Safety First

4 Easy Ways To Sterilize Pacifiers — & When A Warm, Soapy Wash Will Suffice

Sterilizing pacifiers isn’t always necessary, says Dr. Jessica Kiss.

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If your child's favorite comfort item is their "binky," knowing how to sterilize pacifiers is import...
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With parenthood comes many wonderful things, like the amazing joys of watching another human grow right before your eyes. But you know what else comes with being a parent? Lots and lots of cleaning! Diaper blowouts, hundreds of tiny soiled clothes and bibs, and don't forget all the baby gear. There's one thing in particular that, aside from our breasts, babies cling to for soothing effects: pacifiers. And since babies tend to chuck ‘em as much as they suck ‘em, pacifiers can cause cautious new parents constant worry about hygiene... especially since, when it comes to how to sterilize pacifiers, there remains some confusion about the best methods.

Decades ago, when clean water was scarce, doctors recommended that all baby bottles and pacifiers — or basically anything going in a baby's mouth — be sterilized every time to remove potentially harmful bacteria that could lead to infection and disease. Today, most households in the U.S. have access to clean water, so the need to sterilize pacifiers after each use isn't usually necessary, except for in a few cases. According to family medicine physician Jessica Kiss, D.O., "It's most important to sterilize bottles, pacifiers, and sippy cups prior to the first use for babies and toddlers. But really, after that is debatable. Regularly washing these items with warm soapy water is most important."

At the end of each day, go ahead and pop your baby's pacifiers into a dishwasher basket and run it on a regular cycle. If you're out and about and your baby's pacifier comes in contact with a dirty surface (and you don't have another clean one handy), washing it with warm, soapy water before reintroducing it to them is, more often than not, just fine.

When to Sterilize Pacifiers

In addition to sterilizing before first use, Kiss says that sterilizing is most important "[...] if you have a baby under the age of three months, a premature baby, or a baby that has a problem with their immune system. In these cases, check with your doctor for the best option. But in general, we recommend sterilizing [pacifiers in] a pot of boiling water for five minutes."

Other times it's advised to sterilize pacifiers if your baby has been sick, before using a shared pacifier (maybe from a sibling or friend), or if your baby attends a daycare where their pacifier may come in contact with other babies and children. In these instances, the most common risks associated with not sterilizing pacifiers include bacterial infections and the transmission of viruses that can also lead to serious illnesses.

If you need to sterilize your baby's pacifiers for any reason, there are a few easy ways to accomplish this that don't require too much effort, time, or expensive or uncommon appliances.

How to Sterilize Pacifiers

All of the following methods work to sterilize pacifiers. No matter which method you choose, make sure you never give baby access to a newly sterilized pacifier until it is sufficiently cooled down.

1. Boiling Water

Like Kiss mentioned, boiling pacifiers in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes can destroy most germs. Be sure to use care when removing them while the water is still hot, and then place them on a clean, dry surface to dry.

2. The Dishwasher

Using regular hot wash and dry cycles should be fine. But you can also run your dishwasher on sterilize mode for an added layer of protection — especially if dishes that came in contact with raw poultry or other infectious items are in the same load. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions

3. A UV Sterilizer Box

Many baby gear brands have introduced UV sterilizer boxes that can sterilize baby items, like pacifiers, in less than a minute, removing 99.9% of all harmful germs. However, this is typically only advised on pacifiers that have been pre-cleaned.

4. The Microwave

Another quick way to sterilize pacifiers is in the microwave. Simply place them in a bowl, make sure both are microwave-safe (some pacifier brands strongly discourage microwave cleaning), and run the microwave for 2-3 minutes. Wait another 2-3 minutes, until the bowl is cool enough to handle, before pouring out the water and letting the pacifiers dry on a clean, dry surface.

**When it comes to newborns, it's important to sterilize their pacifiers daily, but once they begin the oral phase (when they put everything in their mouths), do it less frequently. Stick to hot water and detergent for cleaning solutions as well and whenever you sterilize or wash pacifiers, make sure they are dry before storing them to reduce bacterial growth.

What Not to Do When Cleaning or Caring for Pacifiers

Now that you know the proper ways to sterilize a pacifier, how about what you shouldn't do? Here are a few general rules to follow.

  • Don’t abide by the five-second rule — if your baby drops their pacifier on the floor or in the dirt at the park, it needs to be cleaned. You don’t necessarily have to sterilize, depending on your baby’s age and/or health (and where the pacifier fell), but you do need to at least wash it off with warm, soapy water. You can potentially use a special cleaning wipe, if you have one with you, as long as it is chemical- and toxin-free.
  • The ol’ “stick it in your own mouth to clean it” method isn’t advisable either, as you could pass your germs on to baby.
  • Dispose of pacifiers when they start to look worn out, cracked, or otherwise compromised.
  • If you're trying to get your little one to use their pacifier, do not sweeten the deal by dipping it into their favorite flavor. Putting food on the pacifier, not cleaned properly after use, can grow bacteria. If your little one wants to suck on something that isn't a pacifier but is more delicious, try freezing fruits or some of their favorite foods and give them that to suck on.

So, there you have it. You should aim to sterilize pacifiers at least once per month, and clean/sanitize them daily. Pro tip? Always have extra clean pacifiers on hand!

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