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How to Clean, Sanitize, and Store Infant Feeding Items

baby bottles

Follow these steps for cleaning your infant’s feeding items to help prevent germs from contaminating the milk you feed your baby. If your baby is hospitalized, follow your health care provider’s instructions for cleaning infant feeding items.

What are infant feeding items?

Infant feeding items include bottles and the nipples, rings, and caps that go with them.  Certain bottles also may include valves or membranes. Some infants may be fed with a syringe, medicine cup, spoon, or supplemental nursing system. 

Clean Infant Feeding Items in the Dishwasher (if Dishwasher-Safe)

  1. Take apart. Separate all bottle parts (for example, bottles, nipples, caps, rings, valves).
  2. Rinse. Rinse bottle parts and any other feeding items by holding them under running water. The water can be warm or cold, whatever you prefer.
  3. Wash. Place bottle parts and other feeding items in the dishwasher. (Be sure to place small items into a closed-top basket or mesh laundry bag so they don’t end up in the dishwasher filter.) If possible, run the dishwasher using hot water and a heated drying cycle (or sanitizing setting); this can help kill more germs.
  4. baby bottles in dishwasher
  5. Remove from dishwasher. Wash your hands with soap and water before removing and storing cleaned items.
    1. If items are not completely dry, place them on a clean, unused dish towel or paper towel to air-dry thoroughly before storing in an area free of dust or dirt. Do not use a dish towel to rub or pat items dry because doing so may transfer germs to the items.

Clean Infant Feeding Items by Hand

  1. Wash hands. Wash your hands well with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  2. Take apart. Separate all bottle parts (for example, bottles, nipples, caps, rings, valves).
  3. Rinse. Rinse bottle parts and any other feeding items by holding them under running water. Do not set them in the sink. The water can be warm or cold, whatever you prefer.
  4. multiple clear milk bottles being washed up in soapy suds Wash feeding items.
    1. Place all items in a clean basin or container used only to clean infant feeding items. Do not wash directly in the sink because it may contain germs that could contaminate these items.
    2. Fill wash basin with hot water and add soap.
    3. Scrub items using a clean brush that is used only to clean infant feeding items.
    4. Squeeze water through nipple holes to be sure they get clean.
  5. Rinse again. Rinse by holding items under running water, or by holding completely under fresh water, in a separate basin that is used only for cleaning infant feeding items.
  6. Allow to air-dry.  Place bottle parts, wash basin, and bottle brush on a clean, unused dish towel or paper towel in an area protected from dirt and dust. Allow to air dry thoroughly.
    1. Do not use a dish towel to rub or pat items dry because doing so may transfer germs to the items.
  7. Clean wash basin and bottle brush. Rinse the wash basins and brush well and allow them to air-dry after each use. Wash them every few days, either in a dishwasher with hot water and a heated drying cycle (if they are dishwasher-safe), or by hand with soap and warm water. If your baby is less than 3 months old, was born prematurely, or has a weakened immune system due to illness (such as HIV) or medical treatment (such as chemotherapy for cancer), wash basin and bottle brush after every use.

For Extra Protection, Sanitize

Note: If you use a dishwasher with hot water and a heating drying cycle (or sanitizing setting) to clean infant feeding items, a separate sanitizing step is not necessary.

For extra germ removal, sanitize feeding items at least once daily. Sanitizing is particularly important when your baby is younger than 3 months, was born prematurely, or has a weakened immune system. Daily sanitizing of feeding items may not be necessary for older, healthy babies, if those items are cleaned carefully after each use.

Pot of boiling water on stove

Before sanitizing, make sure you have cleaned feeding items, bottle brushes, and wash basins using one of the methods above. Sanitize all items (even the bottle brush and wash basin!) by using one of the following options. Check with the item’s manufacturer about which method to use.

