How to Clean a Pacifier Correctly: 3 Effective Methods

Mom Giving Child a Clean Pacifier

Once your baby is finished using their pacifier, how do you typically clean it? It might seem easiest to just quickly swipe the pacifier in your own mouth, but this can actually spread germs from yourself to your child. Running it under tap water for a few seconds also won't completely disinfect it. To fully protect your baby from harmful bacteria, follow these methods for how to clean a pacifier after each use.

Why Is It Important to Clean Pacifiers?

No parent would knowingly give their baby a visibly dirty pacifier, but even pacifiers that look clean can harbor harmful bacteria and other microorganisms. According to the Cleveland Clinic, one of these bacteria is Streptococcus mutans (SM), a common mouth bacteria that's responsible for tooth decay. Every time a parent uses their mouth to clean a pacifier before giving it to their baby, they risk spreading the bacteria to their child's mouth.

Additionally, SM bacteria from a baby's own mouth can colonize on pacifiers, as a study in the Journal of Applied Oral Science (JAOS) explains. If parents don't clean pacifiers effectively after each use, the bacteria living on them survive, which can increase a baby's risk of dental decay. In addition to SM bacteria, other disease-causing microorganisms can inhabit the surface of an unclean pacifier. This is why infants who use pacifiers are more likely to develop certain infections, including ear infections, oral thrush and intestinal parasites, according to the JAOS study.

How to Clean a Pacifier

There are several methods for cleaning a baby's pacifier, including boiling, washing with safe cleaning agents and running the pacifier under hot, soapy water.

  • Bacteria-Killing Boil

    The JAOS study compared several methods for sterilizing pacifiers and found that boiling pacifiers for 15 minutes effectively destroyed SM bacteria. The University of Rochester Medical Center advises parents of babies under the age of 6 months to use the boiling water method to sterilize their child's pacifier regularly.
  • Antibacterial Spray

    Another option, which was also determined to be an effective method by the JAOS study, is to spray the pacifier with a 0.12% chlorhexidine solution. This substance is the active ingredient in antimicrobial prescription mouthrinses that treat the early stages of gum disease, as the Mayo Clinic explains. However, you should ask your dentist's advice before using this method to clean your baby's pacifier.
  • Hot, Soapy Rinse

    For babies older than 6 months, washing the pacifier in hot, soapy water and rinsing thoroughly between each use should be adequate for destroying most of the harmful bacteria, explains the Canadian Paediatric Society. You should plan to replace your baby's pacifier every two months — or sooner if the surface begins to break down or if cracks appear, as bacteria in these areas may survive your cleaning efforts.

Ask your pediatrician or pediatric dentist if you're unsure which pacifier cleaning method is best for you. Also, check the product and its packaging to determine if it's dishwasher safe, as that may be another cleaning option.

Parents sometimes feel guilty about giving their baby a pacifier, but these soothing devices provide comfort for babies — as well as help parents deal with a fussy child. If your baby uses a pacifier, be sure to clean it effectively after each use, and you can feel more confident you aren't introducing harmful bacteria to their mouth.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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