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Even if you’re planning to exclusively breastfeed, like I was, it’s important to be armed with the best steriliser. You’re going to require some sort of disinfecting method, especially in the early days. For formula feeders or pump-users, it’s even more essential to find the best bottle steriliser to suit your needs. Without a good system in place, cleaning and sorting bottles and accessories will feel like the bane of your existence.
Like many first-time mothers, I had no idea when I was pregnant whether breastfeeding would prove successful or how often I’d want to express or formula feed. As with every baby product, I was utterly baffled by the choice in sterilisers. Nine months on, I almost exclusively breastfeed but regularly pump and often travel, so I’ve needed different cleaning methods for varying scenarios.
I've tested them all for this article. You can read my reviews further down, followed by a detailed FAQ on how to use them, but if you're in a hurry, here's a quick look at my top five:
Which are the best sterilisers in 2023? At a glance
- Best overall – MAM electric baby bottle steriliser
- Best value – Milton cold water steriliser
- Best UV steriliser – Tommee Tippee Ultra
- Best microwave steriliser – Philips Avent
- Best steam steriliser – Dr Brown's
How to choose the best bottle steriliser
Lara Basini, a midwife and One Born Every Minute star, who runs a popular TikTok channel on all-things pregnancy and birth, explains: “The NHS recommends sterilising bottles and other feeding equipment for the first 12 months of a baby's life, when their immune systems are still fragile.
“Key methods include cold water sterilising (which requires a chemical to disinfect the water), steam sterilisers (electric appliances that generate hot vapour to clean items), microwave sterilisers (containers that also use steam, which you put in the microwave) and, more recently to the market, UV sterilisers (which use ultraviolet light; the only water-free method).”
There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to all these, and the right solution for you will be highly dependent on how you choose to feed your baby. Scroll down to the bottom of this article for answers to the most frequently asked questions about steriliers, courtesy of Lara.
How I tested the best sterilisers
Over the course of nine months, from when my son was a newborn to now, I tested every method for sterilising our gear, across best-selling products from the leading brands, on bottles, pump parts, pacifiers, teethers and tableware.
So as not to cheat, I banned my fiancé from helping me figure out the appliances; relying on the instruction manuals alone. I took into account how long each one actually took to do its job (including cooldown and drying time, often not mentioned by brands in their flashy ads), the capacity, the number of functions, how easy they were to clean and how economical to buy and run.
If you have a recent addition to your family, by the way, you may want to read my guides to the best prams, baby carriers and baby bouncers, Cat Hufton's guides to the best high chairs, travel cots and running buggies and Nicola Cutcher's guide to the best reusable nappies.
1. MAM Electric Baby Bottle Steriliser & Express Bottle Warmer
Best overall, 9/10
We like: several sterilisation methods, plus other features, in one machine
We don’t like: lots of bits and bobs to get to grips with
- Six-in-one steam, microwave and cold water steriliser, with built-in food and milk warmer
- Holds six small bottles, or four larger bottles
- Comes with a 160ml anti-colic bottle, pacifier and teat tong
For pure versatility, and if you’ll be using it daily, this model takes the cake. It works as an electric steriliser, microwave steriliser, cold water steriliser, food and bottle warmer, breast milk defroster, and has a ‘keep warm’ setting. It may be all you’ll need from day one until after your baby is weaned.
As such, there are a lot of parts to contend with and it’s not the easiest to get to grips with at first. But once you’ve put down the lengthy instructions, it’s perfectly user-friendly.
As a steam steriliser, it’s a spacious model that does its job in just over 10 minutes (seven minutes to sterilise, four minutes cooling time) and in microwave mode – useful if you’re travelling – it takes about the same time, depending on your wattage. It also keeps items bacteria-free for up to 48 hours, twice the usual duration, and stores all your kit out of sight.
Aside from the steriliser functions, I love that this product comes with a MAM anti-colic bottle and pacifier and that it takes the worrisome calculations out of preparing bottles by keeping milk (or food) at the perfect temperature for 45 minutes.
Overall, this is a high-quality, all-singing, all-dancing gizmo that is great for first-time parents who won’t yet know which sterilisation method they’ll prefer, and will appreciate the extra feeding functions.
2. Milton Cold Water Steriliser
Best value, 8/10
We like: as simple as it gets, chuck your items in this bucket and they’ll stay sterile for 24 hours
We don’t like: the slight bleach smell
- Plastic container for use with Milton’s sterilising liquid or tablets
- Holds six standard bottles, plus extra items
- Comes with weighted lid
The system my own mother used (‘and nobody died’, she tells me), and still a favourite on maternity wards, the so-called ‘Milton method’ has been trusted for more than 70 years, and it doesn’t get much simpler.
This five-litre plastic container holds a multitude of bottles, pumping equipment and smaller items with no need to fit them on a rack – simply toss your bits and bobs in with cold water and a sterilising tablet (or a glug of the liquid version) and 15 minutes later they’ll be ready to use for up to 24 hours.
There’s no need to rinse items after removing them from the solution either, but they will obviously be wet – and sensitive noses might pick up on the slight ‘swimming pool’ aroma this chemical leaves.
