When it comes to using sex toys, many people are concerned about the hygiene aspect. This is understandable. After all, you don’t want to be introducing nasty germs into your sensitive areas so let’s talk about cleaning your sex toys.
But as long as you’re using well-made and body-safe toys, it is entirely possible to keep them clean and hygienic so that they will keep bringing you safe pleasure for many years.
First, what are porous and non-porous toys?
Some sex toys are made of porous materials. Jelly, rubber, PVC, TPE, TPR, and all “real feel” materials are common examples. Porous materials are full of microscopic holes and will harbour fluids and bacteria. This means that they can never be completely cleaned once they have been used.
I recommend against using porous sex toys at all. The materials themselves are often toxic and can leech nasty substances into your sensitive tissue. At best, they can introduce bacteria to your genital area. This can cause irritation and infections. If you’re sharing toys, it’s also a risk for STI transmission. Porous materials are slightly less problematic for external-only toys such as penis strokers, but still not ideal.
If you absolutely must use porous toys, I recommend using a barrier such as a condom. Do not share the toy with other people, and throw it out as soon as the material starts to degrade or it starts to smell bad. Cleaning your sex toys made from porous material is not going to save them
How to clean body-safe sex toys
All the advice in this section assumes the toy does not have a motor or batteries. For motorised toys such as vibrators, see the section at the end.
Read on to learn about cleaning your sex toys based on the materials they are made from.
Silicone is the most common and versatile body-safe sex toy material around, and it’s what all Godemiche sex toys are made of. It’s soft, squishy, and can be crafted into an array of shapes and colours. Silicone is also super easy to clean.
The easiest way to sterilise your silicone sex toy is to boil it. Pop it into a pan of boiling water on the stove and leave it in there, at a rolling boil, for 10-15 minutes. Leave it to dry thoroughly, and you’re done.
Another good option is to use a 10% bleach solution. Put 1 part bleach to 1 part water into a container, and submerge the toy in it for 10-15 minutes. Afterwards, rinse it very thoroughly and leave it to dry.
You can also put silicone toys into the top section of your dishwasher (but maybe warn your flatmate first…) and run them through a disinfect cycle.
For a quick clean, you can wipe your silicone sex toys down with a body-safe sterile wipe (I buy mine in bulk from medical suppliers) or give it a wash with warm water and gentle antibacterial soap.
Glass sex toys are popular because they are firm and unyielding, providing a completely different sensation to softer materials such as silicone.
There are two main types of glass used for sex toys: borosilicate glass (the same stuff that Pyrex cookware is made from) and soda-lime glass. They look essentially the same, but have very different properties.
Borosilicate glass is much tougher and not as sensitive to temperature (hence its popularity in cookware), so if your toy is made of this kind, you can boil-sterilise it as described above or put it in the dishwasher. Soda-lime glass is less hardy and can crack under extreme temperatures, so boiling is not recommended as your toy is likely to break. Clean soda-lime glass toys using the 10% bleach solution method.
It might be unclear which type of glass your toy is made from. Cheaper glass toys are more likely to be soda-lime glass, but that’s not necessarily the case. Check the packaging or ask the manufacturer. Alternatively, you can always play it safe by assuming your glass toy is made from soda-lime glass and using the bleaching method to clean it.
All glass toys can be safely wiped down with a sterile wipe or washed with warm water and antibacterial soap between uses.
Stainless steel (and other metals)
Stainless steel is a brilliant sex toy material. It is incredibly hard, conducts temperatures in interesting ways, provides an incredibly intense sensation, and it’s basically indestructible.
You can clean stainless steel in the same ways as silicone. Boil-sterilise it for 10-15 minutes, use the 10% bleach solution method, or run it through a disinfect cycle on your dishwasher.
Not all metal sex toys are made of stainless steel. Other metals that are commonly used include aluminium and zinc alloys. These tend to be cheaper than stainless steel, though be careful if you have a nickel allergy as this is commonly used in alloys. Occasionally, luxury manufacturers will even make sex toys out of precious metals such as gold.
Aluminium toys can be boiled or put through the dishwasher the same as stainless steel toys. For other metals, I recommend using the bleach solution method. For a quicker clean between uses, antibacterial soap or a medical wipe are fine for all kinds of metal sex toys.
Wooden sex toys are safe and non-porous as long as they are properly sealed with a body-safe (medical grade) finish. Wooden sex toys are unusual and can be strikingly beautiful as well as fun to use.
