How to Clean a Pacifier: Fast and Safely

Gina Maria Jansheski, MD, FAAP
Reviewed by Gina Maria Jansheski, MD, FAAPWritten by Neve Spicer Updated on September 9th, 2021

Soothing cranky babies and toddlers became a little easier the day that pacifiers were invented. They’re a great self-soothing tool for little ones, but like anything babies use on the regular, pacifiers have a tendency to get grimy.

They get dropped on the floor, left between the couch cushions and shared with the dog, and since they’re designed to go in the mouth, regular cleanings are obviously essential.

Fortunately, effectively cleaning pacifiers isn’t much different than sterilizing bottles, a process most parents are already used to. Learning how to clean a pacifier is simple, and while there’s plenty of cool sterilizers on the market that streamline the process, they’re not explicitly necessary.

Related: Baby Pacifiers: Benefits, Risks, and When to Wean

Wondering what you’ll need to get your baby’s binkies clean and sterile?

  • Clean, dry rag for wiping and cleaning
  • Clean, dry towel for air drying
  • Mild dish soap for washing
  • Warm water for washing
  • A heavy-duty pot for boiling water

Properly sanitizing your baby’s pacifiers

Sanitizing your baby’s pacifier collection isn’t difficult, nor is it costly. No special soap or equipment is needed, and the old-school method still works just as well as it always has. By following the five-step process carefully, you’ll make sure baby’s pacifier collection is washed, sanitized, stored properly and that any damaged or defective binkies have been removed.

Don’t forget to wash your hands before every step of the process, when you begin, when drying the pacifiers or removing from the dishwasher, and definitely before you inspect them and place them in storage. 1How to Clean, Sanitize, and Store Infant Feeding Items

1) Wash with hot water and soap

This is the basic common sense part of the process. The very same mild, touch-safe dish detergents we use to remove bacteria and debris from eating utensils is the perfect soap for cleaning pacifiers, as it cleans deeply, gets rid of germs and rinses clean. To make this process truly effective, though, it’s important to wash your hands first. Then either thoroughly clean your kitchen or bathroom sink or create a basin by using a plastic tub or large bowl filled with hot water and soap. Using a brush that is clean and dedicated for washing only baby’s feeding items will help clear off any grime left in the crevices. When the pacifiers have been washed, drain them, rinse them and wipe them dry.

2) Inspect them for imperfections

As we’ve established, pacifiers have a pretty rugged life journey. Not only are they being gummed on and bit by kiddos, but they can get banged around, thrown, or when they’re just too dirty, shoved into the bottom of a diaper bag to be put aside for this very moment of truth. While they’re usually pretty sturdy as far as baby gear goes, with long-term use, the parts can disconnect or they can tear, break, chip, and degrade.

Once all the pacifiers have been washed, go back over them with a keen eye. Look for any nipples that have chunks missing or are otherwise damaged. 2Pacifier Safety

Make sure the parts do not separate, causing a choking hazard. These problems mean the overall integrity of the pacifier is lost, and for baby’s safety, it shouldn’t be used any longer. Likewise, feel the dried nipples. If any still feel gummy or sticky, it means the material they were made with is beginning to degrade. Take those out of the collection, because they’re no longer safe for your kiddo. Don’t hesitate to replace pacifiers frequently before the damage occurs. 3Pacifiers (soothers): A user’s guide for parents

3) Time to sterilize

If you already have an electric or microwave sterilizer, you’re in luck! The manufacturer’s instructions can walk you through the simple process of sterilizing your bottles and pacifiers. All of these units operate differently, so please make sure to reference the instructions before using your device for the best results. No sterilizer? No problem. Boiling water has been used to sterilize baby gear for many years, and it’s as effective today as it was when our grandparents did it.

Worried about getting it exactly right? We get it—nobody wants to make pacifier soup. Simply bring a large, clean pot of water to a rolling boil, drop the washed pacifiers into the water and allow them to boil for five full minutes before moving on to the next step.

