Baby Bottle Cleaning -Ask the Audience

Dear Home-Ec 101,

Help! I’m a new mom cleaning baby bottles. I breastfeed my baby, and she takes breast milk in a bottle when I’m at work.

I should know the answer to this question, as I’m a pharmacist and took years of chemistry. I’m so embarrassed!

Hot, soapy water does not remove stubborn milk residue from the insides of my baby’s bottles. Breast milk has a high fat content. It’s also hard to mechanically remove the residue since my hand can’t fit in the bottle, my fingers aren’t long enough, and bottle brushes just leave streaks of milk behind!

I’m looking for a solvent. I know that alcohol dissolves lipids, but simply swishing the alcohol doesn’t work. Do I warm it up first?

Bottle it up

Heather says:

I would not want to use any kind of solvent in your infant’s bottles, unless they are glass, and even then I’d be hesitant.

 You all know I’m not scared of  the broad term “chemicals.” I also don’t believe that natural means safe.

That said there are specific instances in which I am extra careful about what cleaners I choose, an infant’s bottle is definitely one of those cases. I think of it this way, if you’re going to the trouble of breastfeeding then don’t undo your efforts and expose your child to chemicals like pthalates (there are no pthalates in the rubbing alcohol you mentioned, but rubbing alcohol can weaken some plastics.)

Use a mild detergent*, HOT water, and PHYSICAL energy to clean out those bottles. I never bothered with bottle brushes and instead just shoved the dishcloth way down inside and twisted the heck out of it. In particularly stubborn cases I would take a chopstick and use it (inside the cloth) to get down into that stupid ridge at the bottom of the bottle. (Yes, I was also frustrated by the fat left behind.)

Very hot water and plenty of detergent (just like when we talked about how washing machines clean clothes) are what is needed to get rid of that fatty residue. My pal Amy Tucker added a squirt of soap to the bottle, a little hot water, and shook the snot out of it.

Maybe a fellow Home Eccer has stumbled upon an easier way to clean baby bottles? (Feel free to chime in, in the comments!) If not, well, just remember this is a very short period of time. You’ll only have to deal with these bottles until cup weaning which is recommended (by many pediatricians, mine included) at one year. So really, you’re going to get through this.

Hang in there.

*This is absolutely not a sponsored post, but it is an honest plug for Method which you can find at Target, Amazon, Lowes, and (Home Eccers you can feel free to chime in with your favorite gentle dish detergents, too.)

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  1. MelissaTurnerJones on August 2, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    I’d recommend the “Drop-Ins.”  And for future reference, pipe cleaners for the sippy cup parts.

  2. FrancesGoffMiller on August 2, 2012 at 11:27 am

    I agree KeterMagik, Mr  Clean Magic erasers & some dental flossused to tie to the handle of a wooden spoon.

  3. Roxie700 on August 2, 2012 at 11:12 am

    I am a day care provider. I use glass bottles for all the infants.  I wash in the dishwasher, bottom tray.  It takes all the milk out of the bottle.  I use an sanitize cycle on the machine.  Nipples and rings are washed in the top rack in a small basket.  I do get new nipples every couple of weeks.  They just don’t last a long time going through the dishwasher cycle several times a week.

  4. bookchick on August 1, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    I don’t have a baby so not sure if this would be better than a bottle brush, but I use a toothbrush to get off stubborn gunk on long narrow bottles.  It seems like since the bristles are closer together it might wor better.

  5. kathryn on August 1, 2012 at 11:57 am

    the brushes with a sponge tip work best. I also switched to the playtex drop in liners and bottles, then you only have to wash the nipple. I hated the thought of the plastic breaking down over time, so using a new liner everytime seemed better. playtex makes a system where you can pump in to the drop in liners (works with a medela pump).  Leukocytes in milk will stick to the glass, so glass is not ideal but if only some feedings are from the bottle your baby is not missing out on much.

  6. Beth on July 31, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I had a similar problem.  I use environmentally friendly dish soap that simply does not cut grease the way something like Palmolive does.  What I did with the baby bottles was add about a teaspoon of baking soda, fill them with hot water, and let them sit for awhile.  That seemed to do the trick. 

  7. melonpanchan on July 29, 2012 at 12:42 am

    denture tablets and the hottest water out of your tap.  squeeky, minty clean, every time.

  8. KeterMagick on July 28, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Take a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and tie wrap/Gorilla Glue it to a chopstick or old wooden spoon handle to make a killer bottle scrubber.  Sounds like you might actually have mineral (probably calcium) deposits that the lipids and proteins are sticking to (like plaque on teeth).  Try soaking for an hour or so in white vinegar.I don’t know if they even make them any longer, but I used glass bottles with foam padded sleeves I made out of old mouse pads and old bath towels.  Worked well and would survive falls on carpet with no problem.  I envy your ability to breastfeed.  I have 36F boobs with no connected ducts for the milk to come out.  That was fun.  Not.

