The 10 best baby bottle sterilisers 2020

best steriliser

Whether electric, microwave, cold water or travel sterilisers suit you best, you’ll find tips and top scorers aplenty on this page. Here we reveal the best sterilisers to buy in 2020.

If you’re planning on expressing, combination feeding or using a dummy during your baby’s first year, you’ll need a steriliser.

Sterilising feeding equipment is necessary for the first 12 months to protect your baby from bacteria that might make them ill. But which type of steriliser will make newborn feeding schedules easier to juggle? After our latest intensive round of testing, we’ve got all the information you’ll need about our 2020 favourites.

Read our steriliser reviews | What you need to know about bottle sterilisers | Why you should trust us

How we chose the products to test

We commissioned Rachel Jeffcoat, a writer and mum of three, to research and review the top sterilisers out there.

As a parent to an eight-, six- and two-year-old, all of whom were combination-fed as babies, Rachel has years of experience using a wide variety of baby equipment, including sterilisers. As a writer, she’s written extensively on parenthood, including Mumsnet’s reviews on baby sleeping bags and baby bottles.

Rachel spent 10 hours researching the current steriliser market. She looked into the different sterilisation modes and scoured the market for cutting-edge new products as well as old established favourites. She read scores of user reviews, including those in the Mumsnet forums, and collated Amazon, Mothercare and Which? bestsellers.

She investigated best practice safety recommendations from the NHS and sourced expert advice from Kate Bennett, a midwife of nine years and course teacher with antenatal education provider, New Life Classes.

Finally, she narrowed down her list of choices to 14 testing candidates from a mixture of sterilisation categories, brands and price points.

How real-life comparative testing makes Mumsnet Reviews unique

While all reviews must be subjective to a degree, we believe that the best way to judge one product against another is for a single tester to use them all in their own kitchen, in real-life circumstances and over some time.

Our tester, Maisie, is an experienced mum of three with a six-year-old, four-year-old and an 11-month-old baby. She spent six months testing the shortlisted products with her own bottles and breast pump parts, each for a minimum of 10 days.

She looked at whether each steriliser was available from a wide range of retailers, whether you’d need to buy any extras separately and whether it was possible to buy replacement parts.

She also assessed the amount of unnecessary packaging, the usefulness of the instructions and whether there was a warranty or a customer helpline available, before timing how long it took to get the steriliser ready to use.

Then, during day-to-day use, she looked at materials and finishings, how hot the steriliser got during use, how easy it was to knock lids off or knock the steriliser over, and whether there were any trailing wires or other hazards.

She noted how many bottles or breast pump parts could fit comfortably into the steriliser, how long the cycle was, how loud the unit was in use (if appropriate), and how big the product’s footprint was on the kitchen counter.

She also assessed how easy it was to clean or descale (if appropriate). For microwave or travel models, she washed them in the dishwasher with items covered in pasta sauce to see how they coped and knocked them over to see if they leaked in transit.

Finally, she looked at whether the steriliser represented good value for money considering the features it provided for a wide customer base, noting whether or not she’d buy another if the sample model broke.

During the tests, each product was scored from zero to eight in six key categories: purchase and assembly, safety and stability, day-to-day use, cleanliness, aesthetics and value for money. The scores were then added up and five stand-out products were given coveted Mumsnet Best awards. Five more were given honourable mentions.

After in-depth research and parent-led testing, we have the results. Here are the 10 best sterilisers to buy in 2020.

1. Tommee Tippee Super-Steam Advanced Electric Steriliser: Best Steriliser 2020

“I used the Tommee Tippee Super-Steam and was always happy with the results.”

1. Tommee Tippee Super-Steam Advanced Electric Steriliser: Best Steriliser 2020

Tommee Tippee has put a great deal of thought into the redesign of their electric steam steriliser and it really shows.

The Tommee Tippee Super-Steam Advanced Electric Steriliser is made from tough BPA-free plastics and is exceptionally straightforward to use, with plenty of room for bottles and breast pump parts over two tiers.

It takes one touch of a button to start a cycle and, if you have any accompanying Tommee Tippee bottles, each bottle is clearly marked to show how much water to add to the steriliser – a thoughtful touch that our tester really appreciated.

The sterilisation cycle is just five minutes, one of the shortest from an electric steriliser we tested. If the lid isn’t removed, everything inside stays sterile for 24 hours after running a cycle.

