Sex toys are a great way to spice up your time in the bedroom, both alone and with a partner (or, for that matter, multiple partners). Used as an umbrella term, it can cover a range of things, from vibrators to whips and everything in between–for this article, we’ll focus more on vibrators and dildos. But whether you just bought your very first one, or have a growing collection, ensuring they are clean and appropriately stored will help you avoid STI transmissions, UTIs, yeast infections and more.
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According to LELO sexpert Casey Tanner, “the vulva, vagina and anus have porous tissues that are more sensitive to infection when using materials that contain chemicals than the skin on other parts of the body. Body-safe materials do not contain these harmful chemicals, and prevent a bacterial imbalance in the vagina that can lead to yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis.”
As such, the best sex toys for you to get will be made of non-porous, body-safe materials: namely, 100% silicone, glass, and stainless steel. Things like hard plastic, PVC, rubber, jelly, latex, vinyl, nylon, leather and silicone blends can never be adequately sterilized, so we recommend using condoms or other barrier methods on these types of toys if they’re being shared, and hand washing any wearables in warm water with a mild antibacterial soap (just don’t soak leather).
Casey also advises against lubes that contain additives (such as temperature sensations, flavors, fragrances, petrochemicals, etc), as they can cause vaginal pH imbalances, and oil-based lubes that can increase the risk of bacterial infection.
Cleaning vs Disinfecting vs Sterilizing
Whenever possible, refer to your toy’s manual for the best way to clean it. That said, there are three “levels” of clean sex toys. Cleaning removes any material from the surface. Disinfecting or sanitizing destroys bacteria. Sterilizing kills all bacteria, viruses, and fungi. For most people’s use, sterilization can be overkill.
How and why should you clean them?
Let’s be honest: if you’re using body-safe, non-porous materials, and storing your toys correctly, chances are the only thing you have to do is clean them thoroughly after every use with soap and water (or a damp cloth if they can’t be submerged). Note that “after every use” also means when sharing toys between partners, or shifting between anal and vaginal play
But there are instances where a deeper clean is warranted, such as:
- Multiple people are using a toy (though we recommend condoms when possible);
- You’re concerned about STIs;
- It hasn’t been used in a very long time;
- It’s a cheaper toy or bought from a sketchier place, and you want to disinfect it before use.
What You’ll Need
Never boil toys with electrical parts in them unless those can be completely removed–this applies to anything that can be charged, plugged in or uses batteries, as those can be damaged by heat and water. For battery-operated toys, make sure you remove those before cleaning.
Dedicated toy cleaners can be good, but in most cases, some antibacterial soap and warm water will be more than enough. Wipes are fine for post-play if you don’t have running water available but wash it appropriately as soon as you can. UV sanitizers are expensive, and while they do kill bacteria (where the light reaches), they don’t clean and can’t substitute a good scrub.
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All that so say: you don’t really need to spend money on specialized cleaning tools unless you want to. So what do you actually need? Cloth, a dedicated soft toothbrush for hard-to-reach areas, and a pot (or the top rack of your dishwasher).
For waterproof toys that don’t have a motor or other electrical parts, your best bet to disinfect them is boiling a clean pot of water and submerging them for 1 to 3 minutes (longer can cause them to warp or melt).
If using your dishwasher, ensure the toy is dishwasher safe and on the top rack, and put it in without soap for 5 to 10 minutes (dish soap can leave residue). Keep in mind boiling will do a better job at disinfecting than the dishwasher, though.
Bleach solutions, while good at disinfecting, can cause damage if not properly rinsed off, so we don’t recommend it. Always avoid things like alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and house cleaning products–these are not safe to put inside your body, and can also damage your toys!
Dry with a clean, lint-free cloth before storing.
How to Store Them
Once clean, make sure you put them back in their case, box, or pouch before putting them away. If they did not come with one, any clean, resealable container will do! Keep toys in a cool, dark, dry place away from direct sunlight or the bathroom. Good quality, nonmotorized toys tend to be extremely durable but dispose of anything with visible cracks, rips or tears as those make them dangerous to use and difficult to clean.