The hidden life of infant pacifiers can be rather scary. They roll into dark crevasses under the bed, hide beneath picnic tables and lurk near the potty chair. The bad news is, they get really dirty -- dirtier even than you might think. And while boiling a pacifier when you first take it out of the package to get rid of any chemical residue is a good idea, no amount of boiling will get rid of strep or other bacteria once they get deep inside that little rubber tranquilizer.
When to Boil Pacifiers
When pacifiers are brand new, throwing them in boiling water for five minutes cleans off any manufacturing contaminants. If your baby's less than 6 months old, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends frequently boiling or washing in the dishwasher, which cleans using very hot water and a prolonged washing, because your baby's immune system isn't up to full capacity yet. After age 6 months, wash with soap and rinse with clear water.
Boiling and Bacteria
If your baby just had a strep infection, you might think boiling the pacifier will kill any residual bacteria that could reinfect him. But that's not necessarily true, according to an Oklahoma State University study presented at the 2012 American Society for Clinical Pathology Annual Meeting in Boston. Researchers found that after about two weeks of use, microorganisms that contaminate a pacifier form a biofilm that resists even boiling or bleaching. When researchers tested 10 pacifiers in current use by healthy babies, they found 40 different types of bacteria, as well as mold and fungi, on the inside and outside.
Other Cleaning Methods
If your baby hasn't been sick and your pacifiers are less than two weeks old, clean them by soaking them in an over-the-counter denture cleaning solution, suggests Oklahoma State University researcher on the pacifier study and microbiology expert Dr. Thomas Glass. Clean the pacifier in a baking soda solution made from 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 8 ounces of water whenever it hits the floor, Jay Bullard, another of the study's researchers, suggests. Wash it each and every time; the "10-second rule" doesn't apply to sticky, soft surfaces like pacifiers, warns Dr. Lisa Steed of the diagnostic microbiology lab at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Cleaning it by putting it in your mouth isn't acceptable, either.
As annoying as it might be to try to find replacement pacifiers after your baby's had strep, especially if he'll accept only one difficult-to-find brand, throwing the old ones out and buying new is probably safest for his health. Because it's so difficult to prevent bacterial contamination in pacifiers, parents should throw out pacifiers after two weeks use even when their child hasn't been sick, recommends Glass. But not all pediatricians agree; infectious disease specialist Dr. Bruce Hirsch suggests that exposure to different bacteria early in life can help build a baby's immune system.