While the initial outlay is more than a microwave steriliser, it’s considerably cheaper to run. Altogether, the Tommee Tippee Super-Steam is a reliable, thoughtfully-designed steriliser that’s widely available, well-supported and should do its job consistently over time – a lifesaver to an overloaded new parent and a worthy winner of this year’s Mumsnet Best Steriliser 2020 award.

Good for parents who

  • Use Tommee Tippee bottles and other Tommee Tippee baby products
  • Get through up to six bottles a day
  • Want an electric steam steriliser but don’t have a lot of kitchen workspace available

Pros

  • Takes up very little space on the kitchen counter
  • Sturdy and safe materials and design
  • Inexpensive to run
  • Large capacity
  • Simple interface to use with rapid sterilisation cycle

Cons

  • Not the most budget-friendly electric steriliser we tested, and a more expensive initial outlay than microwave or travel versions
  • Doesn’t fit extra-tall bottles, like Dr Brown’s
  • Doesn’t have any extra features – just a simple sterilisation cycle

Product information

  • Capacity: Approximately six bottles
  • Materials: BPA-free plastics and metal electrical components
  • Included: Steriliser and teat tongs – larger sets are also available to buy
  • Available from a wide range of retailers, including supermarkets, Amazon and Argos
  • RRP: £69.99

Read the full review

Buy now from Amazon

2. Medela Quick Clean Microwave Bags: Best Budget Steriliser 2020

“The Medela bags are very handy. You just stick your breast pump bits in the bag with water and bung it in the microwave for a couple of minutes – job done.”

2. Medela Quick Clean Microwave Bags: Best Budget Steriliser 2020

For parents on a budget that won’t allow for a £50 to £80 outlay, or babies who spend time with grandparents, childminders or away on holiday, Medela's reusable Quick Clean Microwave Bags are reliable, compact and surprisingly good value for money.

The box contains five capacious, well-designed bags that can fit two bottles apiece and each bag can be reused 20 times, so they’re much more economical than they might first appear.

Made from tough plastic with a good seal, a cool marked area to hold the bag without burning fingers, and a hole to pour out the water safely before opening, they’re safe and well-designed. The instructions are printed on each bag and there’s also a tick chart so you can keep track of how many times the bag has been used.

The caveat is that you’ll need a microwave to use them, which might not always be available – and, more importantly, sterilising just two bottles at a time won’t be feasible if you’re bottle-feeding full-time.

Good for parents who

  • Have a small kitchen
  • Are on a tight budget that doesn’t allow for large outlays in one go
  • Need to sterilise every day, but not intensively

Pros

  • At £12.99, they’re about the same as your fortnightly nappy bill, but will last three times longer
  • Small and portable – great for small kitchens, grandparents’ houses and holidays
  • Quick three-minute cycle
  • No assembly, pre-cycle or cleaning required
  • Each bag can be reused up to 20 times

Cons

  • Can only sterilise two bottles per cycle – so if you’re getting through more than four bottles a day it’s fairly labour-intensive
  • Requires a microwave to work
  • No measuring jug included

Product information

  • Capacity: Two bottles
  • Materials: BPA-free plastic
  • Included: 5 bags
  • Available from a wide range of retailers, including Medela, John Lewis, Boots and Amazon
  • RRP: £12.99

Read the full review

Buy now from Amazon

3. Milton Cold Water Steriliser: Best Cold Water Steriliser 2020

“The best steriliser for me has been the Milton's Cold Water Steriliser. Definitely the easiest and most convenient as you can add and take things out when needed and it will all stay sterile.”

3. Milton Cold Water Steriliser: Best Cold Water Steriliser 2020

Milton’s cold water sterilising solution has retained its foothold in the market for 70 years.

It involves dissolving tablets or fluid into a sturdy five-litre container of water and submerging items in it for 15 minutes as per manufacturer instructions. The bucket comes with a locking lid and a weighted grid to keep items submerged. They’ll remain sterile in the solution for 24 hours and more items can be added as and when they’re used.

There’s a simplicity and low-tech flexibility about the Milton Cold Water Steriliser that lends itself well to scaling up for large piles of gear (using the correct number of tablets in any clean container would also work) – one of the reasons it’s popular on maternity wards and with parents of multiple babies.

