Instant Pots are all the rage—justifiably so, we might add—because of how dead simple they make meal prep. They’re also an incredibly useful tool for parents because you can use them as a sterilizing autoclave for baby bottles and more.
Germs hate heat. It’s why we pasteurize milk, why we boil bacteria-contaminated water to render it potable, and why hospitals and medical centers autoclave reusable instruments to render them sterile for use.
You may have used microwave bags to sanitize bottles, breast pump parts, and other items before. The bags are fairly inexpensive (as long as you dry them properly and store them for reuse), but if you’d like to cut down on plastic use or skip the expense of buying the bags, there’s a pretty clever way to get by without them: your Instant Pot.
Maybe you’ve only used your Instant Pot to make easy-peasy chicken dishes or yummy rice, but the principle at work in your Instant Pot (or other pressure cookers) is the same one at work in hospital’s steam autoclaves. They’re popping forceps in and you’re popping chicken in, but pressure, temperature, and time kill off the pathogens in both instances.
Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus 10-in-1 Pressure Cooker, Rice Cooker, Slow Cooker, Yogurt Maker, Sous Vide, Sauté, Food Warmer, Bake, Stock Pot, Steamer, Cookware Grade Stainless Steel Inner Pot, 6 Quart
Instant Pots are just for fast chicken or nearly instantly turning dried beans into baked beans, they're handy to sterilize things too.
You can do the same thing the hospital does, but with baby bottles, bottle nipples, breast pump shields, and anything else you can throw in a steam-sterilizer bag. In fact, Instant Pot reports endospore samples of the bacteria Geobacillus stearothermophilus—a bacteria used to test autoclaves because of its high-temperature resistance—were destroyed after a trip through the Instant Pot. The research was done by students at Dakota State Univerity, and you can read their study here.
So, with that out of the way, how do you take advantage of it? All you need is a steamer insert or the metal grate insert that came with your pot. Toss two cups of water in first. You always need sufficient water for steam in the Instant Pot and two cups will ensure you have it even if you run the cycle longer than usual.
Lower the insert in, then set your Instant Pot to “Steam”. (If you have a newer model with a dedicated “Sterilize” button, use that.) Both settings allow you to set the time for up to 4 hours, but that’s a wee bit excessive for our purposes.
Practically speaking, almost all bacteria and pathogens are going to be destroyed after 15 minutes. If you’re curious why you would run it longer (say up to 120 minutes), check out that study we linked to above.
For most folks though just looking to replace the use of a microwave bag, 15 minutes is already significant overkill to sterilize bottles for a healthy child. The instructions on the microwave bags only tell you to do 1.5 to 5 minutes, depending on the power rating of your microwave, after all. And, in the demonstration video above, they only run it for 2 minutes. (If you’re in no hurry, however, 15 is a great number to use.)
Run the cycle, let it cool, and release the pressure valve naturally, and fish your baby gear or other items out.