in cold-sterilisation chemicals.
Microwave sterilisation uses steam (heat) to sterilize baby bottles and teats. You’ll get the best results if you purchase a sterilisation unit that is designed to be used to sterilize baby bottles in a microwave.
To use these sterilisers, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Be especially careful that you use the correct power setting on your microwave. If you don’t, you may melt your baby bottles and teats. You should also ensure you position all bottles and teats with the openings facing downwards in the steriliser. If you’re not using the sterilised items immediately, you can store them in the sterilising unit provided you leave it sealed but consult the manufacturer’s instructions to determine how long you can do this for.
Never put your baby feeding equipment directly into the microwave to sterilise it; not only will it not effectively sterilise your bottles and teats, but it will likely damage them as well. You should also ensure you never microwave metal items inside a microwave steriliser.
- Sterilisation is accomplished quickly and easily using this method.
- Microwave steamers are usually fairly inexpensive.
- This method doesn’t degrade feeding equipment as quickly as boiling does.
- Not all baby feeding equipment, including anything metal, can be microwaved.
- You need to be careful to avoid being burned when using this method.
- Microwave sterilisers can be bulky.
This sterilisation method can be used on Minbie teats and bottles.
Electric sterilisers make sterilising baby bottles and teats very easy as they automate most of the process. Like microwave sterilisation, they use steam to kill microorganisms.
To use an electric steriliser, put your clean baby bottles and teats into the unit and then add clean water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then simply switch the unit on and it should automatically turn off when it’s done its job. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to find out how long sterilised items can be left in the unopened unit before they need to be re-sterilised.
- This sterilisation method is very simple to use.
- This method may be more effective than boiling or microwave sterilising because there is less room for human error.
- This sterilisation method doesn’t cause bottles and teats to degrade as quickly as boiling does.
- Electric sterilisers can be expensive.
- Electric sterilisers can be very bulky.
This sterilisation method can be used on Minbie teats and bottles.
Things to remember
Sterilising baby bottles and teats is only effective if every component of the bottle (teats, collars, the bottle itself) as well as everything that comes into contact with the bottle (your hands and any bottle lids or seals that might be used to mix formula) are clean. So be sure to sterilise any utensils you might use to make up formula. And be sure to always wash your hands thoroughly before you touch sterilised bottles and teats.
You’ll find it easier to clean baby feeding equipment if you clean it in hot, soapy water immediately after a feed. Minbie bottles and teats are not dishwasher-safe. For bottles and teats that are dishwasher safe, you can usually only wash them in the top rack of the dishwasher.
You should rinse baby bottles and teats in clean water after washing them to remove any residual soap. You should also allow them to completely dry before storing them to prevent the growth of mold and other pathogens. Don’t rinse them after sterilisation as this may re-introduce pathogens.
Dispose of any bottles or teats that are cracked, chipped, torn or damaged in any way. This will help to prevent injuries and eliminate sneaky places that pathogens can hide within.
Do not put your Minbie baby bottles or teats in the oven. Don’t put other plastic bottles or teats in the oven.
If you have bottles or teats that contain BPA, it’s best to avoid sterilising with heat, especially using the boiling method (which exposes them to heat for the longest amount of time), as this may cause the potentially harmful BPA to leach more rapidly. All Minbie products are BPA-free.