Just make sure you don’t mind the inevitable swimming pool smell – and keep the large bucket out of reach of children as it’s heavy when full.

Good for parents who

  • Have multiple babies, use a lot of bottles per day or want to sterilise a variety of items including breast pumps, toys and dummies
  • Want a solution that doesn’t affect the energy bill

Pros

  • Can easily be scaled up and down for different quantities of equipment and equipment in awkward shapes
  • Inexpensive to buy and maintain
  • Items remain sterile for 24 hours and can be added and removed as necessary

Cons

  • The large bucket should be kept out of reach of children when in use and will take up the sink or a reasonable amount of counter space
  • The sterilisation fluid smells of chlorine – and so will the baby equipment and your kitchen

Product information

  • Capacity: Six bottles, plus breast pump parts
  • Materials: Plastic
  • Included: Container and weighted grid
  • Available from a wide range of retailers, including Boots and Amazon
  • RRP: £17.50 – sterilisation tablets sold separately at £1.50 for 28

Read the full review

Buy now from Amazon

4. Philips Avent Microwave Steam Steriliser: Best Microwave Steriliser 2020

“I sterilise my electric Philips Avent breast pump in the microwave steriliser and it works fine.”

4. Philips Avent Microwave Steam Steriliser: Best Microwave Steriliser 2020

Philips’s ubiquitous Avent brand includes a microwave steam steriliser that is robust, roomy, safe and straightforward to use – though, like our tester, you’ll need to measure your microwave first as it won’t fit in especially compact appliances (it’s 16.6 × 28 × 28cm, for reference).

Smaller than an electric model, it can be stowed away out of sight if you prefer – although it’s not quite portable enough for travel.

It has a four-bottle capacity plus room for extra breast pump parts, a sturdy locking lid and a two- to six-minute cycle depending on the wattage of your microwave. Items inside will stay sterile for 24 hours.

At £34.99, it’s half the price of an electric steam model and just as easy to use. Philips’ vast Avent ecosystem means it’s widely available to buy online and there are instruction videos and customer service helplines ready to use should you get stuck.

Good for parents who

  • Have a small kitchen or don’t want to keep a unit on display full-time
  • Want to use steam sterilisation, but are on a tight budget
  • Use around four bottles a day, plus breast pump parts

Pros

  • Can be stored in a cupboard when not in use – good for smaller kitchens
  • Keeps items sterile for 24 hours
  • Short two- to six-minute cycle
  • Fits four bottles plus other parts – fairly roomy

Cons

  • At £34.99, it’s more expensive than, say, the Tommee Tippee Essentials microwave steriliser
  • It’s fairly large so won’t fit in especially compact microwaves
  • A four-bottle capacity might not be enough for a family on full-time bottle-feeding

Product information

  • Capacity: Four bottles
  • Materials: BPA-free plastic
  • Available from a wide range of retailers, including Boots and Amazon
  • RRP: £34.99
  • Included: Steriliser and heat-safe tongs

Read the full review

Buy now from Amazon

5. Milton Solo Travel Steriliser: Best Travel Steriliser 2020

“Really impressed with the Milton Solo Travel Steriliser – very quick and easy to use. I've used it both for cold water sterilisation and in the microwave at home.”

5. Milton Solo Travel Steriliser: Best Travel Steriliser 2020

Because travel sterilisers need to be compact enough to carry around, they’re usually short on bells and whistles. What we loved about the Milton Solo was that, travel steriliser or not, it’s more adaptable and comes with more useful design features than any other travel model we tested.

Generously sized for a bottle or breast pump parts, it can be microwaved or used with cold water sterilising solution, whichever works best for where you are. Its width does mean you’ll need both hands to open it though, which can be tricky when it’s hot or wet.

Items inside stay sterile for 24 hours and the lid is designed with a flat lip so it can be laid horizontally in a smaller microwave – a useful feature we didn’t find in any other travel steriliser.