Technically all you require for this method is the Milton’s tablets or liquid (this stuff is also great at removing tea and coffee stains from cups, as an aside) and a standard bucket, but you’ll want to purchase the branded one, as it has a lid and a weighted grid to keep contents submerged.
Also very useful and worth a mention is Milton’s Solo Travel Steriliser, essentially a smaller version (1.2l capacity) of the same thing that’s great for on-the-go.
3. Tommee Tippee Ultra UV 3-in-1 Electric Steriliser and Dryer
Best UV steriliser, 9/10
We like: looks great and no steam, water or chemicals are required
We don’t like: it takes a bit longer than the other methods
- UV steriliser, dryer and storage unit
- Hold six bottles, plus small items
- Comes with adjustable shelves and spare filter
I’m aware this makes me tragic, but I found this unit so fun to use that after I’d finished with the bottles, I was looking around the house for more things to sterilise - baby bowls, scissors, toys, you name it. There’s just something so space age and satisfying about it.
Somewhat resembling a mini-fridge, and certainly the most aesthetically pleasing steriliser I tried, this model uses UV light to sterilise your kit, killing viruses (including Covid and flu, according to the manufacturer), plus 99.9 per cent of bacteria and mould, without using water or chemicals.
I particularly liked that, with no steam, I never had to worry about bottles coming out hot to the touch. It also has a drying setting and functions as a storage cabinet (its adjustable shelves enable you to customise the layout), blasting its contents every two hours with a five-minute sterilising dose to keep your equipment disinfected and ready at all times.
The Philips UV bulb inside lasts up to 6,000 hours, and - a bonus if you’re watching your electricity bills – it’s more energy efficient than using steam, microwave or boiling.
This model’s only downside is that it's not the fastest. Clear bottles take 10 minutes to sterilise, coloured bottles are done in 35 minutes, and the drying cycle takes half an hour. Personally I never found this to be an issue, though, as you can always skip the drying if you’re in a rush.
4. Philips Avent Microwave Steam Sterilizer
Best microwave steriliser, 9/10
We like: Easy, fast, affordable, can be stored out of sight in microwave
We don’t like: won't fit in the very smallest microwaves
- Steam steriliser for use in microwave
- Holds four large or six smaller bottles, plus a few little extras
- Comes with ‘stay cool safety clips’ and teat tong
Of all the methods, this is expert Lara’s preference. “I would always go for the microwave option, as I am lazy and it’s so easy and quick,” she says. Personally, I have come to trust Philips over the years as being about the most reliable brand for homewares, and it’s true of its Avent baby range too.
This microwave steriliser is super simple: just add a little water to the base, stack your items, put the unit in the microwave and start the cycle. Contents then stay sterile for 24 hours.
It’s also budget-friendly and fast; delivering the goods in just two minutes for high-power microwaves (1200–1850W). In low-power microwaves (500–800W), it takes six minutes. I found the instruction manual to be the most straightforward I read.
Locking clips on the side ensure that you can’t knock the lid off when moving it, so no burnt fingers - a nice feature. One thing to bear in mind, however, is to make sure it will fit it inside your microwave. While it is designed for most models (measuring 16.6 × 28 × 28cm), that doesn’t include all of them.
5. Dr Brown's Steam Bottle Steriliser and Dryer
Best steam steriliser, 8/10
We like: space-saving design and vertical stacking system
We don’t like: if you forget to use distilled water, you void the warranty
- Electronic steam steriliser and dryer
- Six bottles, plus plenty of small items
- Comes with accessories tray, water measuring cup and two HEPA filters
I liked the tall, slimline design of this machine, which takes up less counter space than most comparable models, and the accessories tray that sits above (rather than around) the bottle grid. The tray is roomy enough for lots of pacifiers, teethers and other smaller items. The steriliser is also very light, with a nice digital interface, and comes with a handy measuring cup that takes the guesswork out of how much water to use.
It has several functions, including a sterilise-only, dry-only, or combo sterilise and dry cycle and can be used as storage, keeping contents sterile for 24 hours. If you’re using Dr Brown’s anti-colic bottles, widely considered to be excellent for reflux, then six of them will fit perfectly, though you can use other brands too.
It’s very thorough, eliminating 99.9 per cent of bacteria, mould and the yeast that causes thrush, but it’s slow compared to other methods (ten minutes to sterilise, another ten minutes cooling time, plus 45 minutes if you want to run the dry cycle). Like all electric steam sterilisers, it’s a bit of a faff to clean; requiring monthly descaling, and you’ll need to purchase a new filter after 12 months of use.
And a word of warning: you’ll void the warranty unless you use distilled water, since tap water will cause a faster build-up of limescale.
6. Nuby UV Portable Baby Bottle Steriliser
Best travel steriliser, 9/10
We like: doesn't need water, chemicals or even a plug
We don't like: small capacity (as you'd expect from a travel steriliser)
- Rechargeable UV steriliser with bag
- Two standard bottles, plus small extras
- Comes with shoulder strap, rechargeable battery pack, metal tray, Nuby bottle and soother
This isn’t cheap, so for infrequent trips you’re better off with the aforementioned Milton’s Solo Travel Steriliser. But if you’re regularly away or just out and about, Nuby’s portable UV unit is a worthy splurge (plus it comes with a Nuby bottle and pacifier, among other extras.)
