I may only have one child — a very rambunctious 4-year-old boy — but somehow, I've accumulated a vast collection of sippy cups. My kitchen counter has overflowed with various candy-colored cups with retractable straws, drinking nubs, or silicone leak-free discs; then there was the Thomas the Tank Engine phase, followed by a Paw Patrol period. Now, I'm in my son's "green" era, when only cups in shades from lime to grass to emerald are acceptable.
The old sippy cups? Most have found their way to the recycling bin when they looked chewed, the decals wore off, or I just got tired of the clutter, but what is the correct benchmark for sippy cup shelf-life? Realizing I had no idea, I asked around.
How long do sippy cups last?
"This really depends on frequency of use, but sippy cups can last well over a year, if not longer," says Hanna Lim, president and cofounder of Lollaland, the makers of the valve-free Lollacup. "Deciding when one's sippy cup is too worn and needs to be tossed is no different from deciding when one's adult cup is worn and needs to be tossed."
First and foremost, a higher-grade plastic will be a little more durable than cheaper models (think: thicker, more solid containers versus a thin plastic you can crinkle with your bare hands). Then, consider your sippy cup's components: The smaller the parts, the harder they are to keep clean. Also, once you see chew marks, discoloration, or get "yucky" vibes, it's time to retire that cup, or at the very least, invest in replacement parts. "A lot of [sippy cups] have no-spill values, and once those start to leak, look shabby, have a foul smell, or look discolored, either put a new valve in or get a different cup," says Schoemer.
Thirsty for more? Here are a few more things I learned about sippy cups while researching this story.
5 More Things to Know About Your Kids' Sippy Cups
1. Read the directions.
Regardless of how silly it seems to read the instructions on a sippy cup, take a quick look and see if yours is labeled dishwasher-safe because exposing a plastic that isn't to high heat could potentially cause harmful chemicals to leach out, says Pamela Schoemer, MD, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh's Children's Community Practice.
2. Consider buying cups with fewer pieces.
A good rule of thumb when buying a sippy cup you hope to keep for more than one day is to look for larger or less parts. A cup with a bunch of small pieces can be hard to clean or could easily break. Some models have a multi-piece straw or a two-prong circle valve; others just have one large silicone disk that pops into place. "The problem with the valves is they're hard to get apart and if they're [difficult to manage], you're likely to break it," says Schoemer. "You certainly don't want to give to your kids anything that's not fitting together completely because we don't want any choking hazards."
3. Use caution with leftover liquids.
Raise your hand if your kid has insisted on a full cup of juice, taken one sip, and then split the scene for whatever other shiny thing has caught their attention. We all have our hands up now? I fully admitted to putting a cup back in the fridge to not waste a full glass of milk. Turns out, that's a mistake.
"If you're leaving a sippy cup out after they drank from it, it probably shouldn't be longer than an hour," says Schoemer. "If you're going to stick it back in the refrigerator, it's probably good for four hours, until the next meal time, but even with the one-way valve, you're going to get some mouth bacteria back-flowing into that drink, so pour it out."
4. Clean them the right way.
"Regular and frequent washing, and more importantly, thorough air-drying, will prevent any mold from growing in your sippy cup," says Lim. To be really thorough, go back to those bottle brushes you thought you were done with or, alternatively, a soak in warm, soapy water. Ideally, you'll skip the sponge: "Even if you put it in the dishwasher, a sponge tends to trap everything and you're never going to completely sanitize it," says Schoemer. "Sponges really are harborers of germs."
5. Recycle old sippy cups if you can.
Check the grade of plastic your cups are made of to see if they can be put in the recycle bin. If you're dealing with a cup that's not safe for kids but not yet trash-worthy (broken valves or chew marks, for example), you can turn the cup part into a vase for herbs or as a tub toy.