Good for parents who

  • Need a steriliser for travel or to live at a grandparent’s or childminder’s house
  • Want the flexibility of microwave and cold water sterilisation in one unit
  • Have a small microwave that wouldn’t fit a steriliser upright

Pros

  • Can be stored in a cupboard when not in use
  • Keeps items sterile for 24 hours
  • Can be used in the microwave or with cold water sterilising solution
  • Short two-minute cycle in the microwave or a 15-minute cycle with cold water
  • Can fit most bottle brands (though not very tall ones, like Dr Brown’s)

Cons

  • It’s not as roomy as the microwave steriliser bags like the ones made by Philips or Medela, which can usually fit two bottles or a bottle and a breast pump – this fits one or the other
  • When filled with water, it leaks while on its side
  • The width of the unit means it’s hard to open when wet or very hot

Product information

  • Capacity: One bottle
  • Materials: BPA-free plastic
  • Included: Steriliser only
  • Available from a wide range of retailers, including Boots, Amazon and Tesco
  • RRP: £10.99

Read the full review

Buy now from Amazon

6. Tommee Tippee Single Bottle Travel Steriliser

“The Tommee Tippee microwave steriliser is a brilliant idea as you can also use it to cold-water sterilise while you're in a hotel. I love it.”

6. Tommee Tippee Single Bottle Travel Steriliser

Able to be used both in the microwave and with cold water solution, the Tommee Tippee Single Bottle Travel Steriliser fits either one Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature bottle (or a similarly-sized bottle from another brand) or a set of breast pump parts, both of which our tester tried.

Microwave cycles take around three minutes, depending on the wattage of your microwave, and a similar time to cool down.

It’s slightly fiddlier than other travel models like the Milton Solo, containing an interior basket with its own internal lid, and it’s slightly smaller and less robust too. But this useful little unit does a decent job and, with the inclusion of a Closer to Nature bottle in the box, it’s great value for the price.

Good for parents who

  • Already use Tommee Tippee branded bottles
  • Want the flexibility of a microwave or cold water solution

Pros

  • Widely available, including in supermarkets
  • Short three-minute cycle
  • Compact enough to pack in a nappy bag
  • Includes a free Closer to Nature bottle
  • Dishwasher-safe

Cons

  • Too small for larger-designed bottles like Dr Brown’s
  • Fiddly internal basket makes it a little more difficult to clean
  • Items inside are only sterile for three hours
  • Valve in the lid means it’s not watertight – not great when travelling

Product information

  • Capacity: One bottle
  • Materials: BPA-free plastic
  • Included: Steriliser and bottle
  • Available from a wide range of retailers, including Amazon and many supermarkets
  • RRP: £11.99
Buy now from Amazon

7. MAM 6-in-1 Electric Steriliser and Express Bottle Warmer

“MAM bottles and electric steriliser – they're amazing!”

7. MAM 6-in-1 Electric Steriliser and Express Bottle Warmer

MAM’s contribution to the steriliser market is this all-singing, all-dancing multi-part steriliser with six functions: microwave sterilising, electric sterilising, express bottle warming, gentle bottle warming, a defrost and warming option for milk and food, and, finally, a keep-warm function.

It comes with two MAM Anti-Colic bottles, Mumsnet's Best Baby Bottle of 2020, and two dummies – and a correspondingly large price tag of £90.

It’s a fiddly set-up with, unsurprisingly, a lot of instructions to read and it’s perhaps not a product for those with limited counter space as there are two units to make room for.

But if you’re bottle-feeding full time or expressing breastmilk regularly, you should find each of the different modes very helpful – and the fact that the warming unit handles food as well as milk means it should continue to be useful, even once you’re done with sterilising completely.

Good for parents who

  • Bottle feed full-time or regularly express and freeze breastmilk
  • Use the MAM Anti-Colic bottles already
  • Want one product that does everything, rather than investing in separate equipment

Pros

  • Multiplicity of functions means a great deal of flexibility – whatever kind of sterilisation you need (except cold water), this product can cover it
  • Pack includes two popular MAM Anti-Colic bottles and two dummies
  • Ability to reheat and defrost milk safely and thoroughly

Cons

  • Sterilising unit is quite small and bottles need to be sterilised on their side
  • Takes up a lot of room on the kitchen counter
  • No measuring jug provided
  • Unit beeps loudly at the end of the electric steam cycle – not great for sleeping babies
  • £90 price tag makes it the most expensive steriliser we tested

Product information

  • Capacity: Four bottles
  • Materials: BPA-free plastics
  • Included: Sterilisation unit, bottle/food warming unit, two 160ml MAM Anti-Colic bottles, two 0-2 month dummies, and teat tongs
  • Available directly from MAM as well as Boots, John Lewis and Amazon
  • RRP: £90
Buy now from Amazon

8. Dr Brown’s Deluxe Electric Steam Steriliser

“I really can't recommend the Dr Brown's steriliser enough – it's so easy to use.”

