How the heck do you clean a Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer? That was a question I was asking myself after I couple failed attempts to eradicate a weird spoiled milk smell that turned up in our kitchen a few weeks after our baby was born.
I didn’t even realize the smell was emanating from the bottle warmer at first. It’s hard to identify a new smell in your house when you have a newborn, because let’s be real, babies are kind of gross and smelly in general.
Admittedly, I had no idea that I had to clean a Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer at all. I had gotten ours used and cleaned the outside of it, never thinking that I somehow had to clean the innards of the machine as well. So by the time ours started smelling, there was no way of knowing how long it had been since it was actually cleaned.
As I came to find out, you should clean your Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer about once a month, or more frequently if it starts to get funky. I first attempted to just clean the water reservoir on the outside with soap and some rigorous shaking but this didn’t touch the smell. I realized I had to actually figure out how to clean the thing properly.
To spare other bottle warmer newbies from funk, here is a run down of why you need to clean your warmer and how to actually do it.
How to use a Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer (and why it starts to smell)
Admittedly, I campaigned for us to skip using a bottle warmer all together. I feared our baby getting a taste of the finer things and refusing a bottle anytime we were away from the bottle warmer. This didn’t happen and I ended up really liking our Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer since it’s easy to use (albeit not not exactly intuitive on the cleaning front).
The way the Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer works is you fill a small reservoir tank of water on the outside of the machine. You pop the bottle in the top of the warmer and when you turn it on, it heats up enough to turn a small amount of water into steam. The steam fills the bottle holding area and heats up the bottle.
Apparently the Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer can also be used to heat baby food jars but we never tried to do that.
You can adjust how long you heat the bottle using a timer on the base of the machine. Smaller amounts of milk/formula need less time heating. Once you set the timer, it defaults back to that time (until the machine is unplugged). The amount of time to heat the bottle will vary based on plastic vs. glass bottles, room temperature vs. refrigerated milk, and milk volume.
Here is a rough idea of heating times based on Dr. Brown’s instructions (for a more detailed chart see the Dr. Brown’s manual here). We found their recommended times made hotter bottles than we wanted so we stuck with warming our bottles (2 oz.) for about two and a half minutes for refrigerated milk in plastic bottles. When we’d occasionally heat in glass bottles, we’d pull them about 15-30 seconds sooner.
|Volume||Temperature||Plastic Bottle||Glass Bottle|
|2 oz.||Room Temperature||2:10||–|
|4 oz.||Room Temperature||2:30||2:00|
|8.5 oz.||Room Temperature||3:00||2:30|
After the bottle heats, be careful when pulling it out by the lid. For us, the top of the bottle would feel hot (you have to grab at the top because of the bottle warmer’s shape) but the lower part where the milk is would be just warm. In generally, a fill of the water reservoir lasted us about 10 cycles, but that will vary based on how long you run it for.
The reason that the bottle warmer will start to smell is that when the bottle is heated, some of the milk also evaporates and ends up settling into the machine when it condenses again. Even with using Dr. Brown’s bottles with their lids firmly on, we still got milk residue in our machine. This milk residue even got back into the water reservoir.
With time and repeated heatings, this milk/formula residue starts to get funky.
Getting this residue out is what makes cleaning a Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer more entailed. The outside water reservoir has a tiny opening, making it difficult to get to the formula detritus that builds up on the walls. Then you also need to clean the internal mechanisms.
How to clean a Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer
So how do you clean this milk build-up out of your Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer? It is actually fairly easy with the right tools, which luckily are common kitchen items – rice and vinegar.
The rice is used to clean the water reservoir part of the Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer. Rice grains are small enough to fit through the small opening. They act as an abrasive on the walls of the reservoir when you shake it with water.
You run the vinegar through the machine through repeated heating cycles like you would water. This further cleans the reservoir and gets into all the internal chambers in the machine where milk residue hides.
You’ll likely want to clean a Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer every 4 weeks or so. You’ll know when it is time to clean again when it starts to smell like soured milk (since that’s essentially what it is).
If you get your bottle warmer used like I did, I recommend going through the cleaning protocol below before the first time you use it – learn from my mistake!
Learn more about how I get used baby gear in my monthly baby expenses reports
What you’ll need:
- Distilled White Vinegar
- Dish soap (optional)
Time needed: 20 minutes.
How to Clean a Dr. Brown’s Bottle Warmer
- Unplug the machine and make sure it’s fully cooled before cleaning.
You’ll be shaking out all the water in the bottle warmer as a first step so if the water is still hot, it is a burning hazard. I was impatient once and poured a lot of hot water on my hands. Do not recommend.
- Empty water from the reservoir tank and machine.
First, remove and empty the outside water reservoir. Next take out the plastic basket from inside so it does not fall out when you tip the whole machine over. Then take the whole machine and turn it over a sink to get out any pooled water.
- Clean the water reservoir tank with soapy water or vinegar.
Squirt some dish soap or vinegar in the water reservoir and fill it about halfway with warm water. Cover the two openings with your fingers and shake it up. If you have a lot of residue, you may want to let the reservoir sit full of soapy water for a few minutes.
- Pour in a little rice into the reservoir.
This is the most tedious step in the cleaning process. You are going to put some rice into the reservoir. Don’t worry, the rice comes out easily with water rinses. For me, I essentially had to put the rice in a few grains at a time by hand. It is a pain to get the rice in there but you don’t need a lot.
The rice will essentially scrub the sides of the reservoir for you since you can’t clean it with a sponge or brush. Add some water, cover the holes with your fingers, and shake again. You can also add dish soap to this step too.
- Rinse out the reservoir thoroughly.
The rice will pour out of the reservoir with water rinses. Fill up the reservoir with water, shake briefly and pour the water out. It likely will take a few rinses to get all the rice out.
- Wash the plastic basket components with soap and water.
There is a plastic basket inside the bottle warmer that holds the bottle and is removable. Wash these pieces down with soap and water. If they have a formula film on them, you can soak them in hot soapy water.
- Wipe down the inside of the bottle warmer and lid with vinegar.
Wipe down the insides of the machine with a vinegar soaked rag, scrubbing any build-up that is present.
- Fill the water reservoir about ¾ full of distilled white vinegar and the remainder of the way of water.
You’ll be running the vinegar through the machine as if you were warming bottles. Put the reservoir tank back into the bottle warmer, plug the machine back in and set it to run.
- Run about 4-5 cycles to let the vinegar run through the machine.
Each cycle you run with steam up the vinegar through the machine. It will take about five 5-minute long cycles to use up all the vinegar. Once it is done, your bottle warmer is clean! Fill it back up with water and use normally.
- Repeat cleaning about once a month.
Clean the Dr. Brown’s bottle warmer more frequently if you notice milk/formula residue build-up or if it starts to have a smell.
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