Can you use a dishwasher instead of a steriliser?

It’s so easy to throw your baby’s feeding kit into the dishwasher, but could that busy-mum trick be putting your little one at risk?

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We all know the saying, ‘A dishwasher cleans dishes so that you don’t have to.’ But tempting as it is to pop baby bottles in with the dirty plates, is our time-saving dishwasher really a safe alternative to sterilising?

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Dishwasher v steriliser

To sterilise an item it has to be boiled at 100 deg C for a minimum of five minutes. The water in most dishwashers, even on a hot 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. That’s why we’re advised to use a steriliser rather than a dishwasher for any feeding equipment used before six months (including breast pumps and dummies), and for bottles and teats until 12 months.

What goes 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. In particular, some parts of breast pumps aren’t suitable for dishwashers. Specially designed dishwasher baskets are handy for keeping small pieces of feeding kit in one place.

Choosing the right programme

If you do intend to use your dishwasher for your baby’s feeding equipment, use a hot programme of 80 deg C 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.

Bottles in the dishwasher

Although most baby feeding equipment, including dummies, only needs to be sterilised for the first six months, bottles and teats should be sterilised until he’s 12 months old – by which point you should be aiming to wean him off bottles and onto cups.

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If you do decide to 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. 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!

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