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Do I Really Need a...Bottle Warmer + Sterilizer?
February 7, 2024

Do I Really Need a...Bottle Warmer + Sterilizer?

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Do I Really Need a...Bottle Warmer + Sterilizer?.
Do I Really Need a...Bottle Warmer + Sterilizer?

Do I Really Need…? is a series designed to help you figure out what baby products are worth an add versus what you might be able to skip as you build your baby registry. While everyone’s threshold differs when it comes to how much baby stuff is too much baby stuff, we’re helping you weigh the pros and cons of certain items that Babylist parents seem to struggle with the most.

Things like diapers, wipes and a car seat are must-haves for most parents when they’re building their baby registries. But lots of gear falls right in the middle of the must-have versus the nice-to-have debate, and bottle warmers and sterilizers are two of the most popular items that parents often waiver on.

Whether or not you’ll want to add either of these products to your baby registry usually comes down to personal preference. But in order to make the decision, you’ll need some information first. We’re weighing in on the debate and sharing info, pros and cons of each and some thoughts around whether or not these two baby gear gadgets are worth your precious counter space.

Bottle Warmers and Bottle Sterilizers: What You Need to Know

Before you can decide if you need a bottle warmer or a sterilizer (or neither!), let’s start with a quick overview.

What is a bottle warmer?

A bottle warmer is a safe and effective gadget that quickly warms bottles of either breast milk or formula. The majority of bottle warmers run on electricity and need to be plugged in, but there are some battery-powered options, too.

Most bottle warmers use either steam or hot water to quickly heat bottles of various sizes. Warmers have different heat settings as well as temperature-control settings and auto shut-off switches to prevent overheating, and some can even be used to defrost frozen breast milk or baby food. Here are our picks for the best bottle warmers.

What is a bottle sterilizer?

A bottle sterilizer is a machine that quickly eliminates up to 99.9% of bacteria and germs from baby bottles and other small items like bottle nipples, pacifiers and teethers. Most bottle sterilizers run on electricity and use steam in the sterilization process, although some sterilizers now utilize UV light in lieu of steam to eliminate germs by breaking down their DNA at the molecular level. There are also steam sterilizers that don’t need to be plugged in and are for use in the microwave. Sterilizers come in a variety of sizes and price points. Many also have trays or baskets inside to keep smaller items organized. These are our picks for the best bottle sterilizers on the market.

Bottle Warmer and Bottle Sterilizer Pros and Cons

Now let’s talk through the good, the bad and everything in between when it comes to bottle warmers and sterilizers.

Bottle warmer pros

  • Speed. A bottle warmer quickly warms your bottles, an especially nice perk when your little one is howling at 3 a.m.
  • Safety. Most bottle warmers have built-in features that prevent overheating, so you’ll never have to worry about giving your baby a bottle that’s too hot.
  • Ease and reliability. Pour your breast milk or formula into the bottle, pop it in the warmer, press a button (or a few if you’re using a microwave sterilizer) and you’re good to go. The same easy steps every time means you know you’ll always get the same result.

Bottle warmer cons

  • Space. Do you really need another baby gadget cluttering your home?
  • Dependence. While we don’t really believe in creating “bad habits” in babies, it is possible that your little one will start to prefer warm milk if that’s the only option they’re ever offered. While some parents are totally okay with this, others feel like it’s an inconvenience they’d rather not deal with.
  • Overcomplicating. A mug or a bowl and some warm water can easily accomplish the same task as a bottle warmer. Why make your life (even more) complicated?

Bottle sterilizer pros

  • Ease. Yup, there are other ways to sterilize bottles (a big pot of boiling water will do the trick), but you can’t beat the ease of a sterilizer.
  • Germaphobe-friendly. Do (most) babies need sterilized bottles? Nope. (More on that below.) But it certainly won’t do any harm, and for some parents it’s an easy way to offer peace of mind during an already anxiety-filled time. Rock on, germaphobes.

Bottle sterilizer cons

  • Unnecessary. According to several pediatricians we spoke to, there’s no medical reason to sterilize your baby’s bottles other than before first use unless it’s recommended by your doctor. (If your baby is immunocompromised or premature, your doctor may recommend frequent bottle sterilization.)
  • Space. Same as with bottle warmers, a sterilizer is yet another contraption that takes up that precious counter space. A lot of it.
  • Cost. Do you really need to spend the money on an extra piece of gear when you can accomplish the same thing with a pot from your kitchen drawer and a few cups of water?
  • Anxiety. Having a bottle sterilizer on hand may have the opposite effect, making you more aware of germs and bacteria than if you didn’t have the option to quickly sterilize your baby’s stuff. It’s also one more thing to do on what’s already probably a long to-do list as a new parent.

The Bottom Line: Do I Really Need a Bottle Warmer?

Like lots of things about parenting, whether or not you need a bottle warmer comes down to a matter of personal preference.

A bottle warmer may be right for you if:

  • Your baby shows a strong preference for warmed milk. (This is often the case with babies who are primarily breastfed and are used to warm milk right from the source.)
  • You’re frequently feeding your baby frozen breast milk and want a quick way to defrost it.

Don’t think either of these apply to you? Then feel free to skip. It’s super easy to warm up a bottle using a mug or a small bowl and some warm water right from your kitchen sink. (You’ll want to skip the microwave for warming, though, as it’s not recommended.) You can also go right ahead and serve your little one cold breast milk or room-temperature formula—many babies won’t mind at all.

The Bottom Line: Do I Really Need a Bottle Sterilizer?

Much of the same goes for bottle sterilizers as it does for bottle warmers—there’s no right answer either way on whether or not you should add one, both or neither of these items to your baby registry.

A bottle sterilizer might be right for you if:

  • Your baby is premature or has a compromised immune system and your doctor has recommended that you sterilize bottles and feeding supplies frequently.
  • You’ll be pumping frequently and want a quick, efficient way to regularly sterilize pump parts.
  • Germs, ick! You think a sterilizer will help you have one less thing to worry about as a new parent.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories above, then save yourself some counter space and skip the bottle sterilizer altogether. You’ll be saving money, kitchen space and some time in your day.

If you think you may want the option of occasionally sterilizing your feeding supplies but aren’t ready to fully commit, a microwave sterilizer bag might be a good option for you. Most come in packs, can be reused many times, are more affordable and take up a lot less space than a traditional sterilizer.

Jen LaBracio

Senior Gear Editor

Jen LaBracio is Babylist’s Senior Gear Editor, a role that perfectly combines her love of all things baby gear with her love of (obsessive) research. When she’s not testing out a new high chair or pushing the latest stroller model around her neighborhood, she likes to run, spin, listen to podcasts, read and spend time at the beach. In her past life, she worked for over a decade in children’s publishing. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and their two boys, Will and Ben.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.