While most sex toys that are intended for genital penetration will come with cleaning instructions with their packaging, it is important to remember that not all toys or their materials are the same and so we must not become lazy and assume what works (or is recommended) for cleaning one toy will work for another. Alongside this, when engaging with kink, we often use a variety of toys (read: kinky things) that are not specifically made for genital penetration but that may end up with bodily (or other) fluids or contaminants on them during the process. Plus, for those who find themselves with multiple play partners or adventuring into the world of sexually active openness or polyamory, it is especially important to be aware of hygiene and potential cross contaminants on the toys we use during and after having our fun. For some, a simple rinse of our toys after using them might suffice, but what about the bacteria that you can't see being washed off? Or that might accumulate after storing your toy? You should treat your toys as an extension of yourself, your body - or like the body of the person you wish to be using them on. It has been said that using unclean sex toys is like having sex without a condom - a total risk. Now, this doesn't mean that every single time you pull out a vibrator you have to douse it in antibacterial spray - because, let's face it, usually when you're in the moment you're doing things quite primitively, impulsively and are in a carefree state. What it does mean is that you should be prepared and so in this article we're going to look at how you can have a safe and hygienic sexy time by looking at a few different ways you can mitigate bacterial risk when using toys - whether you're using them for penetration or not.
STEP 1: Know What Material Your Toy Is Made Of & Assessing Porosity
When it comes to silicone toys, we recommend looking for ones that state they are "100% silicone", "medical grade silicone" or "platinum silicone". The reason for this is that pure silicone is not porous, is hypoallergenic, odourless and will not chemically break down after extensive use. Anything that is labelled as silicone but not as "100% silicone" (or other as stated above) runs the risk of being made of silicone mixed with other chemically manufactured ingredients and thus are potentially porous - meaning the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to hide within the toy itself. A safe bet is to remember that any type of silicone toy that feels or is marketed as being (to the effect of) "ultra realistic feeling" will be porous.
Toys made of thermoplastic elastomer or rubber (TPE/TPR) can vary in firmness and porosity and are usually found marketed under a variety of names such as "cyberskin" and "super skin". Rubber toys, soft, hard or jelly-textured, typically don't contain any latex (good for those allergic, but make sure to check any ingredients listed) but because the rubber material is indeed used to create a more realistic feeling in toys, they too are porous.
Hard plastic toys, like those made of 100% silicone, are non-porous and are just as durable and safe. Some are, however, coated in rubber or polyurethane, so make sure to check the packaging in case of any sensitivities and to be aware of any potential porosity.
While some might think that latex and rubber and the exact same thing, they are in fact not. Rubber is actually a byproduct of latex, which is a natural material that can be used for a variety of uses - as condom-wearers and latex fetishists alike will know all about. Latex is not usually used to make penetrative toys (this is where rubber comes in) but in the case of garments or accessories that are made of latex and are being used during play that may come in contact with various fluids or bacterium, it's worth noting that it is generally non-porous when not made of a mix with other materials (see the products manufacturing notes).
All toys that state they are made of simply 'glass' are in fact made out of borosilicate glass, which is the same as used in most household glass cookware. A benefit of borosilicate glass is that it withstands the effects of heat much more than normal glass, and so when made as thick penetrative toys can be heated (either inside the body or with warm water - for a fun sensory experience) and not run as high a risk of shattering. Glass toys are also non-porous, extremely durable and provide the ability to be practically 100% sterilized when being cleaned. Make sure to inspect your glass toys for cracks or chips, however, as once found they will only become worse and the toy should be replaced or discontinued in use.
Much like glass toys, ceramic toys are extremely durable and are non-porous. Also like glass toys, ceramic toys might also succumb to cracks or chips and should not be used if any are found.
When on the hunt for a steel toy, make sure to look for ones that explicitly state they are made of stainless steel. For some, the allure of the steel toy is the weight that the material itself lends to the toy, while for others simply the smooth and elegant feel of the toy is what gets them hot. Stainless steel toys are hypoallergenic, non-porous and can also be virtually 100% sterilized, much like glass.
Much like latex, leather is not typically used in the form of a penetrative toy, but is definitely susceptible to any fluids or mess made during play. It is important to note that leather is indeed a very porous material and so the appropriate cleaning techniques should be undertaken (see 'Cleaning Leather' in Step 2 below).
STEP 2: Methods
Soap And Water
The first thing that comes to most people's minds when it comes to cleaning their toys is giving it a rinse, with or without soap. The use of soap does increase the quality of the clean that you are giving your toys, but it is important to make sure you use only gentle soaps that have the least amount of perfumes or other additives (such as colourants) as possible. Soaps that are made of natural ingredients or that tout themselves as being anti-bacterial are the best for this situation. Almost any type of penetrative toy listed above, as well as latex and leather (but not the 'realistic skin' type toys made of silicone mixes or rubber*) can be cleaned in this manner. Make sure to rinse well and only use clean towels to dry your toys after cleaning. If you ascertained that your toy is porous through reading the guide above, also make sure to leave your toy to air dry thoroughly before placing in storage. *If your toy is made out of 'realistic skin' silicone mix or rubber materials, you will be fine to just rinse (thoroughly) your toys, without soap. Just remember to let them air dry thoroughly due to their porosity.
