Breastfeeding is tough, and cleaning the breast pump parts has to be one of the worst parts of it.
Allowing bacteria from the pump to contaminate the breast milk goes against the whole point of breastfeeding.
Meticulously cleaning all the parts also seems impossible when caring for a newborn or infant. The great news is that you don’t have to clean the tubing all that much.
Fortunately, Medela tubing does not need to be cleaned after every use, or even frequently. The tubing only needs to be cleaned when it comes into contact with breast milk or any other contaminant.
When it is time to clean the tubing, simply submerge it in warm, soapy water. Rinse with cool water, and then hang the tubing to try. The hardest part is waiting for the whole thing to dry.
Read on to learn all you need to know about keeping Medela tubing clean.
How to Clean Medela Tubing?
Cleaning Medela tubing can be a pain, but the steps are not complex. Simply turn off your breast pump and disconnect it from the power source.
Next, remove the tubing from the pump. When unhooking it, avoid wiggling it or pulling it at an angle.
This can damage the connection and make it hard to reattach. Be sure to remove it straight-on rather than at an angle. Also, remove the tubing from the flanges.
Once the tubing is off the machine, just wash it with warm, soapy water. Filling a bowl will be the easiest way. Avoid putting the tubing directly in the sink.
Wash the tubing by submerging it in soapy water. To add a little more pressure when washing the tubing, use a syringe without a needle to force water through.
To finish, rinse it with cool water. You can also use the syringe for this step if desired. Be sure to let the water run all the way through the tubing.
Finally, the last, and arguably most important, step is to dry the tubing. Putting it away from moisture makes it a fertile breeding ground for bacteria.
Either lay the tubing flat to dry or drape it over something like a water pitcher to get some help from gravity.
Should I Use Rubbing Alcohol or Vinegar?
Many online advice forums and mom blogs recommend running rubbing alcohol through the tubing.
Rubbing alcohol is an antiseptic, but the main appeal is that it evaporates very quickly.
Similarly, some moms inject vinegar into the tubing with a syringe.
Vinegar is such a popular “natural” cleaning product, so it is little wonder that some also shoot it through pump tubing.
The FDA, CDC, nor Medela specifically recommend or warn against cleaning the tubing with rubbing alcohol or vinegar.
Can I Boil the Tubing?
Warm soap and water are the best ways to clean the inside, and outside, of the tubing without damaging the tubing itself.
The polymers in the tubing are not intended to be exposed to the high heat of boiling water.
Plastics can release toxic chemicals and fumes when overheated. Neither of these things have a place in the pumping of breastmilk.
Additionally, the tubing can stretch, warp, or have the walls stick together after being boiled.
Essentially, boiling the tubing creates additional risk when there is no need. Stick with soap and water.
How Does a Medela Breast Pump Work?
A little knowledge about the inner workings of a Medela breast pump should clear up tubing care and cleaning.
The tubing actually only carries the air that is vacuumed in by the pump. Assuming that the pump is working correctly, the tubing should very rarely need to be cleaned.
Breast pumps are separated into ‘open’ and ‘closed’ systems. Closed systems entirely separate the milk from the pump’s internal workings.
A barrier, called a media barrier, prevents any milk from overflowing or back-blowing into the pump.
It is highly unlikely milk would enter tubing in closed pump systems.
Open-system pumps do not have the same barriers in place, which is why it is not recommended to share open-system pumps.
In theory, pumped breast milk could overflow or otherwise spill into the pump mechanism.
Many open pumps now come with a barrier to prevent the overflow of pumped milk. Medela advertises that all of their pumps have an overflow-prevention mechanism.
However, some models only prevent overflow into the pump motor. Other Medela models now come with a dam between the breast shield and the tubing, meaning the milk would not be able to get into the tubing.
How Often Do I Clean Medela Tubing?
The Medela tubing needs to be cleaned if milk, condensation, or some type of dirt or debris is present in the tubing.
The tubing does not carry the milk, so it should not need to be washed often.
Pay Close Attention in Humid Weather
Moms can be baffled when they spot moisture in the tubing even though the tubes have not been exposed to water. The culprit is usually humidity.
Women in humid locales like Florida can experience condensation in the tubing on a regular basis; it is hard to escape the humidity in many places!
Humidity sneaks in in even arid climates though. Be mindful of where you take your pump; gym locker rooms are a common source of humidity that we may not think of.
After noticing condensation in the tubing, complete the soap and water washing procedure. Be sure to completely dry the tubing afterward.
How Do You Dry Medela Tubing Faster?
The Medela tubing only needs to be air-dried. Gently hang it or drape it to keep gravity on your side.
After the tubing has mostly dried, speed it along by attaching it to the pump and turning on the pump.
How to Clean Medela Tubing with Mold?
Thoroughly and completely drying the tubing is key to preventing the growth of mold. This is a situation where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The CDC recommends replacing tubing that has breast milk or mold in it because the tubing is so hard to effectively clean.
Any moisture in the tube acts as a medium for bacteria and fungi to grow.
Ultimately, while the CDC recommendation may seem drastic and wasteful, it is intended to protect the baby who would drink the breast milk.
The risk of any spores remaining in the tubing is too great, and any bacteria or mold could make a baby very sick.
For this reason, it is a good idea to keep a spare set of tubing in your pumping to-go bag.
That way, if you do ever notice mold in the tubing while on the go, you can immediately switch out the tubes.
Replacing Medela Tubing
Medela replacement tubing is readily available online and in baby-oriented stores. It costs around $7.
Look up your specific Medela part information on Medela’s website. This is important because tubing is not interchangeable among all models.
Medela’s pumps come with a few different tubing connector types and tubing types to optimize the performance of the different machines. The same cleaning techniques apply to all machine styles.
To get replacement tubing, first determine which type of tubing your machine uses at the link above. Certified replacements can be purchased at that link.
To find out whether your parts are covered by Medela’s warranty, email email@example.com.
Can You Sterilize Medela Tubes?
According to the FDA, no breast pump parts can be truly sterilized at home. Given how challenging it is to clean the tubing, they are no exception to that.
The CDC does recommend sanitizing most breast pump parts daily. It specifically states in it’s pump cleaning guidelines that the tubes do not need to be regularly cleaned.
What If the Tubing Keeps Getting Dirty?
Despite all the care in the world, the tubing can get contaminated sometimes. If the tubing repeatedly gets dirty, it can be a sign that other parts of the breast pump are failing.
One, this could be happening because the tubing is not securely attached. Be sure to check the attachment and look for any damage at the connection point.
Alternatively, this could also be a sign that the pump membranes or valves are damaged. The only way to know whether this is the case is to inspect each component.
How to Make Breast Pump Suction Better?
The tubing plays an important role in how effectively the pump suctions. When the pump seems to be working worse than usual, the tubing should be on the checklist of items to inspect.
The tubing connects the flanges to the pump motor, and any kinks or clogs will reduce the suctioning ability.
This is also a good reason to keep a spare set on hand; that way, pumping sessions can continue full-speed if the tubing suddenly has a clog.
Ideally, the Medela tubing should be one of the lowest-maintenance components of the breast pump.
This is assuming it is working properly, though, and moms should keep an eye out to be sure the tubing remains clear or dry.
If the tubing does get visibly dirty or moldy, cleaning it can be such a challenge that simply replacing them may be a better option. It is one of the least expensive parts of the pump – usually less than $10.
Most importantly, be sure the tubing fully dries after cleaning it or after noticing condensation.
One way to get the last bits of moisture out is to plug them into the pump and run the pump motor for several minutes.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.