How to Sterilize Your Baby's Bottles to Keep Them Germ-Free

Posted by Jane Springston on

Keeping your baby safe and healthy is your top priority. Of course you're cleaning and washing everything to keep those germs at bay, but is there a step you might be missing when it comes to your baby's bottles? You've likely heard about sterilizing or have seen baby bottle sterilizers and you're wondering if that's something you need to be doing, too.

Here we'll break down which babies need their bottles sterilized and how to sterilize your baby's bottles to ensure you're giving your baby a bottle that's free from bacteria.

Do you need to sterilize your baby’s bottles?

You won’t always need to sterilize your baby’s bottles, but in the first few months of your little one’s life, it is recommended. This is because a newborn’s immature immune system is more prone to infection at this young age. Sterilizing is a helpful step that provides an extra layer of protection against harmful bacteria.

Cleaning bottles with hot, soapy water still gets rid of the majority of germs. But for a young baby, sterilizing is best - and I think as new parents we all like to have a little more peace of mind that we’re helping our babies be as healthy as possible. 

When can you stop sterilizing your baby’s bottles?

For most healthy babies who were born full-term, the CDC states that you don’t need to sterilize bottles once they are past the age of 3 months. There are some cases, however, where sterilizing your baby’s bottles is a practice you should continue. This includes if they were:

  • Born premature
  • You live in an area without a clean water source
  • Your baby has a weakened immune system
  • Your baby has been sick
  • Someone in your household has a contagious illness

If you are unsure about your baby’s ability to fight off infection, we recommend talking to your doctor to find out if you should continue to sterilize your baby’s bottles.

It’s also a good idea to sterilize your baby’s bottles before the first time you use them no matter how old your baby is (because you just don’t know what kind of bacteria might be hanging out on them when you purchase them.)

The truth is, you may choose to sanitize your baby’s bottles anyway. I found it to be an easier process than washing them with soap and water every time, and the ones that offer a drying function are extra helpful, too. 

How Often You Should Sterilize Your Baby’s Bottles

Choosing to sterilize your baby’s bottles in those early months is a wise choice. Now that you’re ready to start the (pretty simple!) process, you’re likely wondering how often you should be sterilizing.

The CDC states that you should sterilize your baby’s bottles once per day. Just make sure you’re storing properly after washing and sterilizing to avoid any extra germs coming into contact with your baby’s bottles.

If you skip the washing step, which we’ll discuss this option below, you’ll want to sterilize your baby’s bottles between each use which will end up being more than once per day if you’re using the same bottle more than once in the same day.

Before You Sterilize Your Baby’s Bottles

No matter which method you choose to sterilize your baby’s bottles you need to follow these three steps every time before beginning the sterilization process:

  1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm soapy water to rid them of any germs.
  2. Completely disassemble the baby bottle so that all parts are separated. Depending on the bottle you choose, this could be as few as two parts or up to five parts or more.
  3. Rinse all of the parts under warm running water to rid them of any milk residue. Using a bottle brush in this process is recommended.

You don’t need to wash the bottles with additional soap before beginning the sterilizing process unless you want to. Sterilizing will rid your baby’s bottles of 99.9% of germs (and the extra step of prior washing isn’t going to eliminate the possibility of the other 0.1%).

Ways to Sterilize Your Baby’s Bottles

There are several ways to sterilize your baby’s bottles to get rid of close to 100% of harmful bacteria. No special bottle sanitizer is necessary to get the job done, though these are an added convenience you may want to look into as a busy parent. 

RELATED: Best Baby Bottle Sterilizer for 2020

Since you may not yet have a baby bottle sterilizer just yet, we’ll start with the methods you can start utilizing immediately.

1.) On the Stove in Boiling Water

This method leaves you no excuse to not sanitize your baby’s bottles. If you have a pot, water, and a stove you can sterilize your baby’s bottles. Here’s what you need to do:

Step 1: Put separated bottle parts into a pot.

Step 2: Fill the pot with enough water to cover all of the items.

Step 3: Bring the water to a boil.

Step 4: Let the parts boil for 5 minutes.

Step 5: Remove items with tongs.

Can you sterilize your baby’s bottles in the microwave?

The above method can also be done in the microwave as long as the bottle you are using is OK to put in the microwave (most are). But it would be much better and safer to use a bottle sterilizer specially designed for the microwave.

RELATED: Microwaving Breast Milk: Why It’s a No-Go

2.) In the Dishwasher Using the Sanitizing Setting

Most of us already have a dishwasher which means this is a method you can start using today, as well. The one problem with the dishwasher is that you may not typically need to run it everyday, which means you may be wasting a lot of water in order to do a daily sanitization of your baby’s bottles. (Before using this method, double check that the bottles you are using are dishwasher-safe.)

  1. Place bottles in the dishwasher upside down as you would with any other cup.
  2. Put small bottle parts in a mesh bag or a basket meant for bottle parts
  1. Be sure to use the hot water setting with a heated drying cycle or use a sanitizing wash cycle. This is what you need to do to ensure your dishwasher is actually sanitizing your baby’s bottles and not just washing them. 

3.) With an Electric Bottle Sterilizer

Electric bottle sanitizers are a popular choice and there are many options available. Because they plug in and can sit on your kitchen counter, they are great for use at home. These work by placing water in a reservoir that heats to a specific temperature, creating a bacteria-killing steam that circulates around the bottles placed inside. For specific steps, follow the manufacturer’s directions of the sterilizer you choose.

4.) With a Microwavable Bottle Sterilizer (Container or Bag)

Microwavable Bottle Sterilizers are a quick method that can sterilize bottles in about 2-3 minutes. Be extra careful if you choose one of these methods since you’ll be handling a container with very hot water and steam.

They are usually a round plastic container that easily fits into most microwaves. They work in a similar manner to the electric bottle sterilizers in that the reservoir of water creates steam to kill bacteria. Again, follow the manufacturer’s directions for specifics.

You can also use reusable, BPA-free steam bags for sanitizing. These are a great portable option if you’re traveling or going to a friend or family’s home for the day.

5.) With a UV Bottle Sterilizer

The UV bottle sanitizers are the newest on the market. The nice thing about this type of sterilization is that it doesn’t require any water, making it a virtually mess-free option. It utilizes UV-C lamps that are powerful enough to kill viruses and bacteria.

What about using bleach to sanitize?

Bleach is a last resort method you can utilize if none of these other methods will work for you. However, we don’t recommend it simply because it needs to be diluted properly and honestly, it’s best to avoid having as few chemicals around as possible with a baby in the house. But for steps on this method, use the CDC’s instructions.

The last step for each of these sterilization methods is to dry them. If you don’t have a bottle sterilizer with a built-in drying function, you will want to set them on a clean towel to air-dry. 

Storing Your Baby’s Clean Bottles After Sterilization

Properly sanitizing baby bottles is very effective at killing harmful bacteria. But following storage guidelines is important in keeping them that way. 

After you have placed your baby’s bottles on a clean towel to air-dry you’ll want to follow these three steps:

  1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm, soapy water.
  2. Reassemble each of your baby’s bottles so that all parts are put back together.
  3. Put bottles standing upright in a protected area, ideally a closed kitchen cabinet.

And that’s it! Though it may sound like a lot on paper (er, computer), sanitizing your baby’s bottles is actually a really simple process that you’ll have down to an art in no time. For added convenience we recommend purchasing a bottle sterilizer, but you don’t have to. As long as you choose one of the proper ways to sterilizer your baby’s bottles, you can feel confident that you are only feeding your baby with the cleanest bottles around. 

Next up? Be sure to find the best bottle warmer for your baby!

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