8. Dr Brown’s Deluxe Electric Steam Steriliser

Last year’s Mumsnet Best winner is a spacious, professional-looking steriliser with a main compartment for six bottles and a top compartment for smaller items like dummies and teats.

Instructions are clear and easy to follow, but the Dr Brown’s Deluxe Electric Steam Steriliser is really intuitive to use – three lights on the front let you know instantly whether the eight-minute cycle is heating up, cooling down or completed.

The accessories basket locks shut, which is great for little fingers, and as the Dr Brown’s bottles are the largest on the market, there’s plenty of room inside to sterilise a full day’s worth of bottles at once.

Like any electric steriliser, it attracts limescale on its heating plate so will need regular descaling. Our tester also didn’t like its short cable, which limits where it can be placed in the kitchen, and that it arrived wrapped in a lot of unnecessary plastic.

If you’re bottle-feeding full-time, however, and need something reliable that will fit in all of your gear, the Dr Brown’s Electric Steam Steriliser is a good choice.

Good for parents who

  • Use Dr Brown’s bottles already
  • Are bottle-feeding full-time or otherwise getting through a lot of equipment per day
  • Have room on their kitchen counter for a permanent fixture

Pros

  • Professional-looking display indicates which stage the cycle is at
  • Spacious interior for larger bottles
  • Accessories basket makes it easier to retrieve smaller items
  • Measuring jug and tongs included
  • Items inside stay sterile for 24 hours

Cons

  • Eight-minute cycle not the quickest we tested
  • Short wire limits where it can be placed on the counter
  • More expensive than some other electric models, like the Tommee Tippee Super-Steam Advanced Electric Steriliser or the Nuby Natural Touch

Product information

  • Capacity: Six bottles
  • Materials: BPA-free plastics and metal heating components
  • Included: Sterilisation unit, measuring jug and tongs
  • Available directly from Dr Brown’s as well as Boots, John Lewis and Amazon
  • RRP: £75
Buy now from Amazon

9. Tommee Tippee Essentials 2-in-1 Steriliser

“Tommee Tippee for me! Used it for both my children and loved it.”

9. Tommee Tippee Essentials 2-in-1 Steriliser

For a product positioned at the ‘basic’ end of the market, the Tommee Tippee Essentials 2-in-1 Steriliser still has an impressive number of features. It can be used either as a microwave steriliser or with cold water solution, and can hold four to six bottles as well as other smaller parts depending on their size.

The lid locks shut, which keeps it watertight and safe around children, and there's a handle for taking the steriliser out of the microwave when hot. Its size means it won’t fit in more compact microwaves (it’s 27 × 26.5 × 17.5cm) but it does feel capacious, which is useful for a wider range of bottle brands.

Packaging is minimal, but do keep hold of the cardboard sleeve as the instructions are on the reverse – and they’re not available on Tommee Tippee’s website.

Good for parents who

  • Are on a tight budget but want a decent-sized steriliser
  • Are already using Tommee Tippee branded bottles

Pros

  • Locking lid and handle are useful safety features when hot
  • More inexpensive than other microwave models like the Philips Avent
  • Lower compartment for bottles and upper basket for accessories

Cons

  • Might not fit in smaller microwaves
  • No measuring jug provided
  • Cycle takes four to eight minutes depending on microwave wattage, then a further six to cool down which is longer than average

Product information

  • Capacity: Four to six bottles depending on the brand
  • Materials: BPA-free plastic
  • Included: Sterilisation unit
  • Available from supermarkets, Amazon, Argos and others
  • RRP: £18.99
Buy now from Amazon

10. Nuby Natural Touch Steriliser and Dryer

“I find the Nuby Natural Touch steam steriliser really good – it dries the bottles too. It's tall and fits lots of differently shaped bottles, plus other bits.”

10. Nuby Natural Touch Steriliser and Dryer

Nuby’s electric steam steriliser comes with a drying function so equipment can immediately be reused without having to wait for it to cool down or dry off. Our tester loved this feature and found it very useful.

