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Cleaning and sterilising baby bottles

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Germs and bacteria can easily grow in milk.
  • It’s important to properly wash and sterilise bottles used for feeding until your baby is 12 months old.
  • Equipment used for expressing breast milk must also be cleaned carefully every day.
  • Your baby is not born with a fully developed immune system to protect them from infections.

Why is it important to clean and sterilise my baby’s bottles?

Milk is the perfect medium in which bacteria can grow. This is why it’s important to clean and sterilise equipment that has been in contact with milk.

If your baby drinks milk that contains germs, they might get sick. Babies have immature immune systems so they aren’t as good as older people at dealing with a range of infections.

You can help reduce the chance of your baby getting sick by always using a sterilised bottle and clean equipment.

Even if bottles and teats look clean, they might still carry germs.

What equipment needs cleaning and sterilising?

You need to clean all bottle parts, teats and screw caps after every use.

If your baby’s bottles have not been used after 24 hours, you’ll need to sterilise them again.

If you are expressing breast milk, you will need to clean the expressing equipment at least once every 24 hours. You shouldn’t need to sterilise your own personal expressing equipment if your baby is healthy and was born at full term.

If you or your baby are sick or they were premature (born early) talk to your doctor or child health nurse about cleaning and sterilising your expressing equipment.

Washing baby bottles

Keep a bottle brush just for this purpose. Get a new bottle brush once the bristles are worn. After washing the bottles you’ll need to sterilise them.

  1. Separate all parts of the bottle and pull the teat out of its screw cap.
  2. Use hot water and dishwashing detergent.
  3. Clean all areas of the bottle with a bottle brush, including the thread where the cap screws on.
  4. Remove any milk still sitting in the teat or the hole.
  5. Squeeze hot, soapy water through the teat hole, then do the same with clean water to rinse the teat.
  6. Make sure to rinse everything well.

How do I sterilise equipment used for formula feeding?

There are 3 ways to sterilise your equipment:

  1. boiling
  2. steam sterilisation
  3. chemical sterilisation

Take care to avoid scalds. Keep children away from hot or boiling water.

If you’re breastfeeding and only need to sterilise your bottles occasionally. The boiling method may be suitable for this. This will save you the cost of buying a steam steriliser or chemicals.

The boiling method

  1. Put all parts of the cleaned bottle, including teats, in a large saucepan.
  2. Add enough tap water to cover the equipment.
  3. Make sure there are no air bubbles.
  4. Bring the water to the boil and boil with the lid on for 5 minutes.
  5. Let the feeding equipment cool in the saucepan before taking it out and letting it air dry.
  6. Place the sterilised feeding equipment in a clean container with a lid.

The steam sterilisation method

Steam sterilisers are popular because they work quickly, are cheap to use. They heat water to boiling point and the steam kills the bacteria. Some steam sterilisers are designed to operate in a microwave. Choose one that meets Australian Standards.

  1. Place the clean bottles and feeding equipment in the steriliser.
  2. Make sure there’s enough room between each bottle, teat and screw cap for the steam to circulate around all surfaces.
  3. Follow the manufacturer’s directions about how much water to add.
  4. If you’re using a microwave steriliser, place the steriliser in the microwave.
  5. Turn on the steriliser or microwave for the correct time.
  6. When the cycle is complete store the equipment in a clean container with a lid.

The chemical sterilisation method

Be careful when using chemical sterilisation. Many methods use bleach. Keep chemicals out of reach of children.

Antibacterial chemical sterilisation solutions are available in liquid and tablet form. They need to be prepared exactly as directed on the container.

  1. Use a plastic or glass container that’s large enough to hold your baby’s bottles and feeding equipment.
  2. Make a fresh batch of solution every day.
  3. Place the clean bottles and feeding equipment in the solution. Make sure there are no air bottles and everything is covered.
  4. Leave the equipment in the solution for the recommended time — there’s no need to rinse the solution off after sterilisation.
  5. Throw out the solution after 24 hours and wash out the container before preparing a new batch.

How do I clean equipment used for expressing breast milk?

You will need to clean:

  • the milk collection parts of your hand pump, electric pump or milk catcher
  • all reusable containers used to collect or store your breastmilk

Follow these steps:

  1. Wash and dry your hands.
  2. Take apart all containers and the breast pump.
  3. First rinse everything in cold water to remove milk.
  4. Use hot water and dishwashing detergent and a bottle brush to carefully remove all traces of grease, milk and dirt.
  5. Rinse at least twice with hot water.
  6. Drain on clean paper towel or a clean cloth towel. Cover while they air dry.

If you’re using an electric breast pump, check the instructions provided.

How do I store the feeding or expressing equipment?

Store the dry sterilised feeding equipment in a clean container with a lid. You can keep it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. You will need to sterilise your bottles every day.

Store the clean dry expressing equipment in a new plastic bag or clean covered container until you need to use it again.

Make sure you wash and dry your hands before you handle sterilised bottles and teats. It’s easy to contaminate equipment just by touching it with dirty hands.

Resources and support

You can call your midwife, child health nurse or doctor for advice about feeding your baby.

For breastfeeding support you can contact:

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2023

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Need more information?

Bottle-feeding: cleaning & sterilising | Raising Children Network

Bottle-feeding your baby? Find out what equipment you need – bottles, teats, rings and caps – plus how to clean and sterilise it all.

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Bottle feeding your baby

You can use a bottle to feed your baby expressed breast milk or formula if you are unable or choose not to breastfeed.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Bottle Feeding

At Karitane, we recognise and appreciate the unique and special differences of every family. Your parenting choices should always be respected. Feeding can be an enjoyable, shared family experience, and a great form of bonding. In the early stages of feeding, you and your baby will both learn a lot from one another. Be patient – enjoy the experience together.

Read more on Karitane website

Baby formula & bottle-feeding for babies | Raising Children Network

Baby formula is the only safe alternative to breastmilk for the first 12 months. All Australian cow’s milk-based formulas meet strict standards. Read more.

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How to make baby formula

Use this handy guide to learn how to prepare formula for your baby, as well as some tips on heating and how long you can keep formula.

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Breastmilk & breastfeeding: benefits | Raising Children Network

Breastmilk – designed by nature for human babies. Breastmilk and breastfeeding have many health and practical benefits for mothers and babies. Read more.

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Cleaning expressing equipment | Australian Breastfeeding Association

How to clean your pump parts and expressing containers

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Feeding your baby with formula

Learn about infant formula feeding for your baby and how formula is different to breastmilk. Find out how to choose between types of formula.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Dummies: advantages, disadvantages & tips | Raising Children Network

Dummies soothe some babies and help them settle. But dummies can be a hard habit to break, and babies also need help to manage them. Get tips for dummy use.

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Expressing breastmilk & storing breastmilk | Raising Children Network

You can express breastmilk by hand, or with a manual or an electric pump. Store expressed breastmilk in special bags or containers in the fridge or freezer.

Read more on website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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