Bottle Sterilizer vs. Dishwasher vs. Hand Washing (or Boiling)?

Balint Horvath, PhD

Writer, parent, and veteran of baby feeding battles.

Updated:

Wondering about whether you should use a bottle sterilizer vs a dishwasher or instead handwashing it? There’s no denying it. Keeping up with dirty baby bottles and feeding accessories can be a challenge! Especially in the early days, when there seems to be a never-ending supply of baby feeding accessories to take care of.

For an item to be sterilized, it needs to be boiled at a temperature of 100°C (212 °F) for at least five minutes. Since most dishwashers don’t reach this temperature, they may be ineffective in sterilizing your baby bottles. In these instances, a separate sterilizing step may be necessary. This can be done by using a bottle sterilizer.

Key takeaways

  • Bottle sterilizers don’t wash milk, food, and residue off the bottle – that needs to be done before placing the bottle in the sterilizer. 
  • Sterilizers remove 99.9% of the microorganisms you don’t see such as bacteria and viruses.
  • Sanitizing merely removes enough germs to bring the bottle to a “safe level”.
  • Dishwashing bottles can take longer than a bottle sterilizer and may require you to wait for a full load of dishes to be energy-efficient and not waste water. 
  • Dishwashing and handwashing require the use of baby-safe detergents. 
  • You may also require a dishwasher basket to ensure that bottle parts don’t get lost, damaged or come in contact with food and germs on other dishes. 

Bottle sterilizer vs. dishwasher comparison 

Let’s take a quick look at how using a bottle sterilizer stacks up with a dishwasher.

FeaturesBottle SterilizerDishwasher
Sterilizes or sanitizes?SterilizesSanitizes
SizeSmall, easily fits on any countertopCountertop dishwashers available for homes with limited floor space
MethodBlasts bottles with hot steamHot water washes over bottles
Time neededSterilizes in about 45 minutesDishwashers with sanitize setting will take 20 minutes.Normal dishwasher cycles may take up to 1.5 hours
PriceCheaper than buying a countertop dishwasher solely for this purpose.Can be expensive if you’re buying a countertop version for the bottles. If you already own a dishwasher, the only additional cost will be for the baby-safe detergent.

Sterilization versus Sanitization

Sterilization gets rid of all seen and unseen bacteria on bottles and feeding accessories. Essentially this means predominantly using steam to remove about 99.9% of potential pathogens. 

Sterilizing bottles with steam is the method recommended by the CDC to keep bottles safe, especially for newborns. They also recommend that this be done at least once every day for items used all the time. 

To sterilize bottles you need to use high temperatures 250°F and it must be maintained for at least 7 to 10 minutes. 

Sanitizing merely lowers the potential amount of bacteria to a safe level. Babies younger than three months, or those with compromised immune systems, may not benefit from sanitizing only. You’re able to sanitize baby bottles at a temperature of 150°F. 

There are dishwashers that have a sanitize setting that can reach a temperature of 158°F and maintain it for about 7 minutes. However, this temperature isn’t high enough to fully sterilize your baby bottles but it’s effective in killing most types of bacteria and germs. 

With that being said, you’ll need to sterilize your bottles using a bottle sterilizer after washing them in the dishwasher. 

Pros and cons of using a bottle sterilizer

Pros

  • Faster than the average dishwasher
  • No need to wait for a full load to use
  • Sterilizes bottles

Cons

  • Bottles still need to be rinsed after or soaked before use
  • Not all sterilizers are compatible with all bottles

Pros and cons of using a dishwasher

Pros

  • Excellent option if you already own a dishwasher
  • Convenient since bottles can be washed with other dishes
  • Energy efficient
  • Dishwasher baskets are cost-effective

Cons

  • Have to wait for a full load of dishes to avoid wasting energy and water
  • The average dishwasher takes between 1.5 and 2 hours
  • Requires baby-safe detergent
  • Dishwash may only sanitize and not sterilize bottles 

Can you use a dishwasher to sterilize baby bottles?

According to the NHS UK, putting baby bottles in the dishwasher will clean but not sterilize the bottles. However, this doesn’t mean that dishwashers aren’t a suitable option to clean bottles. 

To ensure that you wash as much bacteria off of your bottles in the dishwasher, consider the following steps:

  • Always use a dishwasher basket such as the OXO Tot Dishwasher Basket or a silicone laundry bag such as Dr. Brown’s Dishwasher Bag to avoid these delicate parts or pacifiers coming in contact with grease from other dishes. 
  • Run the dishwasher on the hottest cycle possible. 
  • Use a heated drying cycle or sanitizing setting if your dishwasher has this option. 

How to use a bottle sterilizer

If you’ve never used a bottle sterilizer, you may be wondering how this nifty gadget works. Well, the good news is that using models such as the Baby Brezza Bottle Sterilizer or Dr.Brown’s Clean Steam Sterilizer makes this process simpler than you think! 