It’s a spacious unit that comes in black or white, with plenty of room on the inside for five bottles or breast pump parts and an accessories basket for teats and dummies – though the notches in the lower basket favour wide-necked bottles like Tommee Tippee or Nuby’s own.

There are three cycles: sterilising only (five minutes), sterilising and quick drying (15 minutes) and sterilising and super drying (30 minutes). The drying cycles are long, but if you were in a hurry the sterilisation-only option is one of the quickest electric cycles we tested. Items will stay sterile for 24 hours if the lid is kept closed.

Good for parents who

  • Already use Nuby bottles and dummies
  • Would find a drying function useful

Pros

  • Spacious on the inside
  • Drying function means bottles can be used immediately after the cycle without you waiting for them to dry or cool down
  • Inner trays and lid are dishwasher-safe
  • Comes with a Nuby bottle and a dummy

Cons

  • There’s an on-off switch on the base of the steriliser that isn’t mentioned in the instructions, which is confusing
  • Notches in the bottom basket are for wide-necked bottles, which doesn’t suit smaller brands like Medela
  • Quite a large footprint on the kitchen counter
  • Sterilising and drying cycles are long

Product information

  • Capacity: Five bottles
  • Materials: BPA-free plastic and metal heating components
  • Included: Sterilisation unit, one Nuby Combat Colic 180ml bottle and a dummy
  • Available from Nuby, Boots and Amazon
  • RRP: £69.99 – though it’s often on sale
Buy now from Amazon
best bottle steriliser

What you need to know about bottle sterilisers

In the hazy days with a new baby, keeping them safe is the number one priority – and also likely to be the biggest source of anxiety.

Sterilising bottles and other baby equipment for the first 12 months is an essential way to keep your baby free from bacteria that could harm their brand-new immune systems. But which type of steriliser is best, and what are the dos and don’ts of sterilisation? Read on for some helpful suggestions.

Do you really need a baby bottle steriliser?

If you’re planning to bottle feed, whether with formula milk or breastmilk, or express with a breast pump, you’ll need to sterilise all of those parts and equipment after every use.

Midwife and antenatal teacher Kate Bennett says, “Babies are particularly vulnerable to infections from bacteria, viruses and fungi in their first year of life as their immune systems are very immature. It’s good practice to reduce the risk of needless germs from feeding equipment in particular as this can make your baby very poorly, including symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea and oral thrush.”

Dummies should also be sterilised – Kate recommends once a day, unless it’s dropped on the floor outside – as well as teething rings.

Plates, cutlery and cups should be sterilised if they’re used before six months but, after that, washing in hot soapy water should be sufficient.

Should you sterilise baby bottles every time?

By the time they’re a year old, your baby’s immune system is much better developed so you can ease off sterilising toys and dummies then.

However, Kate says, “It is always recommended to sterilise your baby’s bottles and teats for as long as you continue using them. This is because milk and milk curds can remain in small amounts in the teat and bottle, and the bugs that feed on them can cause stomach upsets.”

How do I sterilise baby equipment?

The NHS advises that all used equipment – bottles, teats and breast pump parts that come into contact with milk – are cleaned as soon as possible after use using hot soapy water. A bottle brush should be used to clean inside bottles and teats can be turned inside to get into the nooks and crannies.

If you prefer, you can put bottles through the dishwasher (check your breast pump instructions to see which parts are dishwasher-safe, if any) – just make sure bottles, lids and teats are facing downwards, and remember that dishwashing cleans items but doesn’t sterilise them so you’ll still need to do that.

After cleaning, rinse off each item in cold, clean water and then you’re ready to sterilise. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly, especially when positioning items in the steriliser and adding the correct amount of water or sterilisation solution.

After the sterilisation cycle is complete, you can leave the items inside without opening the lid and they’ll remain sterile for a set period of time (often 24 hours, but it varies between products). Or you can take them out and use them once they’re cool.

It’s best to use sterile tongs to handle teats afterwards to prevent contamination, and the majority of sterilisers come with a pair – put the tongs in with the cycle and you know they’re OK to use.

Don’t rinse equipment off again afterwards as the water won’t be sterile. You don’t need to dry them as the cloth likely isn’t sterile either – just shake off the excess moisture and make sure it’s cooled down completely.

What are the different types of steriliser?

