If you’ve ever forgotten a baby bottle at the bottom of the diaper bag or the back of the car, you’ll know how hard it can be to get the smell out. No amount of handwashing ever seems to fully remove the stench.
Foul-smelling baby bottles don’t usually pose a health threat, but they can create an unpleasant taste.
Having experienced this many times ourselves, we’ve researched and tried every trick for ridding all kinds of baby bottle smells. We’ve finally found a foolproof solution.
We will discuss how you can prevent funky smells from developing and what steps to take if your baby’s bottles smell like soap, sour milk, burnt plastic, bleach, plastic, and formula. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can restore your bottles to their original state, avoiding the need to toss them.
- To prevent baby bottle odors, rinse bottles immediately after each feeding, properly clean bottles using hot, soapy water and a bottle brush, store bottles in the refrigerator, prepare bottles right before feeding, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and sterilizing, and properly store formula or breast milk.
- To remove the smell of soap from bottles, try a different dish soap brand, hand-wash the bottles, rinse thoroughly with hot water, and boil or sanitize the bottles.
- If the smell is from excess lipase in breast milk, the milk is safe to feed to the baby, but the baby may not like the taste. Scalding the milk before freezing can help remove the smell but can also lower nutrient levels.
How Can I Prevent Bottle Odors?
Your baby’s bottles go through a lot, so they’re bound to start to stink at some point, especially if they’re plastic.
Here are some preventive tips you can follow to minimize the need to deodorize your bottles.
- Rinse immediately: Rinse your baby bottles immediately after each feeding to prevent milk residue that may sour or grow bacteria.
- Proper cleaning: Proper cleaning will prevent the formation of bacteria in your baby’s bottles. So use hot, soapy water and get all those nooks and crannies with a bottle brush. You should also completely disassemble the bottle before washing to ensure a more thorough cleaning.
- Store bottles in the fridge: Bacteria may be the culprit of your baby bottle odors, so store your bottles in the refrigerator to slow bacteria growth. Bottles left to sit at room temperatures, especially when damp or unwashed, are more likely to develop bacteria.
- Prepare bottles right before feeding: Prepare a new bottle right before each feeding to prevent harmful bacteria growth.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and sterilizing baby bottles. Be sure your bottles are dishwasher safe before throwing them in, and if they are, it’s best to use the top rack only.
- Proper storage: Remember to follow all recommended formula or breast milk storage guidelines. Freshly expressed breast milk should be discarded after four hours of sitting out at room temperature, and formula and re-heated breast milk should be discarded after one hour at room temperature.
- Try glass bottles: Plastic readily absorbs odors, so it might be a good idea to give glass bottles a try.
What To Do About Different Smells
1. Bottles Smell Like Soap
If your baby bottles smell like soap, follow these cleaning tips and consider if the smell might be your breast milk.
- Try a different dish soap brand: Look for dish soaps that are free and clear, 100% food grade, or specifically made for washing baby bottles.
- Hand-wash: Try handwashing if you’ve been using the dishwasher.
- Rinse thoroughly: Rinse thoroughly after washing with HOT water.
- Boil/sanitize: Boil your baby’s bottles for ten minutes after washing or follow another approved sanitization and sterilization method.
If you’re breastfeeding, the soapy smell may not be soap at all. Some breastfeeding moms can have excess lipase in their pumped milk, which gives off a soapy smell, especially after refrigerating or freezing.
If the smell is from excess lipase and not soap, your milk is perfectly safe to feed your baby. However, some babies don’t like the taste and will refuse the milk.
You can scald newly expressed breast milk before freezing it to inactivate the lipase, but this process is time-consuming. It may also destroy some of the anti-infective properties of the milk and lower some nutrient levels. However, this is not likely to be an issue unless all the milk your baby receives has been scalded (1).
