Cleaning your sex toys after each use (and sometimes before) is recommended for overall health and safety. It may not be the sexiest part of using them, but it is definitely necessary.
Depending on the type of toy, these products are directly coming into contact with the skin of the vagina, penis, or anus—all sensitive-skin areas that are susceptible to infections—and many toys are actually inserted into the body, opening up the potential for introducing unwanted substances. Bacteria, dirt, sperm, and even the microscopic organisms responsible for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can all collect on the surface of a sex toy, says counselor and psychosexual health educator L.P. Watts, LCSW. So cleaning sex toys regularly is absolutely necessary. And once you know how to do it correctly, it's actually pretty easy.
Where to start: Find out what your sex toy is made of.
"It's very important to first understand the type of product you're using and what it is made out of. This will help to inform how you can go about cleaning it," Megwyn White, certified clinical sexologist and director of education at Satisfyer, tells mbg.
While sex toys can be made from many different materials, they are usually broken into two categories: porous and nonporous. Porous materials contain microscopic holes and may be more prone to harboring bacteria than nonporous materials, which can lead to a dysbiosis in the vaginal microbiome. "The vagina is home for a myriad of bacteria and fungi to keep it healthy, but you throw that organism out of balance, and it leads to infections such as UTI," board-certified OB/GYN Anna Cabeca, D.O., says.
Porous materials are more prone to harboring bacteria, even after being cleaned and dried, so consider using a condom with these materials or opting for nonporous toys. Porous materials typically include fabric, leather, hard plastic, and rubber, including thermoplastic rubber (TPR), thermoplastic elastomer (TRE), and jelly rubber. Nonporous materials generally include silicone, metal, and glass and are typically easier to clean thoroughly.
To find out what your sex toy is made of, go to the website of the sex toy company or look for the instruction booklet that came with your toy. Many products will also come with specific instructions on how to clean your toy. In general, follow the steps given by the company for that specific product. Otherwise, below is a catalog of all the most common materials used for sex toys and how to clean each of them.
How to clean every type of sex toy:
Medical-grade silicone is nonporous, though other varieties may be porous. Double-check the manufacturer's website if you're unsure. For nonporous silicone, clean using a mild soap and warm water or a damp, soapy washcloth. "If there are removable parts, be sure to wash those separately," White says. If the silicone product is not motorized, it can also be placed in boiling water for a deeper clean.
Metals and Pyrex glass
Metals such as medical-grade stainless steel and gold are nonporous, as are borosilicate glass (aka Pyrex glass) and some other types of glass. For a regular wash, clean using a mild soap and warm water or a damp, soapy washcloth. If the product is labeled waterproof and is not motorized, you can boil underwater for three to four minutes to disinfect.
Crystal, stone, and non-Pyrex glass
These materials are generally porous unless they're sealed in a specific way. Clean using a mild soap and warm water or a damp, soapy washcloth. Crystal and non-Pyrex glass are also more delicate to heat and should not be placed in boiling water.
Wood sex toys are often sealed with a medical-grade finish that makes them nonporous; however, always double-check with the specific manufacturer. Clean using a mild soap and warm water or a damp, soapy washcloth. Think about cleaning a wooden cutting board.
Cyberskin and vinyl
Clean with a small amount of mild soap, as too much can break down the product. "If you're cleaning a masturbating sleeve, be sure to turn it inside out (like a sock) to get into all the nooks and crannies," White adds.
Both cyberskin and vinyl are porous. After they're washed, both cyberskin and vinyl may need a dusting of cornstarch. This keeps the material from becoming sticky or degrading quickly, Watts explains, but always check the instructions to verify this step.
Plastics and rubber (including TPR, TPE, and jellies)
Thermoplastic elastomer (TPR), thermoplastic rubber (TPE), jelly rubber, and other plastics are all common materials used for sex toys, and they're all porous. Clean with warm water and mild soap. "To get into smaller areas and crevices, you may also want to use a toothbrush to help release any caught debris," White adds. All products should also be thoroughly dried with a clean towel before being stored.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
PVC can be cleaned using a mild soap and water, similarly to the other materials. However, PVC—a material that is used to make plastics more flexible, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—is a major source of phthalates. While more research is needed, the CDC says the group of chemicals may be harmful to human and reproductive health1.
Nylon can sometimes be used for sex products such as harnesses, impact toys, or wearable items. Durable nylon materials can be washed in the washing machine (as long as they aren't motorized) or hand-washed with mild detergent and warm water, then hung to dry.
Leather is also often used for products like harnesses, impact toys, and wearable items. Leather is an extremely porous material and can be difficult to clean. Using a damp, soapy washcloth, wipe down the material thoroughly and leave it out to air dry. Be sure to clean every nook and cranny, including the stitching.
Sex toy cleaning FAQs:
How often do sex toys need a deep clean?
As a general rule of thumb, sex toys should be cleaned after each use (i.e., wiped down with soap and water). For further precaution, you may also want to clean them before each use.
