Vibrators, dildos, and anal toys come into direct touch with biological fluids, so knowing how to clean them correctly is essential. Cleaning your sex toys does not have to be difficult, but the consequences of not doing so might be.
"Using unclean sex toys can potentially introduce unwanted bacteria or other pathogens—like fungi—into the vulvar-vaginal environment, which can lead to bacterial vaginosis or cause a urinary tract infection," said Amanda Morgan, an associate professor-in-residence at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "It is especially important to thoroughly clean toys that are used by multiple partners."
Almost any style of sex toy may be surface-cleaned and air-dried with liquid soap and water. However, we shall highlight scenarios in which it is preferable to completely clean your toys.
To clean surfaces
Soap: Use liquid hand soap or castile soap. Antibacterial soap is OK but not required. Dish soap and other harsh soaps should be avoided.
After washing, use paper towels or clean washcloths to air-dry toys.
Boiling water pot: To disinfect a range of toys, first surface-clean them and then immerse them in boiling water for a few minutes.
Bleach with spray bottle (or other bleach solution receptacle): Most pathogens on your toys will be killed by boiling and bleaching, but not all.
Dishwasher: Check to see whether your dishwasher has disinfection settings. Otherwise, you should either boil or bleach your toys.
After washing, use paper towels or clean washcloths to air-dry toys.
Sex-toy wipes or cleaning sprays: In most circumstances, basic soap and water will suffice.
Cleaning times will vary according to the method used. Surface-cleaning toys should take one to three minutes per toy, not including air-drying time. Expect to spend an additional three minutes disinfecting a toy if you plan to boil it. It takes about 10 minutes to sterilize toys by bleaching them. If you want to use a dishwasher (which you can in some situations), arrange for a full-rinse cycle (time may vary).
During the cleaning procedure, a sink full with multicolored sex toys.
Bianca Alba is the photographer.
Although we provide general cleaning tips for many types of sex toys below, it is always a good idea to consult your toy's manual, if available, to learn the best way to clean it.
We sought advise on cleaning sex toys from Searah Deysach, owner of Chicago-based sex toy company Early to Bed, and Sophia Chase, founder of Chicago Dungeon Rentals (and a former Early to Bed staff member).
Chase classified the cleaning levels as follows:
Cleaning is the removal of particles from the surface.
To make anything sanitary, disinfecting or sanitizing removes bacteria and pathogens.
"Your vibrator, ball gag, or butt plug at a minimum should be clean," Chase told me. "There should be no lube or bodily fluids on it." If you are the only one using it, or if you are using it with a fluid-bonded partner, washing the toy with... soap and water is typically sufficient. Sterilization is unnecessary unless you're playing invasive medical games. What we're usually after is disinfecting or sanitizing our toys."
Our cleaning recommendations are for nonporous toys used on the genitals and constructed of materials such as 100% silicone, metal, borosilicate glass, or hard plastic, such as ABS or TPC. Porous toys, such as jelly rubber, "silicone blend," PVC, leather, and certain types of stones, are difficult to fully clean. Porous toys can harbor bacteria, therefore experts advise against using them.
It should be noted, however, that not all silicone toys are 100% silicone, particularly those with a "soft skin" texture. To ensure that your toy is 100% silicone, perform the following flame test: Holding a lighter to the toy for a brief spot inspection should not result in the toy's surface melting (PDF). We recommend just using nonmechanized toys like dildos for this flame test.
A thorough cleaning can be used to clean almost any type of sex toy. The toy is neither disinfected or sterilized with this method. However, if you are the only person who will be using the toy, surface cleaning is usually sufficient.
Determine the water safety rating of your toy before you begin. It is safe to rinse the toy in the sink if it is nonmechanized (such as a solid silicone dildo) or mechanized but classified as splashproof or waterproof.
It is safe to get a toy's surface wet if it is splashproof. If a toy is waterproof, it is safe to submerge it to a particular depth. The box or manual of a toy will usually mention whether it is waterproof or splashproof. If the item is not water-safe, it should be wiped down with a damp paper towel or washcloth rather than rinsed or immersed in water.
To remove surface debris, rinse the toy with water or wipe it down with a damp paper towel or washcloth. Then, if you're washing it in the sink, apply liquid soap directly to the toy and scrape it, or wipe it down with a damp towel and some liquid soap.
If the toy has grooves or crevices that collect muck, remove it with a soft toothbrush you've set aside for this reason. Then, using normal water, rinse or wipe the toy until it is thoroughly clean.
Place the clean toy on a clean cloth and air-dry it. Deysach said, "Air-drying is best for most toys to avoid lint getting stuck to the toy and to give it time for any nooks and crannies to fully dry." She also suggests drying battery-operated toys with the battery container open.
