Cleaning Your Sex Toys
Knowing how to properly care for your sex toys is crucial for not only keeping them in good shape, but for keeping You in good health as well.
The words above – Clean, Disinfect, Sanitize, and Sterilize – are all used fairly interchangeably to those who don’t work in medical/health, scientific, or food service industries, but they do mean very different things, so it’s important to know their differences and how they relate to your sex toys, and ultimately, your safety.
Cleaning is a big catch-all term for simply washing a toy with soap and water to remove any excess debris. Cleaning with soap and water may remove some germs from the surface, but doesn’t claim to kill them. Disinfecting, sanitizing, and sterilizing cannot happen on any dirty surface with debris keeping parts covered. In the case of sex toys, cleaning would remove lubricants, body fluids, any dirt dust or lint picked up from being dropped or stored someplace open, etc. For toys that cannot be submerged in water, a wipe with a damp cloth and a soft toothbrush in any nooks and crannies would be suitable for cleaning.
Disinfecting means to kill germs on an object by use of chemicals. Disinfecting doesn’t necessarily clean (ex: if you have mud caked on your floor and do not clean it off first, spraying bleach on it won’t remove the mud, and the surface beneath the mud hasn’t been touched by the bleach to be disinfected.) Disinfectants typically recommend a period of 10 or more minutes to soak, for maximum results. Disinfectants may not kill bacterial spores. In sex toys, we typically use a 10% bleach – 90% cold water solution for soaking objects in. Isopropyl alcohol and peroxides are also sometimes used, but I find it cheaper to buy a gallon of bleach than a gallon of first-aid solutions. Whichever you choose however, you can find them all at the dollar store. $1 bleach is just as good as your high-end supermarket aisle bleach.
Sanitizing is usually to use a chemical to reduce the number of germs on a surface in a short period of time (30 seconds) to what is deemed an acceptable amount by public health officials. Your typical bottle of Lysol sporting the “kills 99% of germs!” slogan is a sanitizer. You spray your counters and a moment or two later wipe them down and the surface is now deemed “safe enough.” Sanitizing also does not necessarily mean cleaning, as again, it will not remove debris or reach the surface beneath the debris.
Your dishwasher may also have a “sanitize” setting that you can use if you place your toys on the top rack and don’t have any dirty dishes in there with it. Do not use any dish detergents, this is a water only cycle.You’re basically doing the same thing as boiling, just in a box instead of in a pot on your stove. Unless you have a LOT of toys to clean at a time, this may not be time or water/energy efficient for you. Not all toy materials can withstand this method so check with the manufacturer first.
Sterilizing is the destruction of all microorganisms (bacteria and bacterial spores, viruses, fungus, mold, prions, etc) Sterilization usually occurs through extreme heat, radiation, special gases, chemicals, and acids.
What does this mean for your toys?
Knowing the material your toy is made of is important, since some toys can be “cleaner” than others and some can withstand “cleaning” methods that others won’t survive.
Just to get this out of the way now, MOST people will not be able to sterilize any of their toys, since most people do not have access to the devices or substances used for sterilization, AND only a few toy materials could withstand those temperatures or substances needed to sterilize. If you are someone who has a home autoclave, pressure cooker, or pressure canner, you are the rare bird that may be able to sterilize SOME of your toys made of materials that can withstand the heat (ex: steel) but for the rest of us, we are stuck with sanitizing and disinfecting. Which is not a bad thing, for the vast majority of people, sanitizing and occasional disinfecting is all we will ever need to be perfectly healthy.
Bleach does not sterilize. Boiling, while often described as a sterilization technique (especially on mom websites asking about their bottles) will not kill all bacterial spores so technically it is not a truly effective way to sterilize and is recommended only as a last resort in extreme medical emergencies. To add to that, the boiling time required for “sterilization” is 30 minutes or more. Most sex toy manufacturers, retailers, and bloggers will tell you to boil a toy for only a few minutes – 10 at most. Alcohol, peroxide, and other first-aid type chemicals that you picked up at your local drug store are either not sterilizing agents ever, in any form, or not sold to the general public in their correct forms or in high enough concentrations to sterilize, and even if you can get your hands on high enough concentrations, they may eat your toy material, or destroy your lungs if you screw up handling them, or blow your house up. This link offers an easy-to-understand run down of sterilization processes commonly applied in piercing and tattooing – other practices of putting foreign objects inside your body, but again, these procedures are about using metal instruments. For a much wordier read, we have the CDC
(All this jargon gets even more tricky when it’s not used properly. There are plenty of other bloggers, stores, manufacturers, teachers, etc who throw around Disinfect, Sanitize, and Sterilize as all the same word. You’ll often see someone telling you that you can sterilize things by boiling, but you can’t. Is this going to be a big problem for you? Not really. We’re not dealing with anthrax here, we’re just playing with sex toys. Disinfecting and/or sanitizing will in almost every case do just fine. Clean with soap and water always, bleach or boil once in a while, you’re good to go. You don’t need to autoclave anything. )
You may Sanitize and/or Disinfect several toy materials very easily in your home.