If you have a dishwasher in your home, that’s another option for pacifier sterilization. Remember to use only the top rack of your dishwasher, though, because the heat produced near the washing mechanism at the bottom is too intense for pacifiers, and they can melt. Just check the package the pacifier came in or online to make sure it’s dishwasher safe before attempting this method, as those made with latex sometimes can’t hold up to the heat either.

4) Drying and cooling

If you’re using an electric or microwave sterilizer for your pacifiers, it may have a built-in drying feature that can save you from having to establish a specific sterile drying area. If it doesn’t, though, it’s okay—a tidy corner of a clean counter and a clean, dry towel is all that’s needed to air dry pacifiers.

For the boiling method, once pacifiers have been boiling for five minutes, use a sieve to scoop them out of the pot and remove them, placing them on a clean, dry towel. When using a sterilizer without a drying function, simply removing from the unit to the towel is sufficient. Let the pacifiers cool off a bit, and then gently shake and dab them to speed up the air-drying process. While dishwashers do have a drying function, it’s recommended to air dry pacifiers to maintain the integrity of the material and prevent further unnecessary heat exposure.

5) Storing and preventing contamination

Once you’ve cleaned and sterilized baby’s pacifiers, storing them in a place that will prevent them from being contaminated until they’re ready to be used will save you from wasted work. Sterile containers or disposable plastic zipper bags make good picks for keeping them free of dirt and germs, but there are lots of creative and sanitary ways to store their binky collection.

Related: Using a Pacifier While Breastfeeding (Truth Bomb!)

Alternate cleaning methods

While they’re not the most effective ways to clean your kiddo’s pacifiers, these three quick-clean methods are frequently used off-the-cuff to spiff up a dropped pacifier. Keep in mind that, to truly sterilize your child’s collection, serious heat is needed.

  • Sink rinsing. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not a real wash. Sink rinsing gets off superficial dirt and debris, but it doesn’t do much about lingering germs, which require real sanitization to remove.
  • Cleaning with saliva. This method certainly doesn’t sound very clean, but it removes surface nasties, and science does suggest that microorganisms from parents give kids an allergy defense boost. 4Pacifier cleaning practices and risk of allergy development
    Typically used in a pinch without a place to wash, it’s not a real cleaning method, so we can’t advocate for it.
  • Wiping it clean. For the same reason that a water rinse can’t be considered a full pacifier wash, wiping it clean is not our top pick. This only fights about a third of the cleaning battle, but it’s an okay choice when a pacifier has been cleaned recently and just needs a little touch up on the run. There are portable packs of pacifier wipes dedicated to the task that might be helpful to tote on the go.

Pacifier storage ideas

At a loss for a sanitary way to store baby’s binky collection? Let us help you out with a few simple ideas.

  • Glass jar/Mason jar. Not only are these sanitary picks when washed, but they’re clear and a cute way to show off a colorful collection of their faves. Just make sure the binkies are dry before placing them inside.
  • Plastic storage tub with dividers. This creates easy-access storage for sterile baby stuff. Just reach in, grab and go!
  • Small plastic storage dresser. These units are inexpensive and can be great for storing small items for babies and toddlers, as they don’t take up much space on a counter or dresser top.

Cleaning pacifiers for your baby doesn’t have to be complicated. Sanitizers and dishwashers are convenient, but the classic boiling water method is next-to-free and simple enough for just about every parent to manage. It’s one way to feel better about your baby’s use of those sometimes grimy binkies. Plus, it’s a good impetus to weed the scuffed up picks out of their collection. When you complete the equation by storing cleaned pacifiers in a dry, sterile place, you can feel confident they’ll stay sanitary until ready to be used.

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Gina Maria Jansheski, MD, FAAP
Reviewed by Gina Maria Jansheski, MD, FAAPWritten by Neve Spicer Updated on September 9th, 2021

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