How and When to Sterilize Baby Bottles

Baby bottle and nipples

Verywell / Photo Illustration by Madelyn Goodnight / Getty Images

Caring for a baby can involve lots of bottles. New parents often wonder if washing their baby's bottles and bottle parts with soap and water is sufficient, or if certain situations call for true sterilization (which kills all germs). Though using clean equipment is important for your baby's health when bottle-feeding, sterilization isn't needed as often as you might think—but this was not always the case.

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Click Play to Learn How to Sterilize Baby Bottles

How Often Should Bottles Be Sterilized?

In the days before dishwashers and reliably safe water, manually sterilizing baby bottles, nipples, and pacifiers after every use was essential. This was the only way to protect bottle-fed infants from feeding-related illness.

In today's world, access to clean water and/or a dishwasher makes adequate bottle cleaning much less of a chore. This doesn't mean sterilization isn't necessary, though, according to Rebecca Agi, MS, IBCLC, founder of Best Milk LA, a private lactation consulting practice based in Los Angeles, and member of Verywell Family's Review Board.

Rebecca Agi, MS, IBCLC

It is important to sterilize your baby’s bottles before using them for the first time. Sterilizing all infant feeding items helps prevent germs from contaminating the milk you feed your baby.

— Rebecca Agi, MS, IBCLC

Unless you live in an area with well water or have a contaminated city water supply, you only need to sterilize new bottles and nipples before the first use. After the first sterilization, a good cleaning in hot, soapy water is sufficient. If the bottles and nipples are labeled "dishwasher safe," you can also run them through the dishwasher.

The caveat to this rule applies to babies with certain health considerations. Agi notes, "Sterilizing feeding items at least once per day is recommended for babies under 3 months, babies born premature, or those with a weakened immune system." 

For all infants, initial sterilization of baby feeding items is vital to ensure your child is drinking from safe and clean bottles. Read on to learn the basics of effective sterilization techniques.

Bottle Sterilization Methods

There are plenty of options when it comes to sterilizing baby bottles and nipples before their first use. Note that these same techniques can also be used for sippy cups and pacifiers.

Boiling Water

Submerge bottles, nipples, caps, and rings in a pot of clean boiling water for at least five minutes. Ideally, this pot should only be used for sterilization or, at the very least, cleaned thoroughly prior to adding the baby bottle.

Cold Water

Adding a sterilizing tablet or solution to a container filled with tap water is another easy method. Wash equipment with warm, soapy water, rinse with cold water and submerge in a container with lid for 15 minutes.

Alternatively, you may use 2 teaspoons of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Submerge all items for 2 minutes, then allow to air dry.

Electric Steamer

Available in many different shapes and sizes, electric bottle sterilizers use high-temperature steam to kill any bacteria or germs on your baby's feeding equipment. It's as easy as plugging it in, loading the equipment (with openings facing down), and pressing a button.

Microwave

You can also purchase a microwave steam sterilizer to wash your bottles. Fill halfway with water and microwave for about about two minutes, depending on the wattage of your microwave. Nipples and rings can be placed in water in a microwave-safe bowl. Make sure your microwave is clean and free of any food residue before sterilizing bottles.

Routine Sterilization

Some doctors may still recommend routine sterilization of baby bottles and nipples. If your healthcare provider recommends this, don't be afraid to ask why.

Sterilization takes more time than regular cleaning, so it's worth investigating why your doctor suggests it before committing to the practice.

While some doctors may know that the water supply in your area is not safe, others may be advising sterilization out of habit. In most cases, unless there is a specific issue with your local water supply or a concern about your child's health, routine sterilization is unnecessary.

Safety Precautions

In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration effectively banned the use of bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles and sippy cups after the chemical was linked to developmental problems in young children.

New bottles bought from reputable retailers should be BPA-free, but hand-me-down or used bottles may not be and should be avoided. When heated, these older plastic bottles can leach BPA into your baby's formula or milk.​

If you're using older plastic bottles, routine sterilization via boiling can potentially cause BPA to leach into the liquid contents over time.

A Word From Verywell

In most cases, deciding how (and how often) to sterilize your baby's feeding equipment is up to you. The important thing to know is that there is no need to routinely sterilize your baby bottles and nipples unless there is a medical reason or your baby is still a newborn (under 3 months).

If you have any lingering concerns, talk to your pediatrician. They can provide guidance on what method is right for your family, lifestyle, and comfort level.

Updated by
Cara Henderson
Cara Henderson

Cara Henderson is a registered dietitian nutritionist. Her writing and editing experience includes serving on the editorial board of Preemie magazine, and 17 years of experience writing for health and wellness publications.

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5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to sterilize and warm baby bottles safely.

  2. National Library of Medicine. Buying and caring for baby bottles and nipples.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to clean, sanitize, and store infant feeding items.

  4. Federal Register. Indirect food additives: Polymers. A rule by the Food and Drug Administration.

  5. Moghadam ZA, Mirlohi M, Pourzamani H, Malekpour A, Amininoor Z, Merasi MR. Exposure assessment of Bisphenol A intake from polymeric baby bottles in formula-fed infants aged less than one year. Toxicol Rep. 2015;2:1273-1280. doi:10.1016/j.toxrep.2015.09.002