This article outlines your main options for sterilizers and explains what each of the different types of sterilizers has to offer.
Until your baby is at least 6 months old, you should ensure that all your bottles, dummies and feeding equipment are properly sterilized before every use. Bottles need to be washed thoroughly before sterilization, using bottle brushes and hot soapy water, then thoroughly rinsed – but this alone will not remove all the harmful germs and bacteria. Putting your bottles and equipment through a dishwasher is also not sufficient.
There are 4 main ways to safely sterilize your baby’s equipment, and each has different benefits.
What are my options for sterilizing equipment?
Boil in a Pot
The oldest and cheapest way to sterilize bottles is to simply boil them in a pot. Place all your bottles and equipment in a pot of water so that everything is completely covered, and then bring the water to the boil. The bottles should be left to boil for at least 5 minutes. When you remove the bottles and equipment, resist the temptation of wiping them dry. A tea towel will simply re-introduce the germs and bacteria.
Using this method means there is no need to buy special equipment, and depending on the size of your pot, you can fit in many bottles at one time.
Electric Steam Sterilizers
Electric steam sterilizers work by the same principle of boiling water in a pot, but in a quick and convenient way. You simply add water to the sterilizer unit and plug it in. Most electric sterilizers will accommodate 4-6 bottles and take less than 10 minutes to complete the entire process. Many also have an automatic shut-off which kicks in when the sterilization and cooling cycles are finished.
Electric sterilizers keep the bottles and feeding equipment sterile for between 6 – 24 hours, as long as the unit is kept closed. Typically electric sterilizers are more expensive than other methods, but they are extremely portable and fuss-free.
Microwave Steam Sterilizers
Microwave steam sterilizers work just like electric versions, although obviously the steam is generated by the power of a microwave. Microwave sterilizers generally hold more bottles and equipment than their electric counterparts, take about 8 minutes to sterilize depending on the wattage of your microwave, and keep bottles sterile for 6-24 hours as long as the unit is kept close.
If you are using a microwave sterilizer, you need to check if your bottles and equipment are microwave proof before use. Things like breast pumps may have to be disassembled and pieces removed before sterilization. Also, before you walk out the store door with a microwave sterilizer – measure your microwave and make sure it will fit! Consider whether you will always have access to a microwave, if you are planning trips away with young babies.
Tablets or Solution
Chemical sterilization by way of tablets or solution has been around for a long time, but has become less popular with the introduction of the steam sterilization machines. Chemical sterilization works by putting your bottles and equipment into cold water along with a tablet or measure of solution. (Exact measurements and ratios will be listed on the packet). You don’t need to boil anything, simply put them in and wait for the tablet to do its thing. As chemical sterilization takes hours, rather than minutes, many parents who choose this method have 2 units on the go at a time so that there is always a bottle ready.
When removing a bottle from a chemical unit, it does have a funny smell and an invisible like coating. Natural instinct says to wash it away, but don’t- it is these things that are keeping the equipment sterile.
Things to consider when choosing a sterilizer
When choosing a sterilization method, and then the specific brand or unit, you should consider the following:
Size of Sterilizers
How big do you need the unit to be? If you are planning to breastfeed completely, then a small unit is all that is necessary. Bottle fed babies will obviously need a unit with a larger capacity, as you’ll need lots of equipment, a lot of the time.
I know it sounds simplistic, but if you are choosing a microwave sterilizer you should make sure it fits in your microwave first.
Cost of Sterilizers
Sterilizers vary immensely in price with electric versions being far and away the most expensive option. A basic electric sterilizer costs around $140 and they range up to $200. Microwave sterilizers start at $40, with most brands and styles sitting around the $70 mark. When considering the cost, take into account what is included in the package, as many sterilizers come with bottles and feeding equipment.
Chemical tablets and solutions cost between $10 and $12 per packet, and depending on how often you need to use them, will last about a week. You will also need a plastic lidded container with accurate measurements down the side.
Special Features of Sterilizers
If you have decided on either the electric or microwave steam method, check out individual brands and styles for any special features. Some have drying racks, colour patches which change when the process is complete, or automatic shut-offs. Another useful feature is a digital display which tells where you are up to in the cycle. Obviously these features come at a cost, and it depends on what is important to you.
Where can I buy sterilizers from?
- Obviously you can buy sterilizers from specialist baby shops and the nursery section of any department store, but you can also find them at pharmacies.
- If you are looking to buy a sterilizer second hand, check out the unit for any obvious cracks which will affect how the unit works, and ask if the owner still has its warranty or guarantee.
- Sterilizers can also be hired through some baby hire facilities. To find one near you, check out ‘Baby Products and Services’ or ‘Prams and Nursery Furniture’, in the Yellow Pages of your phone book.
For more information on expressing breast milk visit our Kiwi Families article by midwife Paula Skelton Expressing Your Milk
For more information on bottles, teats and formula milk visit our Kiwi Families article Bottle Feeding