One of the questions I get most often is how to clean sex toys. Clean sex toys are essential to your sexual enjoyment with them, and to your sexual health. How you clean sex toys depends mostly on what they are made out of, and whether or not they vibrate.
There’s also difference between cleaning lube and body fluids off of a toy, sanitizing, and disinfecting sex toys. I’m a microbiology nerd and I spent 10 years of my academic and professional life working in various laboratories. Different levels of cleanliness are required for different things, so let’s define what we’re talking about:
- Cleaning – This is your basic physical washing off of fluids or dirt
- Sanitizing – This reduces the number of germs by chemical means or by heat
- Disinfecting – This nearly destroys all types of germs by chemical means or by heat
There are even cleaner levels of clean, reserved for highly sensitive technological and scientific applications, such as sterilization, but we don’t need to go into those.
Some toys may have specific cleaning instructions, so be sure to follow your toy’s user manual if it comes with one.
Cleaning Sex Toys
For most people who don’t share toys, basic cleaning is sufficient. Clean your toys before first use, before use if they have collected any dust, dirt, or hair in storage, and immediately after use. Do not fall asleep after using your toy – dried body fluids and lube are much harder to completely scrub off.
Clean sex toys before sanitizing or disinfecting them.
Soap and Water
Contrary to what many sex shops and salespeople tell you, soapy water is just fine to clean sex toys. The important part is that you physically scrub the toy, including any crevices, to mechanically remove dirt, fluids, and germs. You can do this by hand, but if you have a highly textured toy, such as the Laid C1, you may need an old toothbrush or nail brush.
If your toy doesn’t vibrate, or it’s specifically waterproof, fill a container with warm water and a pump of dish or mild hand soap. Soak the toy for a few minutes before scrubbing it.
If your toy isn’t waterproof, apply a bit of soap by hand and gently scrub only the parts that make contact with your body, using warm running water. Do not let water enter the battery compartment area, controls, or charging housing.
Rinse your toys completely under cool running water, scrubbing as you go. You should feel some friction where the soap has been rinsed off. You can then either set it out to air dry or wipe it dry with a lint-free towel. If you manage to get lint on it during the drying process, make sure to rinse it well before the next time you use it.
There are many different types of toy cleansers out there. Ingredients in toy cleansers vary, however, so read the ingredient lists carefully. For example, I love Intimate Earth Green Tea Tree Oil Foaming Cleanser, but I also know I’m not allergic to tea tree oil. Toy Wipes are convenient for when you’re away from a sink. Toy cleanser sprays can be helpful if you have hard water and leaving your toys to dry after soap and water cleanings tend to leave soap scum or water spots.
I recommend rinsing with water, if you can, after you clean sex toys with cleanser.
Sanitizing toys is less effective than disinfecting them, and only a few situations where it’s really useful. Remember to clean sex toys first.
The dishwasher is useful, for example, if you’re sanitizing clean toys en masse, such as after a move where they’ve been in a cardboard box for months (not that I have any experience with that or anything…ahem). It’s also only really effective if you have a sanitizing setting on your dishwasher, which heats the water to about 155° F.
The dishwasher is reserved only for non-porous dildos. Even though some vibrators are waterproof, the heat in the dishwasher is what sanitizes them, and it will melt the soldering that holds the vibrating components together.
It is only safe for the following materials:
- Borosilicate glass (not soda lime glass)
- Stainless metals (think Njoy toys)
- Polished stone (think Laid’s stone toys)
Don’t use detergent or bleach in the dishwasher. Let the hot water do the work.
Do use the top rack only.
Antibacterial Toy Cleanser: Just Don’t
Stay away from antibacterial toy cleansers, especially if they contain triclosan. Primarily, this increases antibiotic resistance when bacteria do survive, and potentially puts those antibiotic resistant bacteria back in contact with your body when you use the toy again. If you don’t rinse it completely, it can leave a residue that can upset your natural flora the next time you use the toy, too.
Disinfecting toys is reserved only for those toys that are non-porous, and these are the only toys that should be shared. Porous toys can never be sanitized because the materials are heat and chemical sensitive and there is no way to get to the microorganisms living in the pores of these toys. Rather than sanitizing them, throw them out after 6-8 months and replace them with better quality toys. (Yes, there are less expensive non-porous toys out there! Hit the green question box at the lower right and let me know your budget and what you’re looking for, and I’ll try to help you find it!)
Disinfecting toys is not something you need to do often. Disinfect toys you have used anally before using them vaginally. Every time. Beyond that, toy disinfection is reserved to sharing toys with other people or after a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or STI that can be cured with antibiotics to prevent reinfection.
Disinfecting toys will rid them of nearly all harmful microorganisms and viruses, including STI’s. Click here for more information from the CDC about methods to inactivate specific STI’s such as HIV, HSV, and HPV.
Remember to clean sex toys first.
Boiling is the most effective method for ridding your toys of germs. It isn’t for every toy, though. If the dishwasher melts the insides of vibrators, you can bet boiling water will do the same. Boiling is only safe for the same materials as dishwashing for the same reasons.
You really only need about 10 minutes of a rolling boil to disinfect your toys. The best method is to warm the toys up with the water, boil for at least 10 minutes, and then let the water cool to a temperature you can stand. Then dry.
10 mintues may even be a little long depending on the situation, but it’s enough to denature the HIV virus and most other pathogens you’d be worried about. If you’re really unsure or germophobic, 20 minutes is the healthcare standard.
A 10% solution of bleach (9 parts water to 1 part bleach) is sufficient for most vibrators and soda lime glass dildos that can’t handle high heat. Bleach solution is only suitable for the following materials:
- Soda lime glass
- Borosilicate glass without paint or iridescent plating
- Stainless metals
- Polished stone
Be careful with toys that may have paint of any sort on the toy – it’s controls, the logo, etc. Keep the bleach away from any charging ports and battery compartments. It can corrode these.
Soak the “business end” of the toy in the solution for 10 minutes. Then rinse well with water and dry with a soft cloth. 10 minutes is the laboratory standard for killing a flask full of E. coli bacteria.
Alcohols are appropriate for all non-porous materials, including hard plastic.
There’s a difference between rubbing alcohol (isopropanol) and distilled spirit alcohol (ethanol). The CDC guide on disinfection cites studies that show ethanol is more effective at denaturing HIV than isopropanol. Both are effective against anything else you’d be worried about. Alcohols work almost instantly, so you can use them on hard plastic toys like the We-Vibe Tango.
They may, however, peel any paint off plastic hard vibrators, so I don’t recommend using anything stronger than 70% rubbing alcohol on a hard plastic vibe with an appliqué or paint. This also goes for the LELO Soraya, and other toys that have shiny painted plastic sections. Spot test your toy to make sure it won’t affect the aesthetics, and keep alcohols away from control buttons or other areas that may have paint.
Dunk the “business end” of the toy or use a cloth to wipe the surface of the toy down with the alcohol. Rinse with water and dry. If you’re a super-germophobe, let the toy soak for up to 10 minutes.
For most people, using body safe toys, soap and water are just fine to regularly clean toys before and after use. Cleansers are a nice convenience, but they’re not actually necessary (and be wary of people who say they are). Avoid antibacterial cleansers. Sanitizing can happen in the dishwasher, and it’s a great option for bulk cleaning of body-safe dildos, but it doesn’t kill all germs. Boiling toys or using bleach or alcohols is a cheap and easy way to disinfect toys when needed. Toys used anally must be disinfected before using them vaginally. Toys should be disinfected before sharing.
Clean sex toys are happy sex toys!