Non-porous in reference to sex toy material means that microorganisms cannot penetrate the material and hide out there to grow and infect you later. Some materials may actually have extremely small pores in them, but their pores are smaller than the size of the infectant. This is really only important when some asshat comes in and insists that silicone is porous (as will happen time to time) and technically they’re right, silicone has itsy bitsy pores that are too small for any of the nasties we’re concerned about to enter, so in this case we simply call silicone non-porous and that guy’s just trying to confuse you. It is a bit of a pain in the ass to make that exception when I just went on about how people misuse other terms…but here we are. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
Metal (Stainless steel or aluminum) toys are non-porous and can be soaked in a 10% bleach solution or rubbing alcohol, boiled for 3-5 minutes, or put in the top rack of your dishwasher with no detergent if your dishwasher has a “Sanitize” setting. Before doing this you should wash them by hand with soap and water to be sure they are clean of any debris. If using a method that includes heat (boiling or dishwashing) be careful to let the toys cool down before touching, glass and metal will retain heat for quite some time. Also be careful when boiling that the toys don’t knock and damage the sides of the pot you’ve put them in. You can add a sponge or dishtowel to the pot to help.
Glass is non-porous and can be soaked in a 10% bleach solution or rubbing alcohol. Heed manufacturer advice on boiling or dishwashing. Most glass safe to use as a sex toy should be able to withstand boiling and dishwasher temperatures, but you’ll want to be sure. Again, be careful with boiling that the toys do not damage your cookware or break themselves by knocking around inside the pot. Wash clean first with soap and water.
Wood, Ceramic, and Stone are non-porous if they are sealed properly (and you probably shouldn’t be using them in the first place if they’re not) and can be sanitized and/or disinfected.
You should heed manufacturer advice for cleaning of each material. Stop using your toy if you notice any chips, cracks, dull spots in the finish, etc and talk to the manufacturer about how you should proceed. If you are able and choose to use a heated method of cleaning for your ceramic or stone toy, as with metal and glass be careful when removing the toy from the heat source and make sure it does not do damage to any other items.
Silicone is non-porous and can be sanitized and/or disinfected with the bleach, rubbing alcohol, boiling, or dishwashing method. Wash beforehand to clean.
Note: This is only 100% silicone. Not “silicone-like” or “silicone blend” or “silicone feel” – those aren’t silicone.
ABS plastic (hard plastic) is non-porous and can be sanitized and/or disinfected. It can usually be soaked in a 10% bleach solution or wiped down with rubbing alcohol. You should heed manufacturer advice on boiling and dishwashing (most likely this is a no-go)
Medical Grade TPE is non-porous and can be sanitized and/or disinfected by being soaked, boiling is generally not recommended. It is uncommon for most toy companies to be using a medical grade version of TPE, but you may find a few (Sybian and Eroscillator). Non-medical grade TPE IS porous.
All other toy materials are porous.
And I do mean ALL. If it is not listed above, it is porous. Jelly, latex, PVC, rubber, cyberskin, unsealed woods and ceramics, other weird shit that should never be a sex toy material in the first place – all porous. This means microorganisms can penetrate and camp out inside the pores of the material, growing and potentially causing infection. Porous toys cannot be Sanitized or Disinfected, or Sterilized, they can only be Cleaned with soap and water. Even if the toy material can withstand the heat and/or chemicals used in Sanitization/Disinfection, there’s no way to make sure each pore of the material that is harbouring bacteria is going to be reached and cleaned. There’s also a chance for the pores to hold water, which allows for mold/mildew to grow.
Because of this it is generally inadvisable to use porous materials at all. It’s just not worth it to go buy new toys that you cannot keep safe. If you already have toys made of porous materials and don’t want to throw them out, you can still use them but there are a few safety steps you should take. Many porous materials (rubber, latex, jelly, etc) have oils in them, and oils break down latex condoms, so you’ll want a different kind. If your toy isn’t porous and you want to just use a condom in between cleanings, look for unlubricated condoms for your silicone toys. Most latex condoms use a cheap silicone lube on the inside that could damage your toy. It’s tough finding unlubed or alternate material condoms a lot of the time so again, it’s probably cheaper and easier in the long run to use safe toys instead. These precautions are especially important if you use the toy anally, or you share the toy with another person who you are not fluid-bonded with. Make sure they are completely dry before storing them. Even if you are the only person to ever use the toy and you only use it vaginally, the bacteria it carries can infect you, or if you use it while you have an infection, you can re-infect yourself after your infection is cleared. For future toy purchases, make sure they’re made out of a body safe non-porous material. If you are using a porous toy and for some reason can’t or don’t want to also use a condom, treat the toy with the best care you can and replace it often.
When to wash and when to disinfect/sanatize?
