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Baby & child.

Baby bottle sterilisers: the pros and cons of each type

Milk is a breeding ground for harmful bacteria but regular sterilising ensures your feeding equipment is a no-go area for germs
Sabrina Sahota
Dad feeding baby 436688

You will need to keep sterilising bottles and other feeding equipment that comes into contact with milk until your baby is at least a year old as small babies are especially vulnerable to the bacteria that can develop in them.

You should wash baby bottles and teats thoroughly before sterilising, either with hot soapy water using a brush, then rinsing under running water, or in a dishwasher. If you are using a breast pump to express milk, this will also need sterilising.

If you are going to use a dishwasher, it's worth noting that it may discolour teats. And if you're buying your first dishwasher, make sure you get a great model that won't leave milk trapped in bottles - take a look at our pick of the best dishwashers that are ideal for parents. 

Which type of baby bottle steriliser is best?

There are four methods of sterilising:

  • electric steam method
  • microwave steam method
  • cold-water method (also known as chemical sterilisation)
  • UV method.

You can buy sterilisers designed specifically for each of these. A steriliser is not essential, though – bottles can be sterilised in a pan of boiling water. 

If you use a steam steriliser, remember to descale it regularly to avoid limescale building up. Check the user manual for guidance on how often to do this. 

Electric steam sterilisers

With this type, you place your bottles upside-down in the steriliser, add water and switch it on. The water is heated electrically. When sterilisation has finished, usually after about 10 minutes, the steriliser switches off automatically. Provided that the lid isn't opened, the contents will stay sterile for a while (usually about six hours).

  • Pros Easy and quick to use, minimum preparation.
  • Cons Pricier than other types of steriliser, the inside of the unit can get hot enough to burn your hands.

Microwave steam sterilisers

You place the bottles in the steriliser with a small amount of water, fasten the lid, place it in the microwave and operate according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Sterilisation takes about 10 minutes.

  • Pros Convenient, fast and simple, one of the cheapest methods.
  • Cons Generally these only take four bottles (other types take six or eight), some sterilisers can’t be used in the most powerful modern microwaves, some may not fit in smaller microwaves.

If you need a new microwave to help you with your life as a new parent, take a look at our pick of the best microwaves 

Cold-water sterilisers

Tablets or liquid containing diluted bleach are placed into a measured amount of cold water inside the steriliser tank. Bottles must then be completely immersed in the solution, making sure there are no air bubbles where bacteria could survive (you need to be especially careful about this if the bottles are sterilised lying on their side).

Sterilisation usually takes around 30 minutes. The bottles need to be rinsed in recently boiled water before use to completely get rid of the chemical solution.

  • Pros Nothing to heat up so no chance of painful accidents, no need for electricity or a microwave so you can use it anywhere.
  • Cons More fiddly than other methods, solution needs to be changed every 24 hours, relatively slow sterilising process, heavy to move when filled.

UV sterilisers

These types of sterilisers use UVC rays to sterilise bottles. They typically come as boxes with reflective surfaces inside, which allow the UV light to cover all surface areas on the objects inside. As with other sterilisers, it's crucial to wash your bottles and teats in warm, soapy water before placing them inside. This is because any dirt left on the bottles and teats will make the UVC rays less effective.  

  • Pros No water or chemicals used, most come with drying cycles so bottles can be used straight away, don't need to descale. 
  • Cons Tend to be more expensive compared with microwave and steam sterilisers and can have long sterilising cycles (up to one hour). 

The boiling-water method

If your baby has an occasional bottle, and you don’t want any more baby paraphernalia taking up space in your kitchen, boiling bottles in water is a cheap and relatively quick method of sterilisation.

You put the items you want sterilised into a large pan of boiling water. The water should be brought back to the boil, and boiled for 10 minutes before removing the items. A disadvantage with this method is that it can make rubber teats spongy and swollen – check them regularly and discard any that seem damaged.

You should also set aside a pan that is used only for this purpose and not other cooking.

  • Pros Quick and cheap - no need to buy any more specialist baby equipment.
  • Cons Can reduce the longevity of rubber teats.

 Top tips for buying a steriliser

  • If you need to sterilise only one bottle at a time, instead of using a steriliser unit you can buy specially designed steriliser bottles for microwave sterilisation. You shouldn’t try to sterilise normal bottles in the microwave without the right equipment, as spots could be left unsterilised.
  • Sterilisers that take both standard and wide-necked bottles are more versatile – you may find your baby gets on better with one type of bottle, so if your steriliser only takes the ‘wrong’ type you may have to buy another one.
  • Cold-water sterilisers can be very heavy to move when filled with water, so a sturdy handle is important.
  • Some sterilisers come with tongs and/or a tray to hold smaller items such as teats.
  • Larger sterilisers that take up to eight bottles at a time can be more convenient if you're doing a lot of bottle-feeding.
  • Sterilisers that have space for feeding bowls and training cups will be useful during the weaning stage.
  • Some sterilisers can be used with more than one method of sterilisation – for example, microwave and cold water. This can be useful if you need to sterilise when away from home.
  • Travel sterilisers are smaller than standard, so can be handy for holidays. You can also buy sealable bags which you put the bottles in and pop into the microwave for a few minutes to sterilise. 
  • Sterilisers with drying cycles included will mean you can use the bottles straight away, rather than waiting for them to cool down.