Here’s how:

  • Either use the dishwasher or handwash bottles using baby-safe detergent to remove milk and food residue. 
  • Add water to the sterilizer – the amount will depend on the sterilizer type and number of bottles. 
  • Load items to be sterilized. 
  • Close the lid. 
  • Set the time according to the instructions listed for your sterilizer brand. 
  • Let items and water cool down for at least 10 minutes before removing. 

This short clip shows you how effective a bottle sterilizer is.

How to use a dishwasher to sanitize baby bottles

Whether you’re using your regular dishwasher, or you’ve opted to invest in a countertop dishwasher such as the COMFEE Portable Countertop Dishwasher or the HAVA Portable Dishwasher, the process is the same. 

  • Take the bottles apart – be sure to check which components aren’t dishwasher safe.
  • Use a baby-safe detergent to ensure that all residue will be washed off and to avoid exposing your baby to toxins. A few good options to consider include Seventh Generation Dishwasher Detergents and Puracy Dishwasher Pods which are good for your other dishes too!
  • Place small parts in a dishwasher-safe basket or mesh bag on the top shelf. Placing it on the top shelf ensures that food particles from other dishes don’t come in contact with the bottles. 
  • Run the dishwasher on the hot water cycle. 
  • Complete with a heat dry. 
  • Any wet bottles should be air-dried on a clean dish towel away from other dishes.

Read my article on the best dishwasher detergents to consider to ensure you opt for the right one! Additionally, my article about Avent, Comotomo and other brands’ bottles being dishwasher safe will help you identify whether or not you can put your bottle type in the dishwasher! 

Here’s a short clip that shows you how simple it is to use a dishwasher to wash your baby bottles.

Alternative comparisons

If you’re not entirely convinced that the added expense of a bottle sterilizer is worth it, consider the alternatives discussed below. 

Bottle sterilizer vs. boiling water

If you’re mostly breastfeeding, and only require sterilizing a bottle occasionally, then the boiling method instead of using a bottle sterilizer solution may be an acceptable option. 

It’s also considerably more cost-effective than buying a steam sterilizer for the occasional bottle. However, be sure to soak, wash and rinse the bottle and its components thoroughly before drying.

Bottle sterilizer vs. hand washing

Washing baby bottles with hot soapy water is sufficient for keeping the bottles clean instead of using a bottle sterilizer. However, since you can’t stick your hands in water hot enough to sterilize a bottle, you may still need to sterilize the bottles manually. 

To do this, simply use Milton sterilizing fluid which you use in the following way:

  • Place bottles and parts into a basin (not the sink) of water with a Milton sterilizing tablet or sterilizing fluid. 
  • Submerge the bottles for a minimum of 15 minutes. 
  • Rinse thoroughly and air dry.
  • Store bottles away from regular household dishes. 
Milton Sterilising Fluid (1L)

For hand washing, be sure to use a baby-safe detergent. Read my article about using Dawn dish soap for bottles.

Is cleaning baby bottles with Dawn dish soap for bottles the same as sanitizing them?

Simply put:

  • Cleaning: Washes the residue, milk, and food–the stuff you can see–from the bottle. Sanitizing: Brings the germ count down to a safe level. 
  • Sterilizing: Removes the microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses – the stuff you can’t see–from the bottles and other feeding utensils. 

What happens if you don’t sanitize your baby bottles?

Bottles that aren’t sterilized, or at the very least, sanitized can present serious health risks to your baby. In addition to common germs, it’s also possible for mold, mildew and other viruses to develop on the bottles or their parts. Viruses that are most commonly found on unsterilized bottles include the following:

  • Hepatitis A which can cause serious diarrhea and liver damage
  • Rotavirus which causes diarrhea and dehydration

Here’s an article I wrote about what happens when your baby drinks accidentally from an unsterilized bottle.

When to stop sterilizing baby bottles?

According to the CDC, parents should keep sterilizing all bottles, nipples, pacifiers and other feeding utensils until the baby is at least one year old. If your infant has a weakened immune system or is prone to illness, it’s a good idea to continue doing this till at least the 18-month mark. 

Wrap-up

As you can see, simply washing your baby bottles is not effective against invisible microorganisms. Whether or not you invest in a bottle sterilizer depends on your preference and your situation. 

However, you should always take every precaution to ensure that your baby’s bottles and feeding accessories are sterilized regularly until your baby turns one year old. By using the methods discussed, you’ll be sure to achieve this! 

For more information regarding keeping bottles as clean as possible, consider my post about the best dishwashers for baby bottles as well as how to get milk smell out of bottles. 

Last update on 2024-04-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Author

I’m Balint, founder of this site and a father (and dad) to a baby-turned toddler. I found the world of babies so fascinating that I started a blog dedicated only to that topic. By the way, I studied physics, engineering (PhD, MSc), and therefore I do a thorough research when I write about something. Since it’s a blog, of course I also write about my personal experiences.

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