You generally will not need to go through a whole complicated cleaning process after every single use of a toy, most of the time washing with soap and warm water will be enough. When you should go the extra mile are times like –
You’ve been sick recently. Soap and warm water will remove many but not all germs. The ones that get left behind normally wont do you any harm, but if they are from an illness you just got over, you have the potential to reinfect yourself. Obviously you’ll want to disinfect/sanitize a toy if you have had an STI recently, but also if you’ve experienced any oral (strep throat, bronchitis, the flu, etc) vaginal (yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, UTIs, etc) or anal (actual anal infections but also stomach/bowel illnesses such as diarhea) infections recently (apply to however you use the toy.) Remember that sometimes we can have an infection several days before our body begins showing symptoms, so think about whether or not you used the toy a few days before you actually felt sick. When in doubt go ahead and disinfect/sanitize.
You’re sharing the toy. If someone who you would under other circumstances use a barrier method with is going to use the toy, make sure to cover it with a condom or disinfect/sanitize it after you have used it, and again after they have used it before you use it on yourself. If you are only sharing the toy between yourself and a partner who you do not use barriers with, then you do not need to disinfect/santitize it, unless you or they have been sick recently, but you certainly may.
You’re using the toy anally. The germs that pass through your gut tend to be more dangerous for you than the ones that live in a mouth or vagina, so you’ll want to be more careful with toys used for anal, especially if you also use them in a mouth or vagina as well. You do not want to let those germs linger on your toys. Toys do not need to actually be inserted to pick up bacteria, so even if you just rubbed the toy around the outside of the anus, throw it in the disinfect/sanitize pile.
Every couple of weeks/months. Just for good measure. Adjust for how often you use the toy. Think of it as a sex toy spring cleaning.
Additional useful info
If your toy cannot be submerged : wiping down with soap and water to clean and then again with rubbing alcohol or diluted bleach will do. Be sure to get any nooks or crannies well. Wipe down with soapy water and then a fourth time with clean water to remove the chemicals.
Splash-proof vs. Waterproof : Toys labeled “splash proof” mean that they can be used internally with bodily fluids and not break, and withstand minimal exposure when cleaning. You cannot run the faucet directly into their seams or buttons, or dunk them in the bathtub. Waterproof means (or should mean) you can use it in the bath or shower, and can run it directly under water or submerge it in water for use and cleaning. Waterproof mechanical toys (vibrators, bullets, etc) should still not get boiled or put in the dishwasher, as the heat and force of water may compromise their seals that keep them waterproof, so stick to bleach here.
When using bleach make sure to wash your toy again with soap and water afterwards to remove the bleach, do not let the bleach air dry on your toy. Also do not heat the bleach – I get why you think this would make it extra clean but heating it actually makes it less effective (and you don’t want to be inhaling bleach steam) mix it with cool water from the tap. Do not use a 100% bleach solution. I also understand why you’d think the more bleach the better, but it’s really unnecessary and really caustic, so please fill your container (sink, bathtub, bucket, bowl, etc) 10% of the way with bleach and 90% with water, mix and add toys. Do not use other cleaning chemicals such as amonia, stainless steel cleaners, etc with the bleach unless you want a melting/explosion/other catastrophe you don’t want to have to explain. Ditto for other cleaners like alcohol or peroxide – dilute, use cold water- don’t use more than one, rinse thoroughly.
What about stuff labeled as “Sex Toy Cleaner?”
It’s basically rubbing alcohol in a spritz bottle sold to you for double the price, and it still works the same as other sanitizing/disinfecting fluids. You need to wash your body fluids or any debris off the toy, then you’d have to spray whatever this stuff is on your toy, wait, and then you’d need to rise this solution back off your toy. You can use it if you wish, but I personally can’t conjure up any scenario where overpriced rubbing alcohol is going to make your life any easier than if you just picked up a giant jug of the stuff at the dollar store (if you really need a spray bottle, you can get one of those too. 2 bucks, you’re all set) Same goes for “sex toy wipes” – maybe you need them in a pinch, I can’t find a place for them in my life.
What about UV light boxes and other gimmicks more expensive than the toys themselves?
Again, we’re solving a made up problem by selling you shit you don’t really need. Half my toys wouldn’t even fit in these boxes and washing them in the sink IS NOT HARD. But if you want a $300 black light box…go for it.
Can’t I just slap a condom on it?
I made note of this earlier, but if you skipped it – maybe, but not just any condom on any toy for any occasion. The “just put a condom on it” has been something that many many many people (myself included) have parroted as the ultimate solution for ages but it’s just not that good of an idea. The insides of most condoms use a cheap silicone lube, so you don’t want to use those on your silicone toys, you’ll have to hunt down the elusive unlubed condom. Gross toy materials are usually very oily and we know that oil destroys latex, so you’d need fancy (and more expensive and harder to find) nitrile or polyurethane condoms for those toys. This is a lot of extra work when you can just start off with safe materials and give them baths periodically.