If a sex toy is being used in a commercial setting or by multiple people, it's recommended it be deep-cleaned and disinfected before and after each use. To disinfect heatproof, waterproof, and nonmotorized materials, boil them in water. To disinfect any other materials, consider using a purpose-made sex toy disinfectant (more on that below).
Notably, porous materials are inherently very hard to fully disinfect. "I'd probably recommend that people try not to use porous products internally if they're being used by others, given the difficulty in sanitizing them," functional medicine gynecologist Wendie Trubow, M.D., MBA, tells mbg. "External use should be fine of they're cleaned."
What about purpose-made sex toy cleaners?
Using a cleanser specifically made for cleaning sex toys can be a simple and effective method for cleaning and disinfecting. According to Watts, there are plenty of cruelty-free, paraben-free products for cleaning sex toys and products. "You want to select from a thoughtfully curated collection of products," she says.
A few recommended brands and websites for buying cleansers:
- Medamore: "This female-run business has a collection of medical-grade, high-quality products for fun and function," Watts says. That includes sprays, foaming cleansers, disinfectants, washes, and wipes from a variety of brands.
- Sliquid Shine Toy Cleaner: Sliquid toy cleaner is made with 95% organic ingredients, including aloe vera, tea tree oil, jojoba oil, and castor oil. (This brand also makes a vegan and vagina-friendly natural lube.)
- Satisfyer Cleansing Foam: This foaming cleanser "offers a reliable protection against a range of bacteria, viruses, and fungi," White tells mbg. "The foam is gentle on materials and features a mild alcohol-free formula with a fresh lemon scent." This is considered a disinfectant.
"Oftentimes, cleaning our products is the last thing we want to do—or think to do—and having a dedicated product just for this purpose can help to remind us that our products need special care and attention," White adds.
What about wipes? UV lights? Boiling water?
- Wipes: Though White recommends cleansing with soap and water after each use, she says wipes can be used as an extra precaution before using your sexual wellness product.
- UV lights: Similar to wipes, White considers UV lights an extra precaution to be used in conjunction with regular cleansing. "Some of these products also serve to hold your device, which will also protect them from getting dirty between uses," she adds.
- Boiling water: If the product is made from glass or stainless steel, boiling it in water after it's been washed with soap and water can ensure a more thorough clean.
Can I put my sex toy in the dishwasher?
"I would not recommend putting your sexual pleasure device in the dishwasher. It's important to take gentle care of your products, especially to preserve the life span," White says. "However, if you have glass or stainless-steel products that you want to clean in the dishwasher, you absolutely can. They are incredibly durable and will do just fine in the dishwasher."
Just be sure to warn your roommates if you have any.
Should you use condoms with sex toys?
Whether or not you want to use a condom with a sex toy is more of a personal choice than a professional recommendation, Watts says. However, here are a few situations where she says a condom may be warranted:
- The toy is being used by multiple users.
- There's a preference to have extra sensation.
- There's a concern about an allergic reaction.
People might also consider using condoms with porous sex toys since they are more likely to harbor bacteria than nonporous products. Additionally, "products like sleeves can degrade over time," White says. "If you see any tearing, it's best to replace the sleeve, and you can also additionally use a condom to ensure that there is less potential for bacteria to meet the product."
How should you store sex toys?
Properly storing your sex toys is just as important as properly cleaning them. "Treat your toys with the respect you would treat your retainer," Watts says. "You wouldn't just throw your retainer or your toothbrush in your makeup bag."
Always keep them in a safe, hygienic place—that could be as simple as the box that your toys came in. Glass or Pyrex storage containers, as well as silk or satin bags, also work well. Some companies also make UV storage chambers that help to disinfect the toys after they've been cleaned, Watts explains.
- Forgetting the electronics: Remember to remove the batteries or unplug their sex toys before cleaning them. Even if a product is labeled waterproof, Watts recommends taking out the batteries to prevent corroding. "Battery acid is acid," she says. "And if that somehow or another touches your skin, that's not good."
- Not reading the details: Just because a product is labeled "safe" doesn't necessarily mean it's safe for your own body. "I encourage my clients to look for medical-grade materials," Watts tells mbg. "Medical-grade silicone is durable, you're not going to find too many allergies to it, it's easy to clean, and it also has the most lifelike feel."
- Using it right out of the box: Clean the toy when it first arrives. Just as you would with underwear or a bra, you want to make sure your sex toy is fully cleaned before it touches your skin.
The bottom line.
Sex toys can quickly turn from pleasure to pain if they're not properly cleaned and stored. Before jumping straight into cleaning, though, be sure to do your research (aka reading the manufacturer's instructions) to find out the product's materials and best practices for keeping it in tiptop shape.
"Cleaning products can be a fun sensual ritual when you know what you're doing and a great way to extend the life of all of your favorite products," White says.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.