How you clean wooden sex toys all depends on the finish. It is always best to check with the manufacturer if possible, as wooden toys are easy to damage. They cannot be boiled or put in the dishwasher.
Some manufacturers advise using bleach (in which case the 10% bleach solution method will work), or wiping down with a disinfecting wipe. Others, however, advise that you avoid anything this harsh as it can damage the finish. In these instances, or if you’re not sure, stick to cleaning your wooden toy with warm water and a gentle antibacterial soap. Be aware that this is not the same as truly sterilising the toy, and consider using a condom if you want to share it. Better yet, only buy wooden toys that can be completely sterilised.
ABS (hard) plastic
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, is just a fancy word for hard plastic. This is a common sex toy material because it’s affordable, hardwearing, and versatile.
ABS plastic toys cannot be boiled. Sterilise your toy using the 10% bleach solution method, or wipe it thoroughly with a body-safe antibacterial wipe. In between uses, soap and warm water is fine.
Ceramic sex toys are becoming more popular, likely because they are beautiful as well as functional. Check with the manufacturer if possible before cleaning your ceramic toy, because some use glazes that can be damaged.
Most ceramic toys will be absolutely fine in a 10% bleach solution, or being cleaned using antibacterial soap and water or a sterile wipe. Don’t boil your ceramic toy or put it in the dishwasher.
How to clean motorised toys
If your sex toy has a motor or batteries, you cannot boil-sterilise it even if it is waterproof or you will damage the motor (this can even be dangerous).
For waterproof motorised toys, your best bet is to use the 10% bleach solution method for a full sterilising, and soap and warm water for quick cleans. If the toy takes removable batteries, always take them out before cleaning, even if the toy is waterproof.
If your toy is not waterproof, stick to wiping it down with a body-safe medical wipe before and after each use. I use this method to clean the silicone heads of my various mains powered wand vibrators (which are definitely not water-safe!) and it has always worked well.
Don’t panic – I made a handy chart to help you!
Do I need toy cleaner?
Many sex shops sell “toy cleaner” in a little bottle or spray container. These are generally expensive variations on a basic sanitising spray, and some even contain ingredients that can be harmful to your delicate genital tissue.
Toy cleaner is not necessary when you use the safe and effective cleaning methods I’ve outlined here. Case in point: I own over 150 sex toys in all manner of body-safe materials and I have never purchased or needed toy cleaner.
Make sure it’s clean all over
Some toys, such as basic dildos and vibrators, are a fairly simple shape. But other toys, from textured dildos such as the Godemiche Skrue and XI to suction-based toys such as the popular Womanizer and Satisfyer products, have ridges, grooves, or nozzles that can harbour bacteria and can make cleaning your sex toys that bit more difficult.
Watch out for these areas when you’re cleaning your sex toys. Whatever cleaning method you’re using, make sure you get into every area of the toy. Take particular care when you’re wiping or hand-washing your toys, because it’s very easy to miss these tricky areas and end up accidentally introducing germs into your genital area.
Is STI transmission from sex toy sharing a real risk?
Sexually transmitted infections are passed from person to person through bodily fluids such as blood, vaginal secretions, and semen. So if someone is infected and gets these fluids on a sex toy, then another person uses that toy, transmission is possible. Some STIs, such as HSV (the virus that causes Herpes) can even be passed on via skin-to-skin contact.
Most STIs cannot survive outside the body for very long. This means that the most risky element of sharing sex toys is when two (or more) people use a toy in quick succession. Unless you and your partner(s) have been tested recently and are fluid-bonded, always use a barrier such as a condom on shared toys or sterilise them between users.
A note on storage
If your sex toy has been in storage, for example in a box or drawer, you should always give it a quick clean before you use it again. Wipe it down and rinse it, even if you sanitised it before you put it away. This will get rid of any lint or dust it might have picked up.
You might want to store your toys in separate bags to protect them from getting dusty and dirty in storage. For toys that can chip, such as glass and ceramic products, this also helps to protect them from damage.
What questions do you have about cleaning your sex toys?
Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer them in a future post!
Amy Norton (she/they) is a sex writer, blogger, and pleasure product afficionado who has been running her site, Coffee & Kink, since 2016. She is a polyamorous, queer femme and lives in the UK with her nesting partner, cat, and frankly ridiculous collection of vibrators.