Cleaning and Sterilizing Sippy Cup Valves and Other Small Items

Cleaning Sippy Cups Safely and Effectively

If your child uses sippy cups, especially the type designed to be spill-free, you've probably seen the ooey-gooey gunk that gets stuck inside the valves, straws, and other parts. The gunk isn't just unsightly—it can be dangerous. Bacteria and mold thrive in milky or sugary environments.

You always have the option of using disposable sippy cups, but this option isn't the best option for the environment or your wallet. Luckily, there are several ways to keep them sparkly clean. Here are some tips on how to clean and sterilize your child's sippy cups.

Cleaning Tips

A few basic cleaning tricks are the first step to keeping yucky residue from building up in sippy cups (or any cup for that matter).

Cleaning vs. Sterilizing

Cleaning and sanitizing are two separate steps—both of which are needed to prevent mold and bacterial growth.

  • Cleaning uses soap and water to physically remove germs and buildup.
  • Sanitization, or sterilization, is an extra step to kill more germs on items that have already been cleaned. 

First, rinse the cups and any valves/straws as soon as you can. This helps keep liquids from starting to dry in the nooks, which makes them tougher to clean. If you don't get the pre-rinse done fast enough to prevent buildup, let the pieces soak for a bit before scrubbing.

Next, completely take the cup apart before washing. This means disassembling all parts (even straws and valves). Many brands have video tutorials on their websites that show you exactly how to take the cups apart (and put them back together). Having a visual aid can be a big help, especially if some parts do not intuitively seem like they would come apart. 

Once you've fully disassembled the cups, wash the pieces in warm soapy water using a brush. If the cups have straws, use a small brush that's specifically made for cleaning straws.

Finally, rinse and allow all the parts to completely air dry. It's very important that parts are not reassembled or stored when they're still wet, as this can promote mold growth.

Use the Dishwasher

If you've got a dishwasher, you can certainly use it. However, you'll still need to fully disassemble the cups and hand wash any parts that cannot be cleaned by the dishwasher.

An example would be the valves that kids bite to open. These must be hand washed since they need to be squeezed in order to open and access all the surfaces.

Straws are another tricky part. You'll likely need to use a small straw-sized brush to thoroughly clean the inside. You can always put these parts in the dishwasher for a hot rinse/dry after hand washing. Be sure to run the dishwasher on the "Sterilize" cycle or extra hot.

If you want to give it a try, one accessory that can be a big help is the bottle basket. It snaps closed to keep parts from dropping into the bottom of the dishwasher and melting on the heating element.

Sterilizing Tips

Now that you've cleaned your sippy cups, you're ready to sterilize them. There are a few methods you can use.

Use a Dental Brush

It's hard to use a bottle brush for small sippy cup parts, even if you have one that's equipped with the smaller brush on one end.

Abschick1 found an unconventional solution to this problem: "Recently, when I went shopping for my dental floss, I saw those small brushes that people use to clean between their teeth. I decided to buy a few of them to clean out the juice stains in the 'hard to clean area.' The brush works very well. Sometimes, I will soak the cup in detergent water for a while before I actually start using the brush for detail cleaning."

Use a Microwave Sterilizer

There are two popular types of sterilizers: plastic reusable and limited use bags. Both use the power of your microwave and steam to get rid of any harmful substances lurking in small places.

If your kids were bottle-fed, you might have one of the plastic versions already, but you may have put it away when your child weaned to a cup. You can get it out again and use it just like you did for bottles, just fill it with sippy cup tops, valves, and straws.

If you don't have the plastic version handy or you'd like something that takes up a bit less space and can travel, try the microwave bags. These are available at discount stores like Wal-Mart or Target or you can order them online.

Use the Stove

A stovetop "hot water bath" is another way to sterilize bottles, breast pump parts, and sippy cups. Just boil a pot of water then drop the parts in. Cover the pot and let it boil for five minutes.

There are also stovetop bottle sterilizers that you can purchase, but they're pricier than microwave versions and can be more of a hassle.

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.