Boiling Your Toys
Bringing a pot of water to boil on the stove is a great, easily-achievable age-old sterilization technique. Just like in the soap and water technique, most toys (except 'realistic skin', rubber and leather toys) can be cleaned using this method. If you are boiling glass or ceramic toys, make sure to be extra careful when removing them from your pot and allow them to cool fully before storage. Obviously, you should also avoid submerging any electronic or battery-powered toys (more on that below).
Toy cleaners come in a variety of viscosities, types of application and recipe formulations, with some smelling especially chemically while others boast 100% natural ingredients, so make sure you read up on what different types are available to you so you can find one that fits you best. Toy cleaners can be used on just about any sort of toy, but you may want to check if the one you're using contains any alcohol and if it will have any reactions to the material of the toy you are cleaning (more below). Toy cleaners are generally used after rinsing and drying of toys before being put in storage. Some people also elect to rinse and dry their toys again before use if they are concerned about the ingredients of the cleaner coming into contact with their bodies. With so many toy cleaners available on the market, it's hard to know which one to choose. Conveniently, we have listed our Top 5 toy cleaner picks below.
Rubbing Alcohol & Alcohol Wipes
Rubbing alcohol and alcohol wipes are a great way to clean just about any type of toy, though is probably not the best long-term, repeated solution for cleaning your toys - especially if they are porous. Alcohol wipes are normally 70% isopropyl and while they are fine for single use latex rubber gloves and the like, there is not much research into the long-term use of alcohol on the materials mentioned in this article. Alcohol is also likely to dry out your leather over a long period of time, so if you're going to use it to sterilize your leather pieces, make sure to use sparingly. Much like toy cleaner, rubbing alcohol and alcohol wipes are generally used after giving your toys some sort of rinse and then letting the toy dry thoroughly before being put into storage.
Alongside the other methods listed above as being safe for use with leather, saddle soap is a great product that not only cleans leather, but also conditions it to last longer. It gets its name from primarily being used to clean saddles and other equestrian tack but can be used on anything made of genuine leather. Toys made of suede, chamois or other types of 'unfinished' leather are nearly impossible to clean once soiled, so make sure you take extra care when using these in messy situations. All leather products should be air dried extremely thoroughly after being cleaned due to the porosity of the material.
Do not submerge any electronic or battery powered toys in water (unless stated that they are safe to do so to on your products packaging).
Avoid The Dishwasher
Sometimes it is recommended to put your toys in the dishwasher for a convenient clean - though we recommend the opposite. The reason for this is to preserve the state (and thus longevity) of your toys as well as to mitigate any risk of potential contaminants that might be present in your machine.
STEP 3: After Cleaning
Avoid Using Perfumes & Talcum Powder
We've all heard the advice of not putting deodorant near your genitals and the same goes for perfumes and talcum powder. It might sound incredulous to some, but for others using perfumes to 'spruce up' the sensory experience of using a toy or a coating of talcum powder on toys during storage is just something that they do. And we recommend not doing this - at all. Some studies have suggested that talcum powder used in intimate areas of the body increases the chance of ovarian and cervical cancers. As for perfume - we have already stated that rinsing personal-use safe toy cleaner from your toys is a good idea, so why would you want to ever put something clearly not meant for your insides anywhere near any openings?
Some people take great pride in the storage of their toys - whether it be on display or in a specially ordered storage system, while others keep them stuffed in their sock drawers or at the back of shelves hidden by an array of knick-knacks. The good thing is that a majority of high-quality products or products that are marketed as 'luxury' will be sold with their own storage slips, bags or boxes, making it easy to store your newly cleaned products safely after use. But what happens when you realize your collection is growing and want to keep all of your preciousness in one place? Using cloth or dust bags (like the ones that come with shoes or handbags upon purchase) are a great way to store your toys as is investing in some sort of specific storage box (like a train case or tool box). When storing toys, it is also important to keep your items separated either individually or categorized into the types of material they are made of, as some can react with one another which can cause damage (hint: silicone, TPE and rubber can react with and tarnish one another).
STEP 4: Before Use
It should go without saying but, when taking your toys out of whatever hidey-hole you keep them, take a look at them, inspect them and just ascertain whether any damage or obvious contamination could have occurred. Looking a little dusty? Give it a brief wipe down. Looking like you might have spilled some coffee into your nightstand draw and not realized? Give it a rinse. It's basic courtesy when using toys with other people to ensure they're clean and safe to use, just like being open about your overall sexual health history. But of course, you're not only being kind to others by making sure you're being hygienic, you're being kind to yourself. It's also worth mentioning that condoms of both the male and female kind are a great way to avoid the potential spread of bacteria from human to toy, toy to human or any other combination of intimate fluidy, messy play.
Here we have listed our Top 5 toy cleaners currently available on the market:
1. Pjur Med Clean
Pjur's Med Clean formula comes as an anti-bacterial and alcohol free spray that is safe to be used on the skin as well as on toys made from a variety of materials, including latex, rubber and silicone. The spray is dermatologically tested, tasteless and odourless and can be found here.
2. Intimate Earth Tea Tree Toy Cleaner
Intimate Earth's unique Green Tea Tree Oil toy cleaner is available in a spray or foaming formula. The recipe contains natural cleaning ingredients such as tea tree oil, lavender oil and anti-bacterial Guava Bark, alongside being alcohol and triclosan (which allegedly alters hormone regulation) free. This cleaner is safe to use on most toys, including ones made of glass, silicone and stainless steel, as well as human skin. You can find Intimate Earth's Tea Tree Toy Cleaner here.