It’s also the most stylish option, housed in its own wipe-clean zip-up handbag with an adjustable shoulder strap. This is a UV steriliser, so no need for water, steam or chemicals. It works in just three minutes, which is very impressive – just throw in your items, zip the bag and press ‘start’.
It is powered by a rechargeable battery that will last up to 17 cycles, so you don’t have to find a plug socket to use it, making it more portable than any other tech-based method, though of course this would also be its downfall should you forget to charge it before leaving home. It has a relatively small capacity, as to be expected for a travel steriliser, but you can use it to zap anything you wish (even your mobile phone, the brand suggests).
7. Medela Quick Clean Microwave Bags
Best steriliser pouches, 8/10
We like: a fast, foolproof method that takes up no space
We don't like: each bag is only about 4in by 10in
- Five BPA-free plastic bags, each useable 20 times
- Holds two standard bottles, plus pump parts and extras
- Comes in a box, with instructions printed on bags
If you’re pregnant and unsure how you’ll be feeding, or you’re only an occasional bottle-user and don’t want to find space for a bulky appliance, Medela’s microwave steriliser pouches could be a great option. These would also be handy for days spent at a friend or relative’s home, since they’re so small and straightforward to use (add water, seal, start the microwave).
The kit consists of five BPA-free plastic bags, each one reusable up to 20 times, allowing 100 cycles in total which is plenty if you mostly breastfeed. I love Medela’s products (they make the best pump I’ve tried) and even these bags are intuitively designed.
Large enough for two bottles plus several pump accessories at a time, each one is clearly marked with instructions, as well as ‘touchpoints’ that mark the cool spot to hold on one end and the hole from which to pour out the hot water on the other; and a tick chart so you can track how many times you’ve used them. They work in only three minutes and items stay sterile for 24 hours or until you open the bag – making them another transport-friendly option.
With midwife and One Born Every Minute star Lara Basini
What’s the difference between steam sterilisers, cold water sterilisers, microwave sterilisers and UV sterilisers?
Cold water sterilisation involves adding a special fluid or tablet to water, then fully submerging your items for about 15 minutes, after which you can remove things at any time up to 24 hours and they’ll remain sterile. Its upsides are that you don’t need heat or electricity, though parents do complain that it leaves a chlorine smell on your equipment.
Electric steam sterilisers use hot steam to clean your items, and are relatively easy and quick to use. Most models offer a fast sterilisation cycle. They can be bulky and take up space on your worktop, however, and can be pricey. You do also need to clean and descale them regularly.
Microwave sterilisers, my personal preference because they’re fast and relatively cheap, are more compact than standalone electric models, but in fact also use steam to sterilise items. They’re easier to clean, as there’s no metal element to descale – you simply heat the container up in the microwave with the bottles inside. You’ll need to make sure your model fits inside your microwave, and it's worth having sterilisation tablets on hand in case the oven breaks or you have a power cut.
UV sterilisers are expensive but effective against the widest range of microorganisms, and the equipment comes out not needing to be rinsed, cooled or dried. Because they use ultraviolet light to kill germs, there’s no water, steam or chemicals to contend with either, though the cycles tend to take longer than with other methods, and they’re not really suitable for thin breast pump tubing as the UV rays won’t penetrate them.
When should I use a steriliser?
The NHS recommends sterilisation for the first 12 months of a baby's life. It's important to note that whatever method you choose to use, everything needs to be washed in hot soapy water as soon as possible following feeds, and rinsed in cold running water, prior to sterilisation.
What can I use a steriliser for?
In addition to bottles, pump parts, pacifiers and cutlery, parents can sterilise frequently-used toys as invariably these will go into your baby’s mouth.
How do I choose which is the best steriliser for me?
Price tends to be the first deciding factor, particularly if you aren’t yet sure how often you’ll be using your steriliser. After that, it’s worth considering what your priority is: speed, ease, capacity, portability?
Also think about who else might be using it. If you know you’ll have siblings of grandparents helping out, the UV option rules out the risk of burns, for example. You might also need more than one method to fall back on: such as cold water tablets if you travel a lot but an electric steriliser for home use.
Lastly, will you be mainly breastfeeding, pumping or formula feeding? If it’s the former, you won’t need much in the way of equipment so can get away with something cheaper and more straightforward, whereas if you’re exclusively pumping or formula feeding, you’ll rely heavily on your steriliser and will need something more heavy-duty with a bigger capacity.
How do I descale a steriliser?
You’ll only need to do this with an electric steriliser, and instructions will vary according to the manufacturer's guidance, although a good rule of thumb is to descale it every 4 weeks, or every 14 days if you live in a hard water area.
First remove the trays and give it a wipe over. Then add one cup of white vinegar to the base of the steriliser, turn the appliance on and wait for it to boil. Soak and clean the trays in the meantime in warm soapy water.
Once the machine has finished boiling, pour out the liquid and give the base a really thorough rinse. Then dry and reassemble it.