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How to Clean and Sterilize Pacifiers: 5 Simple Steps

Medically Reviewed by Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Pro tips for keeping that binky clean, not stinky.

Are you concerned that your baby’s pacifier is a germ trap? We share this concern. But we’ve also had babies who would only be comforted by that germ-infested binky.

So, what’s a mom to do?

We’ve researched the many ways to sterilize pacifiers, testing and comparing them to find the most effective methods.

We’re sharing our results, so you can continue soothing your baby without worrying you might be harming them.

Key Takeaways

  • Sticking a pacifier in your mouth to clean it may not be as bad as it seems and may offer some protection for the baby.
  • Running water can remove surface dirt but doesn’t kill bacteria.
  • Boiling water is an effective method but ensure the pacifier cools down thoroughly before giving it to the baby.
  • Machine, microwave, and dishwasher sterilizing are options but can be expensive or take up counter space.
  • Dishwasher sterilizing takes longer than other methods and requires a backup pacifier.

Different Ways to Clean a Pacifier

There are many different ways to clean a pacifier, but some are better than others. Let’s look at some of the methods and the good, bad, and ugly about them.

Sticking It in Your Mouth

Sometimes you’ll see a mom bend over to pick up a pacifier that has dropped onto the ground.

If there’s no running water around, they’ll take matters into their own hands to clean it. They’ll put it in their own mouth and give it a tongue bath, proving once again that there’s nothing moms won’t do for their babies. We’d rather ingest germs ourselves than let them touch our babies’ lips.

But while cleaning your child’s pacifier with your own mouth doesn’t seem like a great idea, it may not be as bad as you think.

One study showed that the children of parents who cleaned pacifiers with their own mouths might have fewer instances of asthma and fewer eczema symptoms (1). The microorganisms in their parents’ mouths might offer babies some protection. But the jury is still out on this one.

If you happen to drop a pacifier, and you’re desperate, it’s worth a shot, unless you are sick at the time. Then you should keep those germs to yourself.

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The Running Water Method

Putting a pacifier under a running faucet is enough to remove surface dirt, but it won’t do much for any of the stubborn bacteria and germs that cling to it. And, believe us, pacifiers contain bacteria. Even brand new pacifiers may be contaminated (2).

While running water is better than nothing, you shouldn’t assume your paci is clean just because it looks clean.

The Boiling Water Method

Many parents opt to boil their baby’s pacifiers for a few minutes to kill bacteria. This is an excellent method as long as you feel comfortable that no harmful chemicals will leach out of the pacifier during the heating process.

Take Note

If you use this method, you have to ensure you let the pacifier cool down thoroughly before you give it to your baby. That might take longer than you imagine it will. Try to shake any trapped water out onto your wrist instead of squeezing the nipple to see how hot it is.

Machine, Microwave, or Dishwasher Sterilizing

You can buy machines to sterilize a pacifier. The downside to this method is that sterilizers can be expensive. Plus, those clunky sterilizers will take up counter space, which is a hot commodity in every mom’s kitchen.

You can also use a microwave sterilizer, like the Philips AVENT sterilizer, to zap any bacteria.

But if you’d rather not purchase a sterilizer, you can sterilize pacifiers in the dishwasher on the top rack. The downside to this is it takes a lot longer than other sterilizing methods, so you’ll need a backup pacifier to use in the meantime. Babies aren’t known for their patience.

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What You’ll Need

Depending upon which method you choose, you won’t need much, if any, special equipment for cleaning your baby’s pacifier.

Here are the few things you might want to consider having on hand.

  • Dish soap.
  • Dishrag or fresh sponge.
  • Pan.
  • Electric sterilizer.
  • Microwave sterilizer.
  • Plastic baggies.

How to Clean and Sterilize Your Baby’s Pacifier

It doesn’t take much brainpower, time, or concentration to fully clean and sterilize your pacifiers.

Here is what you have to do.

1. Wash Them First

Before putting them in a sterilizer, you first need to wash your baby’s pacifiers. Fill a clean sink with hot, soapy water. If your kitchen sink hasn’t been cleaned for a while, use a clean bowl instead. You don’t want to risk introducing more germs than you’re getting rid of.

Use a freshly cleaned dishcloth or new sponge as used kitchen sponges are bacteria traps (3).

2. Inspect Them

Once those pacifiers are sparkling clean, check them over to ensure they’re still in good shape. If you see any cracks, tears, or compromised parts, you need to toss them out right away.

If the pacifier nipple feels sticky after you have already washed it, it’s time to pitch it as well. That means the material is no longer in good condition, and you don’t want your baby sucking on it.

3. Sterilize Them

If you decide to boil a pacifier to clean it, heat the water to a rolling boil. Add the pacifier and boil it for five minutes.

If you’re using an electric sterilizer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions as the process is different for different units.

When using a microwave sterilizer, it’s also important to follow the instructions, so you don’t microwave the pacifier for too long.

When using the dishwasher as a sterilizing method, make sure you only put the pacifier on the top shelf of the dishwasher. The heat on the bottom rack can be too intense.

However, before using the dishwasher, ensure your pacifier brand is safe for dishwasher cleaning. Most do well in the dishwasher, but latex pacifiers may not be as dishwasher safe.

4. Let Them Dry

Let the pacifiers dry out before putting them away. They should air dry fairly quickly. You can take them by the handle and shake out any excess water to speed things along. Some sterilizers have a drying feature that takes care of this step for you, but it does take extra time.

Dry your pacifiers on a clean dish towel so you aren’t contaminating them by putting them on a dirty kitchen counter.

5. Put Them Away

To keep pacifiers clean between uses, you should put them away until needed. A good place to keep them is in a plastic Ziploc bag. They fit easily into purses or diaper bags and will prevent further contamination.

Sterilizing Pacifier FAQs

Do I Really Need to Sterilize?

Yes, for the most part, it’s recommended that parents sterilize pacifiers before their first use to ensure they’re free from any harmful bacteria or germs. But after that initial sterilization, washing them with a safe soap and clean, hot water (or tossing them in the dishwasher) is usually sufficient.

Can I Clean a Pacifier With Baby Wipes?

While baby wipes might be more convenient for some parents, they’re not designed to clean pacifiers and might not effectively remove bacteria.

Instead, try washing with soap and hot water, sterilizing in boiling water, or cleaning in a dishwasher. This will clean and disinfect everything perfectly.

How Often Should Pacifiers Be Sterilized?

After the first use, pacifiers should be washed regularly with soap and hot water or cleaned in a dishwasher. Full sterilization can be reserved for when the pacifier has been dropped in a dirty environment or if your baby has been sick.

How Often Should Pacifiers Be Replaced?

Depending on use, pacifiers should generally be replaced every two to four weeks. Always replace pacifiers if they show signs of wear and tear, like cracks or discoloration, to prevent them from becoming a choking hazard.

What Happens If You Don’t Sterilize Pacifiers?

If you don’t sterilize pacifiers, there’s a risk that they could carry harmful bacteria that might lead to infections. Regular cleaning helps reduce this risk.

When Can You Stop Sterilizing Pacifiers?

Generally, it’s recommended to sterilize pacifiers until your baby is at least six months old, as their immune system is still developing.

After this point, regular washing should be sufficient, although you can choose to sterilize occasionally, like when the pacifier has been dropped in a dirty environment or if your baby has been ill.

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Medically Reviewed by

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC is a writer, editor, and board-certified lactation consultant for two busy pediatric practices. She is a former La Leche League Leader, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and Certified Infant Massage Instructor.