The type of steriliser that’s right for you will depend on your baby’s routine as well as your environment, so it’s perfectly alright to wait till after the birth – maybe buying a box of sterilisation bags as an interim measure – and assess your sterilising needs in the days and weeks afterwards.

Kate Bennett says, “This is such an individual choice. It depends on what you find easiest, what your budget is and how much space you have. That’s before you think about what you’ll be sterilising and how you plan to feed your baby.”

There are four main sterilisation units on the market: cold water sterilisers, microwave sterilisers, electric sterilisers and travel sterilisers. They all have their own pros and cons.

1. Cold water sterilisers

Cold water sterilisers involve filling a container with water and adding sterilisation tablets or fluid to make a sterilisation solution. The active ingredient is sodium hypochlorite, which is a mild bleach that has been through a purification process to make it stable and non-toxic. It’s perfectly safe to use, but does smell vaguely of swimming pool.

The great advantage of cold water sterilisation is its flexibility. The Milton Cold Water Steriliser, for example, is a large five-litre bucket and, with the right number of tablets, an even bigger container could be used, which puts no limit on the amount of equipment you could sterilise at once (great for parents of multiples!).

The items are sterile after a manufacturer-recommended 15-minute cycle – the NHS recommends 30 minutes – and remain so for as long as they’re in the solution. Plus, they don’t need rinsing off when they’re needed. Items can continue to be added and removed as necessary over 24 hours when the solution will need to be remade.

The disadvantages are the smell, the need to continually buy new tablets and the inconvenience of keeping a large container full of water in a corner of your kitchen – especially relevant if you have other small children.

2. Electric sterilisers

Electric sterilisers are units set over a heating plate that heats up water and sterilises the contents with steam. They’re usually generously sized, so can handle up to a day’s worth of bottles all at once, and require almost no preparation and no further outlay to use them regularly.

To sterilise, simply add the right amount of water to the heating plate and press a button – it’s quick and easy to do. The sterilisation cycle also tends to be shorter than with cold water sterilisation. The electricity required to run a cycle in one of these will almost always cost less than using a microwave steriliser.

On the downside, the heating plate will almost certainly attract limescale over time so the steriliser will need descaling once or twice a month. You can buy descaling liquid for this, though all steriliser brands now include instructions for natural descaling liquid from store cupboard ingredients which is a more eco-friendly option. Electric sterilisers are also the most expensive to buy.

3. Microwave sterilisers

Microwave sterilisers also use steam to sterilise their contents, which may appeal to you if you prefer to sterilise without chemicals.

They are essentially a large, round, plastic box with a screw-on lid, usually with an internal basket to hold the bottles. Water is poured into the bottom (under the basket) and in the microwave it boils to create steam.

The advantage of microwave sterilisers is that they’re more capacious than travel models but smaller than electric ones, so they can be stored out of sight. The length of the cycle is almost always shorter than using an electric steriliser, too, which might come in handy with a very hungry baby.

Usually, they’re of a size that isn’t truly portable, however, and you still might find it inconvenient to find the cupboard space or take it with you to a grandparent’s house. Some of the larger models might not fit inside more compact modern microwaves either.

Plus, they’re usually more expensive to run than electric sterilisers as they have a smaller capacity (so you’ll be running more cycles) and microwaves ultimately use more energy.

4. Travel sterilisers

Babies still need feeding on holiday (who knew?) so travel sterilisers are designed to provide a portable solution that works on the go.

Most of them are cup-shaped microwave sterilisers large enough for one bottle or one breast pump – though you might not always have access to a microwave when away from home so look out for ones that can be used with cold water solution as well.

Microwave steriliser bags have also become more popular in the last few years. These are reusable pouches made from a tough plastic and work by sealing baby equipment in the pouch with some water and microwaving for a set time. These tend to be more roomy than the cup model, with the best fitting two bottles in at a time, and able to be reused around 20 times per bag.

If you’re using bottles and breast pumps regularly but not intensively, you might find that a travel steriliser is sufficient for your needs – it’s certainly cheaper to buy and easier to throw into a drawer. If you’re bottle-feeding full-time, though, sterilising one or two bottles at a time will be too inefficient and labour-intensive to manage.

What makes a steriliser safe?

Electric sterilisers sold in the EU should have the CE marking somewhere on the box or instructions. This indicates that the steriliser complies with relevant EU legislation on health, safety and environment standards.