    • HeatherSolos on July 29, 2012 at 7:42 am

      KeterMagick glass baby bottles are making a comeback as people become more aware of things like pthalates and BPA leaching out of plastics. That said, on the rare occasion I used bottles they were plastic. 

  9. Krista M on July 28, 2012 at 9:42 am

    I used a spoon of uncooked rice and a drop of soap, added a little warm water, put the lid on and shook….it worked every time. I still use the rice to clean things like tea pitchers that have hard to reach bits or flower vases.

    • HeatherSolos on July 29, 2012 at 7:42 am

      Krista M fantastic suggestion, thank you.

    • HeatherSolos on July 29, 2012 at 7:42 am

      Krista M fantastic suggestion, thank you.

  10. Elle on July 28, 2012 at 9:32 am

    I have a friend who swears by using baked rice to swish out the bottles. Beads or baking beads might work also?

    • HeatherSolos on July 29, 2012 at 7:47 am

      @Elle if you use something you plan on reusing simply empty the contents of the bottle into a colander or strainer.

    • musingminds on July 31, 2012 at 12:47 am

      @Elle I used to use a bit of salt and few ice cubes to clean out the Bunn Coffee pots with the narrow openings. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with baby bottles or any other narrow topped container as well. Just rinse well to remove vestiges of salt from the bottle. The salt acts as an abrasive and the ice both adds water and has weight to move the salt around. Works like a charm to get all the brown coffee gook out of the coffee pot.

  11. Lusule on July 28, 2012 at 4:57 am

    I’ve never had much problem. Here in the UK, I scrub it as best I can with detergent, hot water and a sponge headed bottle brush, and then I’ve been very happy with my Philips Avent bottle steriliser. 7 minutes of scalding steam have left me feeling confident that anything potentially dangerous that got left behind is dead. In contrast I did not find the dishwasher did the same sort of job at all.

  12. Jolene on July 28, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Buy a spongey bottle brush instead of a bristle type.  Wet down a little and sprinkle it with salt.  Then scrub.  The salt acts as abrasive, and then rinse them out with hot, soapy water.  

  13. KarenLew1 on July 27, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    I used 4 oz bottles, so I could reach in all the way with a baby washcloth. I also find that adding a little baking soda to the dishwater really helps with the slimy feel that you can get on plastic dishes and containers. Those 4-oz bottles have come in really handy for storing hair elastics, dice, spices ….

  14. Laura on July 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    I have the same situation with my baby. We found that Dapple soap has worked the best, but it is pricy! But it’s been the most effective at zapping milk residue, and you don’t need much, so it’s been worth it to me.

  15. Anne on July 27, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Oh mama, I hear you! I agree with Heather on the very hot water, dish soap, and some physical methods. I’ve definitely done the shove a washcloth method, but I also found the Evenflo Rotary Bottle Brush to be a big help (link below). Because of the way the handle rotates and the spongy part at the end I could scrub more vigorously.My usual procedure was to put a tiny bit of liquid dish soap in all the dirty bottles and then fill them with the hottest water my sink would make. I would fill a large mug/small bowl with all of the nipples/rings/caps put some dish soap in there and fill with hot water. Then I’d go to town with that rotating brush on the bottles and a smaller brush on the nipples/tops.

  16. musingminds on July 27, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I always used the Playtex bottles and liners. By the time my youngest was born, they had the “drop-in” liners which are much easier to use than the fold-over-the-top ones. Although they do make some liners especially for breast milk – they seal and can be frozen if necessary.

  17. narey63 on July 27, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    I believe that the white deposits are not fat, but protein. I’ve always used a bottle brush and found that it DID help. However, I have those deposits on ice cube trays which were used to freeze breastmilk for storing, and they are STILL not completely gone. If YOU can’t get them off, they’re not going to simply come off into the contents of the bottle!

  18. Samantha W on July 27, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I found that the bottle brushes that were just a brush were a joke, however the munchkin bottle brushes with the sponges were amazing. Yes, the sponge will break down after a few weeks/a month of use, but shouldn’t you be tossing it that often anyway? I also only ever used Dawn dish soap, since milk fat is a grease and Dawn is amazing at grease.

    • mommy2boyz on July 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm

      @Samantha W I use that same bottle brush and it works well. For really stubborn milk residue I will sometime just fill the bottle with hot soapy water and let it soak until my next load of dishes and that usually got rid of it.

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