Whether you’ve just purchased your first vibrator or you’re a seasoned dildo user, it’s important to learn how to properly care for it. One major safety precaution you need to take — before both solo and partner play — is to clean your sex toy.
While it may not sound sexy, cleaning your toys is essential. “Pleasure products can help you embrace confidence, help navigate intimate desires and boundaries and boost self-love,” said Kristin Fretz, co-founder and CMO of Emojibator. “But having an experience like getting a UTI from a vibrator is not just uncomfortable and can be extremely painful if left untreated, but it perpetuates the shame around masturbation and can create individual resistance to self-pleasure.”
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If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we should all try to be more mindful about sanitization — especially when it comes to the most sensitive areas of your body. While it may not seem sexy, cleaning your sex toys can just be another (perhaps the last) step when you masturbate or play with a partner. Just as you wash your body after sex and rigorously wash your hands after…well, touching anything, cleaning sex toys is crucial to being as safe and healthy as possible.
Furthermore, you’ll want to find a clean space to store your clean sex toy. Not doing so would basically make washing them useless. It’d be like washing your hands only to cough into them seconds later; you’d have to rewash them. Many toys come with their own pouch, which is useful, but there are many other options available too.
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To help you avoid getting into an unpleasant or even downright dangerous situation, Mashable spoke with three experts, including Fretz, about how to clean sex toys in the safest and most thorough way.
What sex toy material can you clean?
You can, and probably should, think about how you’re going to clean a new toy even before purchasing one. Look for nonporous material, such as silicone, because a porous sex toy is more likely to hold harmful bacteria according to Laurie Mintz. Mintz is a Ph.D., author of Becoming Cliterate and A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex as well as the “sexpert” for sex toy brand LELO.
Here are a few examples of what kind of porous material you might find in a sex toy: hard plastic, elastomer, thermoplastic elastomer (TPR), or jelly rubber. Since these materials can hold bacteria even after they’ve been cleaned, Mintz recommends toys using medical-grade materials such as medical-grade silicone. If your toy doesn’t come with instructions on how best to clean it, you can ask the merchant who sold it to you for advice about what will work best.
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That being said, there are some precautions you can take if you do choose to use a porous toy. Lisa Finn, a sex educator for the sex toy shop Babeland, has a few recommendations. If you properly clean your toy with a mild soap and water and store it safely — in a clean toy bag or box, kept away from other porous toys — porous sex toys can be kept safe for solo use. When using them with a partner, as an anal toy, or if you are particularly prone to developing a yeast infection, Finn suggests using a condom on your porous toy. If your toy changes color or starts to smell, it’s time to retire it.
Finn said that shopping at a trusted retailer can ensure that your toys are high quality and not made out of “novelty” materials like jelly rubber.
Shopping at a trusted retailer can ensure that your toys are high quality.
Can I wash sex toys with soap and water?
All of the experts agreed that most sex toys can be cleaned with mild antibacterial soap and warm water. (Be sure to wash them for at least 20 seconds, just like washing your hands! And remember to dry them with a clean towel.) Mintz recommends this for both a motorized or non-motorized silicone, stainless steel, or glass toy. Finn said this technique will usually do the trick for nonporous toys.
What about sex toy cleaners?
While a soapy washcloth and water works in many cases, you can also buy specialized sex toy cleaner. This is Mintz’s preferred method, and she advises people to look for a water-based cleaner that’s both alcohol and paraben-free. She recommends — and uses herself — LELO’s Toy Cleaning Spray. For those looking to compare options, Babeland has a toy cleaner as well.
“READ. THE. INGREDIENTS of any toy cleaner,” said Fretz, who compared cleaning an adult toy to eating anything delicious: You want to know exactly what’s going in your body.
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“If you can’t pronounce most of the words listed, you should double check the liquid you’re using to clean your toys that go inside your body are not harmful. Also make sure your cleaner is compatible with the material of your sex toy,” she said. This information is usually available on the toy company or merchant’s website.
Also, do not put toy cleaners directly on genitals. Avoid bleaches and toxic cleaners. Remember, the vulva is extremely absorbent and you don’t want bleach anywhere near there.
how to clean a vibrator
Credit: bob al-greene / mashable
Can I wash toys in the dishwasher? What about boiling water?
“Just like in Broad City, you’ll want to avoid putting anything in the dishwasher that isn’t dishwasher safe, which is all vibrators and many plastics,” said Fretz. “Same goes for boiling toys, which can melt and warm most materials.”
Some nonporous material, like a pure silicone toy, can be boiled — as long as it’s a waterproof toy and there’s not a motor inside that can be destroyed by the heat, according to Finn. “Boil these toys for 1-3 minutes, making sure that they’re completely submerged and you’re keeping an eye on ’em.”
If you’re considering washing your toys in the dishwasher, know that dish soap can leave a residue — which is why Finn doesn’t recommend it. Non-motorized toys made of silicone, glass, or stainless steel can be placed in the dishwasher without soap for 5 to 10 minutes, according to Mintz.
What about cleaning sex toys with UV light?
If you’re looking for a gadget to help you with your cleaning process, there are two UV sterilizers on the market: UVee and b-Vibe UV Sterilizer Pouch. Finn calls both products amazing, but here’s a caveat: While they disinfect, they don’t clean.
Finn recommends you still wash or wipe down your toy with a damp cloth after use, because while UV light kills bacteria, it won’t get rid of, say, bodily fluids or dust.
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Can I clean sex toys with wipes?
Yes, you can, but they’re really best used in combination with other methods. “Post play wipes are great intermediate cleaning if you don’t have a cleaner or running water on hand,” said Fretz, “but you’ll want to fully disinfect it with an anti-bacterial cleaner or soap and water as soon as you can.”
How often should I clean my sex toys?
After every use, without question. If you don’t do this, bacteria left behind can multiply exponentially, said Fretz. Since genital tissue is sensitive (and for those with a vulva and vagina, extremely absorbent), not routinely cleaning sex toys after every use could result in yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and bacterial vaginosis flareups.
How should I store my sex toys?
How you store your sex toys is arguably just as important as how you clean them. If you clean your toy, but then stick it in a drawer with other dirty sex toys, it’s just going to pick up bacteria again. So it’s key to store your toy in a case, if it came with one. If it didn’t, you can use a clean container with a closure like a makeup bag with a zipper or Velcro closure works, according to Mintz. Store your sex toys with the same care you do other sensitive items, such as a menstrual cup.
While you may not have been taught about sex toy cleaning — or sex toys, period — in sex ed, it’s a crucial step to protect yourself and your partners. “Like any consumer product, you need to take care of it,” said Fretz. “You oil your cast iron pots and cutting boards. You wind your watches. Part of the care of a sex toy, ensuring that it’s the same quality product you received in the sanitary seal, in addition to charging or changing the batteries, is regular cleaning.”
This article was first published in 2020 and republished in 2023.