UV & Steam Sterilizers: For Better or For Worse

UV & Steam Sterilizers: For Better or For Worse

Hygiene and cleanliness are the top-most priority for mothers regarding items commonly used for infant care. This is important for infants and toddlers with immature immune systems that makes them easy targets for viruses and bacteria. Whilst understanding the need for cleanliness, it got me wondering whether it’s an extra expense that we as parents would want to fork out for an “added peace of mind”.

My parents stood by the time-tested method of using boiling hot water to disinfect baby bottles after a cursory (soapy) wash. Then again, as society goes through a mindset-shift to provide a higher standard of living, the mantra “you can never be too safe” rings ever so true.

In this day and age, a sterilizer is considered in the eyes of most parents, a “must-have” tool. Be it at my friend’s or family’s home, you would always see one sitting on the kitchen counter-top ready for the next round of sterilization. I would usually pose a question to them asking:

“Why did you choose to go with the steam sterilizer over the UV sterilizer?” and vice versa.

Their answer would normally come with gusto, being ambassador for the brands and machines they’d chosen. But what I’d noticed is that the pointers raised would fall within various categories that are motivated from certain fears or preferences.

Before diving deeper, know that at the end of the day, the objective is the same – to make all things that goes through the machine, germ-free. Note that I would not be doing an apples-to-apples comparison of different brands and models (as do other sites), but the advantages and disadvantages of either type of machines.

Efficacy of the Sterilization Process

We shall start off with the most basic of all functions that the machines are designed to perform – sterilization. We do know that consumers have two major types to choose from – UV or Steam sterilization. The general consensus is that both serves to remove up to 99% of germs, bacteria, and more importantly, viruses.

Now that we’ve tackled the elephant in the room, we shall move on to the coverage of sterilization. This would depend on individuals, and how they interact with the machine in its usage.

As you know, UV sterilization utilises a specific UV wavelength to break the DNA structure of bacteria and viruses. However, the double layer wire rack system might cause items in the top to block the UV light from reaching items below. This is especially so for items made with materials that doesn’t let light pass through such as stainless steel, enamelled material (like thermal food jars), dyed silicon, and the likes of.

Even so, for the uninitiated, most UV lamp bulbs do produce an amount of ozone (O3) when the air around the bulbs ionizes. This phenomenon does assist the sterilization process further without the need for the UV light to grace an object.

It does help that most UV sterilizers come with an automatic drying function to stem the growth of bacteria and virus by reducing moisture. Nonetheless, placing items strategically would help you make the most out of your purchase.

A steam sterilizer is not without faults as well. The need to constantly refill its reservoir would probably be the biggest nightmare for most owners (the in-built safety mechanism does prevent electrical fires – but without water, the sterilization process might not have even started). Moreover, with water comes naturally occurring minerals, causing problems such as chalking (due to the use of “hard” water). Depending on your model, this might limit the efficacy of the sterilization process.

Time for Sterilization

It might not seem as important now, but during night feeds, the minutes do add up overtime.

Most UV sterilizers come with dual functions – heating (drying) function, UV function, and a combination of both. Steam sterilizers are equipped with just that single steam function.

UV sterilizers are made to be competitive with steam sterilizers by matching the 6 minutes (this value might vary, but rarely goes beyond 10 minutes) with the UV function.

As mentioned earlier, the additional features in a UV sterilizer does help to further remove moisture which allows for prolong storage. This does come with additional drying time – mine goes to 45 minutes, but your mileage may vary. On the other hand, steam sterilizers is only generally safe for 24 hours after the steam cycle completes, that is, if you keep the lid on.

Both options are once again pretty competitive. For those who want absolutely zero anxiety can definitely go for the UV option.

Serviceability of Sterilizers

Osram germicidal lamp for UV sterilization

In terms of serviceability, In this aspect, the front runner would have to be the UV sterilizer. Most machines will come equipped with 2 separate UV-C tubes that are easily replaceable. I found the replacement tubes to be rather cost-effective. A pair of branded Osram tubes costs around S$25 while a pair of generic tubes costs around S$12.

For steam sterilizers however, more of often than not, they are not user-serviceable due to its “complex” in-built components. The main component of the machine would have to be the heating element which requires authorised servicing. Would highly discourage attempting a fix on your own as you’ll void your warranty, and perhaps an electrical shock/short.

Moreover, UV sterilizers tend to feature a fully stainless steel interior which lasts a lifetime. Whereas, most steam sterilizers come with plastics interior and bottle holders and we know that plastics and heat just does not do that well together.

UV sterilisers wins under this category.

Safety Ratings

UV bottle sterilizer for baby products

To keep this short, both options do pose their own set of safety risks that you should be aware of.

UV sterilizer’s biggest shortfall is probably the use of those UV lamps that produces UV-C rays. Those rays could potentially be harmful to your eyes and skin. The produced ozone does pose an irritant risk to your respiratory tract and lung function as well. Of course, these risks are usually mitigated with a fully sealed unit to prevent any light leak (those with windows are usually laminated with a protective film), and a outlet vent to expel any ozone externally to reduce concentration levels.

Steam sterilizers can scald you during and after operation. Even though the advertised 6 minutes is true, you might very well have to wait another 10 before you could safely remove it.

Please do take the time to read through the manual before operating either type of machines – there’s a reason why they include these in the packaging boxes to begin with!

Wear and Tear to Products

Most product and review sites seldom cover the topic of wear and tear. We believe it places focus on whether sterilization encourages the breakdown of materials in baby products and subsequently shortening the replacement cycles.

On this, we can exclaim with a resounding yes! But this is something to be expected of course.

Sterilization processes are “harsh” for a reason – to be absolutely sure that nothing nasty remains on the products we are using with our babies.

UV sterilizers does breakdown the molecular bonds in plastic products. This might lead to clouding, change in colour, or even a change in feel (generally stickier). Generally, PPSU products are more durable and resistant against breakdown as compared to PP products.

Steam sterilizers produced this phenomenon that is seldom discussed about, but we noticed that our teats broke and tore way faster than expected. But do remember that teats are on a 3 months replacement cycles anyways.

Upfront and Operating Costs

UV Sterilisers would cost more off the shelf, usually in the range of S$250 – S$500. However, with Chinese companies disrupting the market, the cheapest machine you can buy now is the XiaoMi Youpin Xiaolang at S$129. It comes with all the bells and whistles of leading brands such as Spectra, Haenim, Tommee Tippee, UPANG, Lollababy, and more, but it’s durability might be questioned by some.

Steam Sterilisers are usually cheaper at between S$100 – S$150 due to the simpler construction and material use.

We have both options at home but started inclining towards the use of a UV sterilizer due to its convenience and added features to put our inner OCD to rest.

Verdict and Conclusion

Both UV and steam sterilizers are good, indispensable options for parents out there. End of the day, it really boils down to the desired feature set and preferences of each parent.

In fact, if you are intending to get something practical such as a sterilizer for new parents, you can get some inspiration from our previous article as well.

Let us know what your thoughts are on this ongoing debate, and which would be the option that you would go for!

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