The NHS recommends that anything likely to go inside your baby’s mouth should be sterilised for the first 12 months, to avoid stomach bugs that could be dangerous. This includes feeding equipment (bottles and breastpumps), pacifiers, utensils and teething toys. While many parents tend to tail off once their baby is weaned, during the early months it’s vital to protect immature immune systems from bacteria. Cold water sterilisers disinfect the equipment using a chemical solution (the same one used to purify water); electric and microwave sterilisers remove bacteria using steam.
When might you need one?
One of the most frequently asked questions on our baby equipment forums is: will I actually need this, and does it matter what kind? When it comes to sterilisers, here’s the honest answer: you’ll need a steriliser if you bottle feed at all, if you use a breastpump, and when your baby starts teething – so that probably includes most of us. But the type of steriliser that’s right for you will depend on your baby’s particular routine as well as your environment. It’s perfectly alright to sit tight before the birth – perhaps buying a box of travel steriliser bags as an interim measure – and assess your sterilising needs in the days and weeks afterwards.
Things to consider
Electric, microwave or cold water?
Each type comes with its own pros and cons. Electric sterilisers are usually generously sized and easy to use, can be loaded up with a day’s worth of baby paraphernalia, and require almost no preparation to use every day. On the downside, they are prone to limescale build-up, needing regular descaling, and, like any appliance, can break and need replacing (most come with a fairly decent warranty to mitigate this). Microwave sterilisers are smaller, easier to store and rarely break, but are less useful for high volumes of equipment, and transporting them in and out of microwaves makes them more of a burn risk. Cold water sterilisers are cheaper, need no access to a plug, don’t require sterilising in batches and can be easily scaled up for lots of baby gear by using the tablets in bigger containers. They’re also messy, take up room and can smell quite strongly of disinfectant. Your particular needs (and those of your baby) will determine which of these options suits you best.
I had a microwave steriliser. I loved it, but do remember to put the water in - melted bottles and an urgent bottle trip to a 24hr supermarket was not what i had in mind!
Frequency of use
If your baby is entirely bottle-fed, or you express milk full-time, you’re likely to produce a large pile of items to be sterilised every day. Consider the capacity of each steriliser, and how often you’d be likely to need it: perhaps a larger electric model would work better, or a cold water solution, so you’re not having to run batches continuously.
Does your kitchen have enough room to keep the steriliser out full-time? (Electric models work best when you don’t need to move them around.) Would you need to store it somewhere when not in use? (Microwave models are the easiest to put away out of sight.) Does your baby spend enough time with a grandparent or a childminder that something portable would be better? (Sterilising bags and travel sets can be kept in changing bags or in cars.)
Travel solutions are the most inexpensive, hovering around the £10 mark, though they aren’t really suitable for long-term use. Microwave sterilisers start at around £15 and go up to about £30, and price seems to have little effect on quality: look more for size, and ease of use. Cold water solutions are happily inexpensive – around £25 – but only tend to come with a month’s supply of sterilising tablets: thereafter you’ll need to buy your own. Electric sterilisers vary wildly in price, from around £30 at the cheapest end, to about £70 at the most expensive. Again, price doesn’t correlate well with reliability: we recommend looking at the capacity and ease of daily use, and reading around for a sense of what other parents like (including on Mumsnet, of course!).
- Where will this be kept in my kitchen? Will it fit in cupboards or on shelves if necessary?
- Does the steriliser include a measuring jug (if appropriate), and tongs for safety?
- What’s the capacity of the steriliser? How many times a day will I need to use it? Is it likely to deteriorate with time?
- Will the bottles and breastpump I use fit into the steriliser?