How to Sterilize Baby Bottles and Nipples

A mother kisses her bay while bottle feeding him.
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In the days before dishwashers and safe water supplies, learning how to sterilize baby bottles, nipples, and pacifiers was essential in order to protect infants from illness or possibly even death. Today, unless you live in an area with well water or have a contaminated city water supply, it's only suggested to sterilize new bottles and nipples before the first use.

After the first use, a good cleaning in hot, soapy water is sufficient. If the bottles and nipples are labeled as "dishwasher safe," you can also run them through the dishwasher and heat dry them on the top rack, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

BPA Concerns of Older Plastic Baby Bottles

The Food and Drug Administration banned the use of bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles when it 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. When heated, these older plastic bottles can leach BPA into your baby's formula or milk.​

Methods to Sterilize Baby Bottles

There are plenty of options when it comes to how to sterilize baby bottles before the first use—from good old-fashioned boiling to electric and steam baby bottle steamers.

  • 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.
  • Electric Steamers: 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 purchase a microwave steam sterilizer or wash your bottles. Fill them halfway with water and microwave for about a minute and a half. Nipples and rings can be placed in water in a microwave-safe bowl. Whichever method you use, you'll want to first make sure that your microwave is clean and free of any food residue.
  • 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.

What If Your Doctor Recommends Routine Bottle Sterilization?

If your healthcare provider recommends routine sterilization, don't be afraid to question why this practice is necessary. While some doctors may know that the water supply in your area is not up to par, others may be advising sterilization out of habit.

Health care providers have varying advice on this, but studies as far back as the 1950s have indicated that there is no need for routine sterilization of bottles beyond hot soapy water or time in a dishwasher. In fact, it's been noted that constant sterilization via boiling can cause older plastic bottles to leach out BPA quicker.

A Word From Verywell

In the end, deciding how (and how often) to sanitize your baby's feeding equipment is entirely up to you. Talk to your pediatrician and choose the method that best fits your lifestyle and makes you most comfortable.

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