A word about sexy cleaning sprays and wipes: There are a variety of solutions marketed expressly for cleaning sex toys, but in most situations, basic soap and water will suffice. "Sprays and wipes can be convenient, but most need to be rinsed off anyway, so they may not save you time or energy," explained Deysach. "The exception being the few products that you do not need to rinse off," such as AfterGlow Cleansing Tissues.
A basic cleaning isn't always enough. Here are some examples of when it's a good idea to disinfect a toy:
People that are not fluidly bonded will play with the toy. (When sharing a toy, you can also cover it with a condom.)
The toy has come into touch with genitals during an active yeast, bacterial, or sexually transmitted infection, and it may be harboring the pathogens connected with the infection. A 2014 study discovered that human papillomavirus (HPV) could be detected on the surface of vibrators up to 24 hours after basic surface cleaning in some situations. (One of the study's authors received "a grant and non-financial support from Pure Romance," a sex toy firm.)
The same toy should be used both anally and vaginally. Condoms are recommended by experts in this situation.
You wish to get rid of the odor from an anal toy. Smell retention can be a problem with silicone toys in particular.
Most pathogens will be killed by these methods. Meanwhile, while the dishwasher can kill bacteria, it cannot kill viruses or fungi. These procedures can also be used to remove scents from silicone toys.
100% silicone, stainless steel, and borosilicate glass toys can be disinfected by first surface-cleaning them and then immersing them in a pot of hot water for three minutes. Deysach suggests using a washcloth as a cushion in the pot with glass toys to keep them from cracking or fracturing while they "jump around in the pan." Deysach also advised carefully monitoring the boiling process.
With tongs, remove the boiled toy from the water and place it on a clean cloth to dry. Do not immediately rinse with cold water after boiling because the extreme temperature change may stress the material.
A dishwasher rack is shown with seven different sex toys in it for cleaning.
After surface-cleaning, you can deep-clean a large number of nonmechanized 100% silicone, stainless steel, and borosilicate glass toys at once by placing them on the top rack of the dishwasher. Then, without using soap (which is too harsh for sex toys), run the dishwasher on the sanitize cycle. If you share the dishwasher with people who are not sexual partners, this practice is not suggested.
According to sex toy specialist Dangerous Lilly, the dishwasher is not as successful at disinfecting your toys as boiling water is: "If your dishwasher has a sanitizing setting, then it uses an extended hot-water rinse to kill bacteria only—it will not kill [all] viruses or fungi."
According to federal regulations, the sanitize cycle on home dishwashers must reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit and be capable of killing 99.999 percent of bacteria. This is hot enough to kill most bacteria and certain other germs of concern, but not necessarily enough to kill viruses and fungi, which are highly heat-tolerant. When in doubt, boil or bleach rather than using the dishwasher.
After surface cleaning, disinfect toys with a bleach solution. Chase suggests preparing a bleach solution using five teaspoons (11.3 cup) household bleach per gallon of water. "Either spray the toy with the bleach solution and let sit for 10 minutes, or submerge the toy in the bleach solution for 10 minutes," she explained.
Her advise is based on CDC disinfection recommendations. Only toys certified 100% waterproof (not splashproof) should be submerged in bleach solution. After the bleach treatment, thoroughly wash the toy with soap and water again.
Although some swear by UV boxes for sanitizing sex toys, we prefer the bleaching and boiling procedures because they are far less expensive and, in most circumstances, equally or more effective. Dangerous Lilly noted in her essay about UV light boxes, "I feel that the general population of sex toy owners doesn't need such an expensive tool for cleaning, it's a niche product."
One difficulty is that UV light can only disinfect the regions it can reach. As a result, it may be less effective for toys with nooks and crannies.
After you've cleaned your toys, make sure they're properly stored so they stay clean until their next use. Many sex toys have a cloth pouch, container, or box for storage when not in use, although any sealable pouch or case can suffice for a nonporous item. This will keep your toy free of dust and lint.
To reduce odor, store silicone anal toys in "something breathable (not plastic)," according to Deysach. Toys should be kept in a cold, dark, and dry location, such as a shelf or drawer. Toys should be kept out of direct sunlight and away from places where they might get wet, such as the restroom.
Though nonmotorized toys made of solid silicone, borosilicate glass, and stainless steel are extremely durable and long-lasting, clinical experts recommend discarding a toy if it has any "visible cracks in plastic, acrylic, or glass," as these defects can make the toy both dangerous to use and difficult to clean. Rips and tears in silicone toys are the same.