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Dishwashers versus sterilisers: the lowdown

It's all too tempting for tired mums to swap the steriliser for the dishwasher when it comes to cleaning bottles and teats. But is it really safe for baby?


Posted: 19 February 2011
by Cheryl Freedman

Baby by dishwasher
You shouldn't clean bottles in the dishwasher till after your baby turns one

Of all the unglamorous tasks that new mums must go through, endlessly sterilising bottles and feeding gear is one of the most repetitive and easy to neglect.

Fortunately these days, we don't have to boil teats in saucepans for hours on end, thanks to the advent of easy-to-use electric and microwave sterilisers. But are modern dishwashers, which wash plates and cutlery at high temperatures, really any less efficient at killing germs and bugs?

When should I use a steriliser rather than a dishwasher?

Parents are advised to use a steriliser for any feeding equipment used before six months (including breast pumps and dummies), and for bottles and teats until 12 months. After this age, it's OK to use a dishwasher (though you should be aiming to wean him off bottles and onto cups after this stage).

But isn't my dishwasher as a good as a steriliser really?

In a word, no. To sterilise an item, it has to be boiled at 100 degrees centigrade for a minimum of five minutes. The water in most dishwashers, even on the hottest wash, doesn’t actually reach this temperature. Your bottles might look sparkling clean, but you can’t be certain that they’re free from bacteria that might give your little one a nasty tummy upset.

Electric sterilisers, however, are an efficient way of ensuring bottles are kept germ-free. The bottles are sterilised with steam in about 10 minutes. You can then leave the bottles in the steriliser with the lid closed, safe in the knowledge that they’ll stay sterile for up to six hours.

It’s only when you remove the bottles from the unit that they lose their sterility, and this is another downside to the dishwashing method. Once the cycle has finished, unless you transfer bottles to a covered sterile container, they have be used straight away to avoid the risk of bacteria forming on them.

What can I put in the dishwasher?

All feeding equipment designed for babies, plus dummies too, can go in the dishwasher once he’s six months or older – but check that they’re labelled as dishwasher-safe. Some parts of breast pumps aren’t suitable for dishwashers, so read the instructions carefully. Special dishwasher baskets are great for keeping small pieces of feeding kit in one place.

What programme should I choose?

If you do want to use your dishwasher for your baby’s feeding equipment, use a hot programme of 80 degrees centigrade or more rather than a cooler eco wash. Some dishwashers now incorporate a ‘baby cycle’: an intensive wash that aims to remove bacteria from your child’s feeding equipment. Also available are anti-bacterial rinses and ‘heat dry’ settings.

Will the dishwasher damage the teats?

No, but be aware that teats can wear out quicker if you frequently wash them in the dishwasher, and don’t make the mistake of putting bottles in with dirty plates caked in leftover spag bol... it’ll give the bottles a lovely orange hue!

If you do wash bottles in the dishwasher, remove all traces of milk first using a bottle brush, and stack them face down to avoid stray bits of food falling into them.


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bottles, dishwasher, steriliser, germs, safe, teats, feeding, tummy upset
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