  • Boil:
    1. Place disassembled feeding items into a pot and cover with water.
    2. Put the pot over heat and bring to a boil.
    3. Boil for 5 minutes.
    4. Remove items with clean tongs.
  • Steam:
    1. Place disassembled items in microwave or plug-in steam system and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for sanitizing, cooling, and drying the items.
  • bottle of bleach

    Bleach: (if you can’t boil, steam, or use a dishwasher)

    1. Prepare a bleach solution of 2 teaspoons of unscented bleach per gallon (16 cups) of water in a clean wash basin.
    2. Submerge all items completely, checking that the solution touches all parts and there are no air bubbles in the bottles.
    3. Squeeze solution through nipple holes.
    4. Soak items in solution for at least 2 minutes.
    5. Remove with clean hands or tongs. Do not rinse because germs could get back onto the sanitized items. Any remaining bleach will break down quickly as it dries and will not hurt your baby. This process is similar to what is done to sanitize dishes in restaurants.

After sanitizing, place items on a clean, unused dish towel or paper towel in an area protected from dirt and dust. Allow to air-dry thoroughly before storing. Do not use a dish towel to rub or pat items dry because doing so may transfer germs to the items.

Store Safely

Opening cabinet door Allow the clean feeding items, bottle brushes, and wash basins to air-dry thoroughly before storing to help prevent germs and mold from growing. Once the items are completely dry, put them back together and store them in a clean, protected area to prevent contamination.

  1. Wash hands. Wash hands well with soap and water.
  2. Put back together. Put together the clean, dry bottle parts.
  3. Store safely. Place reassembled bottles and other feeding items, wash basin, and dry bottle brush in a clean, protected area such as inside a closed kitchen cabinet that is used only to store clean dishes.

Q&A

What is the difference between cleaning and sanitizing bottles?

Cleaning uses soap and water to physically remove germs from the bottle. Sanitizing is an extra step to kill more germs on items that have been cleaned. Sanitizing feeding items provides more protection against all infections.

How often should bottles be cleaned?

Bottles should be cleaned after every feeding. If your baby does not finish drinking a bottle within 2 hours, throw away the unfinished formula. Germs can grow quickly if breast milk or formula is added to a partially used bottle, or if a used bottle is only rinsed, rather than cleaned.

How often should bottles be sanitized?

If your baby is less than 3 months old, was born prematurely, or has a weakened immune system due to illness (such as HIV) or medical treatment (such as chemotherapy for cancer), sanitizing feeding items daily (or more often) is particularly important. Daily sanitizing of feeding items may not be necessary for older, healthy babies, if those items are cleaned carefully after each use.

How do I clean brushes and basins used to wash bottles?

You can clean brushes and basins in a dishwasher if they are dishwasher-safe, or by washing by hand with soap and hot water. They can be sanitized using one of the methods above (boil, steam, or soak in bleach solution) if recommended by the item’s manufacturer. If you steam an item, be sure the entire item fits in the steamer. 

Why should I air-dry infant feeding items on a clean towel instead of using a drying rack?

Air-drying infant feeding items on a clean dish towel or paper towel is probably more hygienic than using a drying rack.  Drying racks may trap moisture, allow mold and germs to grow, and be difficult to clean. If you prefer to use a drying rack, use it to dry only your infant’s feeding items. Every few days (or at least daily if your baby is less than 3 months old, was born prematurely, or has a weakened immune system), be sure to wash it, sanitize it, and allow it to dry thoroughly to reduce contamination.

Do I need to clean infant formula containers?

No studies have shown that babies have become sick from contamination on the outside of an infant formula container. Also, powdered infant formula is less likely to become contaminated if it stays dry. Avoid using liquid cleaners on infant formula containers to help prevent contaminating powdered formula inside the container.

If you want to clean the formula container, use a disinfectant wipe or paper towel sprayed with disinfectant to clean the outside of the container and lid before it is opened for the first time.  Do not submerge the container or place it under running water. Wait until the surfaces are completely dry before opening the container. Do not clean the inside of the infant formula container.

Do I need to clean infant formula scoops?

When powdered formula stays dry, it’s less likely to get contaminated. To keep liquids away from the powdered formula, don’t clean the formula scoop unless it gets dirty. If the scoop was dropped on the floor or otherwise soiled, clean it as carefully as you would your baby’s bottles, and allow it to air-dry completely before placing it in the formula container.

Can I use a blender, whisk, or spoon to mix formula?

T he safest method of mixing formula is by shaking or swirling the formula and water inside the feeding bottle. Blenders can be difficult to clean, and blenders used to prepare infant formula have been linked to illnesses among babies. Whisks and spoons are easier to clean, but they still may increase the risk of getting germs into your baby’s milk.

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