2. Bottles Smell Like Sour Milk
If your bottle is plagued with the smell of sour milk, try these tips:
- Clean with baking soda: After washing your bottles and removing all milk residue, place two TBSP of baking soda in each bottle and fill with hot water. Shake for two minutes. Let sit for four to six hours, then rinse thoroughly with warm water.
- Do a vinegar soak: Vinegar is a natural deodorizer strong enough to cut through the fats in formula and breast milk. To do a vinegar soak, place a small tub or dishpan inside your sink, and fill it with 50 percent hot water and 50 percent white vinegar. Take apart all your baby’s sour-smelling bottles, and let them soak for at least four to six hours, preferably overnight. After the soak, wash with hot water and dish soap and rinse thoroughly. We recommend soaking in a separate container other than your sink because most sinks are loaded with bacteria.
- Sterilize: After washing, sterilize your baby bottles and all accompanying parts to remove any leftover odors and bacteria.
- Put the washed bottle in the freezer: Place your baby’s bottle in the freezer overnight, and the cold temperatures will freeze the bacteria and remove odors.
- Test your breast milk: Smell and taste the milk to see if your breast milk if it has gone bad before placing it in a bottle for breastfed babies to be sure it isn’t the culprit. If it’s distinctly sour or rancid, it’s best to pour it out and reevaluate your storage procedures.
3. Bottles Smell Like Burnt Plastic
Act on the following steps if your bottles smell like burnt plastic:
- Check for melting: Check all bottles and parts for any melted plastic. Dispose of any melted bottles, as many substances in burnt plastic are carcinogenic and can negatively affect the lungs, skin, and immune system (2).
- Soak in vinegar: Soak any burnt-smelling bottles and parts in a tub/bowl filled with half vinegar and half warm water. Let soak for four to six hours or overnight.
- Re-wash: Re-wash and rinse thoroughly after completing a vinegar soak.
- Boil: Boil clean bottles and parts on the stovetop to sterilize and reduce odors.
- Toss them: If the smell of plastic persists, it’s best to toss your bottles and buy new ones.
4. Bottles Smell Like Bleach
You may have tried using bleach to clean or sterilize your baby bottles and learned the hard way that it can leave smells behind. If so, follow these tips to get that strong bleach smell out.
- Cold-water soak: Soak your bottles and parts in cold water for a few hours.
- Wash Thoroughly: Re-wash all your bottles with hot, soapy water or run them through the dishwasher.
- Extra rinse: Lots of extra rinses will help get all the bleach out of your baby bottles.
- Boil: Sterilize all your bottles and parts by boiling for ten minutes or following another recommended sanitization method.
5. Bottles Smell Like Plastic
Sometimes new bottles can hang onto their plastic smell for a long time. If you’re dealing with bottles that smell like plastic, here’s what you should do:
- Baking soda soak: Add four tablespoons and a quart of hot water to a container and let your bottles and all their parts soak overnight. Wash with hot, soapy water following the soak and let air dry.
- Call the manufacturer: If your bottles still smell like chemical plastic after washing, sterilizing, and soaking in baking soda, contact the manufacturer. Tell them your concern, and request a replacement or a refund.
6. Bottles Smell Like Formula
Try these tips if you can’t get the formula smell out of your bottles:
- Baking soda: After washing your bottles and clearing all milk residue, place two tablespoons of baking soda in each bottle and fill with hot water. Shake for two minutes. Let sit for four to six hours, then rinse thoroughly with warm water. You can also soak your bottles in a container using four tablespoons of baking soda and a quart of hot water.
- Vinegar soak: Fill a container using equal parts white vinegar and hot water and let your bottles and all of their parts soak for at least four to six hours, preferably overnight. Wash and dry as you normally would following the soak.
- Activated charcoal: Take an activated charcoal briquette and crush it into a fine powder. Pour the powder into the bottle and fill the bottle with hot water. Seal it and let it sit for three to four days before pouring it out and washing it like normal.
- Boil/sterilize: Sterilize all your bottles and parts by boiling them for ten minutes or following another recommended sanitization method.