Plastic used in any steriliser part should be BPA-free – the manufacturer almost always declares this on their website, but if they don’t you can follow up with their customer service department.

Electric, microwave and travel sterilisers using steam will all get very hot, so the usual cautions apply: wait the recommended amount of time before opening the lid after a cycle has completed, open the lid away from you to redirect any steam, use oven gloves to retrieve from the microwave if necessary, and of course keep any hot items away from children.

For cold water sterilisers, a full container will be very heavy and should be kept away from children so they can’t pull it over onto their head. Sterilisation fluid is made from sodium hypochlorite, a mild, non-toxic bleach that decomposes into water and a small amount of salt.

If sterilisation fluid is accidentally ingested by a child, Milton advise: “Because of the salt in the solution in the bottle, the child will usually spit the fluid out, or, at worst, be sick. If they are not sick, there should be no need to worry but a concerned parent can give the child a drink of milk. Because milk is a protein, it will neutralise the Milton solution. The Milton Sterilising Fluid formula should be neutralised by the saliva proteins and break down into salt and water. However, it is always best to seek medical advice or contact your GP to ensure complete safety."

baby bottle feeding

What features should I look for in a steriliser?

1. Capacity

If you’re bottle-feeding or expressing full-time, you’re likely to get through a large pile of equipment in a 24-hour period and you don’t want to spend all of it refilling the steriliser.

If you mostly breastfeed and give an expressed bottle on occasions, your needs will be different. Sterilising no more than once or twice in 24 hours is ideal, so look for the stated bottle capacity and see whether it matches your expected daily use. Don’t forget to measure your microwave before buying a microwave steriliser to check it will fit.

2. Storage requirements

Do you have enough kitchen counter space to keep a sterilising unit out all the time? Would you want to if you did? Electric units usually stay plugged in on the counter – they’re too large to store and too bulky for it to be convenient to move them often.

Microwave sterilisers are smaller, but not exactly portable. They could sit on top of the fridge or stay in the microwave itself if you’d rather not keep them out.

3. Cycle time

The length of a sterilisation cycle varies wildly between brands. If you’ve got a set-up where you intend to batch-sterilise once a day, a longer cycle won’t matter so much. But if you’re planning on sterilising more often, you won’t want to wait by the steriliser juggling a hungry baby.

4. Noise

This only applies to electric sterilisers but is worth bearing in mind nonetheless. Several make loud beeps at the beginning and end of their cycle and some even during, making a dishwasher-like hum.

The beeping especially might be inconvenient with a sleeping baby in the house so you may want to check that before you buy.

How do I keep a steriliser clean?

Electric sterilisers attract limescale on their heating plate over time so will need regularly descaling (manufacturers will specify a frequency, but it’s usually once or twice a month). To reduce limescale build-up, pour out the water after every use and wipe down with a soft damp cloth.

To descale, you’ll need descaling solution which you can easily buy in supermarkets – though most brands now give instructions for an eco-friendly version using vinegar. Pour in the solution over the heating plate and leave to soak for between 30 minutes and 24 hours, depending on the extent of the limescale. Pour out, rinse with cool water, wipe with a damp cloth, then run an empty cycle before using the steriliser as normal.

Microwave, travel and cold water sterilisers can be cleaned with hot soapy water as needed, and many can also go in the dishwasher (check the manufacturer’s instructions first). It’s not necessary to run an empty cycle after washing.

How much do sterilisers cost?

Electric sterilisers are unsurprisingly the most expensive. The cheapest starts at about £40 and they go all the way up to around £90, depending on the functionalities. They use less electricity than microwaves and should cost you around 25p a month in energy bills.

Microwave sterilisers vary wildly from around £12 to £40 – the more expensive ones will likely have small extra features like lockable lids or more robust plastic, but there’s not much variation in style regardless of price.

The bestselling cold water steriliser is Milton’s, at £17.99, but the point of cold water sterilisation is that it can be done in any container of any size. You’ll always have the ongoing expense of sterilisation tablets, though these shouldn’t set you back more than £1.50 or so a month.

Being much smaller, travel sterilisers are less expensive, retailing at about £10 for a cup-style model or a box of five sterilising bags. As their capacity is so much smaller, this will only be a long-term saving if you’re not using lots of equipment daily.

Related: Read our sterilisers buyer's guide

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Related: Read more about how we tested sterilisers

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