Of all the things we can potentially do with our favourite device, cleaning it probably isn’t the most exciting. But it is the most important!
Unclean toys used in sex can cause infections and even lead to STI transmission—and improperly cleaned toys can result in a damaged or even broken toy. Not ideal if we want to keep using our favourite toys for years to come!
Here we break down why you need to clean your toys, how you can do it safely and without damaging the toy, and how to best store your goodies for optimum cleanliness. The days of pulling your favourite vibe out from underneath your bed and cleaning it off with a make-up wipe are, thankfully, about to be long gone.
Why clean our toys?
When we finish using our devices, they can be relatively messy: bodily fluids and lube can collect on the toy and cause dust and other debris to stick to it. Toys made of porous materials can even absorb fluids, meaning bacteria and fungi have a chance to grow inside the material of the toy. It’s all a bit gross—especially when you consider that next time we go to use our toy, the bacteria from last time will still be all over it.
Infections like bacterial vaginosis can be caused by using toys that haven’t been cleaned properly, and STIs can be passed between partners who share devices if they don’t clean them after use. While the vast majority of STIs can be easily treated, some can cause pain, irritation, and ongoing complications—so for this reason, we need to clean our toys after every use.
Not all devices are made equal
How you clean your toys will depend on what they’re made of. Not every toy can be cleaned the same way, so read on to find out exactly how to clean your toy.
You’ll notice many toys can be cleaned with a mild antibacterial soap. We recommend using an unscented hand or body soap, with a neutral pH level if possible—or our cleaning spray! Soaps and sprays like these are less likely to cause irritation or infection if there’s any residue left on your toy after cleaning.
- Toys made of non-porous materials such as steel, stone, silicone, or Pyrex can be submerged in boiling water for a few minutes. Alternately, you can place them in the dishwasher and let it run for a normal cycle without any soap. Just remember that your toys will probably be very hot after this, so let them cool down completely before grabbing them!
- Toys with a motor or batteries, such as vibrators should never be submerged in water, as this can destroy the motor. Clean them with a mild antibacterial soap and then wipe them down with a clean, damp cloth.
- Toys made of glass can be washed using a mild antibacterial soap and then wiped with a clean, damp cloth. It’s worth noting that Pyrex and glass look similar, but are different materials and need to be cleaned differently: while Pyrex can withstand some hotter temperatures, glass can shatter and break. If you’re unsure whether your toy is made of glass or Pyrex, we recommend looking up the manufacturer’s website and checking what material it’s made out of.
- Toys made of materials that replicate human skin, like some dildos and replica vaginas, can be washed with a mild antibacterial soap and wiped with a clean, damp cloth. Too much soap and vigorous scrubbing can ruin the delicate material these toys are made of, so be gentle. They may also need to be dusted with cornflour or a special powder prior to being stored, but check the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure.
- Toys made of leather, such as paddles and restraints, can be wiped down with a mild soap or antibacterial wipe and left to air-dry. Alternately, there are some soaps that are designed for use on leather: they clean and condition it at the same time. We recommend using these soaps, which you can find at some adult stores and most leather retailers.
- Toys made of silk, such as blindfolds and ties, can be hand-washed in the sink using gentle fabric soap and cool water. Rinse them thoroughly and leave them to air dry.
- Toys made of rope, such as restraints and Shibari ropes, can be placed into a pillowcase or lingerie bag and put in the washing machine on a regular cycle. Silk ropes can be washed by hand in the sink with gentle fabric soap and cool water.
- Toys made with feathers, such as ticklers, can be cleaned in hot soapy water and left to air-dry.
Some toys are made with porous materials such as hard plastic. We generally recommend against using toys like these, as they can retain bacteria even after being cleaned thoroughly. If you are particularly attached to a toy that’s made out of porous material, we suggest using a condom or dental dam with it, especially if you’re sharing it with someone else. This will help prevent bacteria from being transmitted between you, your toy, and your partner.
If you’re someone who already has a collection of toys, it’s worth occasionally sorting through what you have and taking stock of any toys that may need to be replaced. Some toys, especially those that are older or were cheaper to buy, can be made of materials that aren’t safe to use. As an example, jelly rubber, which is sometimes used to make dildos and easily bendable toys, can contain high levels of phthalates which may be absorbed through the skin1 and are considered unsafe and harmful.
If you’re someone who wants to clean toys quickly, discreetly, and with minimal fuss, another option is a bottle of cleaning fluid or spray (check out a nightstand-friendly option from NORMAL here). Many adult stores sell these, and they’re quick and easy to use for those moments when you’d rather skip cleaning to stay in bed and enjoy a post-orgasm buzz.
Some brands of toy cleaner are better than others, so keep an eye out for a cleaner that’s fragrance-free as it’s less likely to contain ingredients that can irritate your skin. And just like lube, oil- and silicone-based cleaners can degrade the material of your toy, so make sure to grab a water-based cleaner.
If you have sensitive skin, you may want to do a patch-test of the cleaner on your arm or leg before using it—if you feel any itchiness or pain on the skin you tried the cleaner on, you’ll know it won’t be suitable to use on something that can come in contact with the delicate skin of your genitals.
How to store your toys
Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned your toys, you don’t want to throw them in a dusty old shoebox and let them get all dirty again. Storing your devices properly is just as important as cleaning them—and it means you won’t need to clean them again before using them next time!
To start with, you’ll want to make sure your toys are dry before you put them away. Damp toys can grow mould and start to smell, which is far from ideal. If you find any old toys that have grown mouldy, our recommendation is to simply throw them away and treat yourself to a new toy.
Toys should also be kept separate from each other in storage, as some materials (such as plastic and rubber) can react with each other over time and begin to degrade. Keeping each toy in its original packaging, or in a dust bag, is a great idea. It’s safest to remove batteries before storing toys, as batteries can also degrade over time. Battery acid can be very harmful to the skin, so if you find that a battery in your toy has leaked, we also recommend throwing it away and taking the opportunity to buy a new one!
Lastly, whatever you choose to store your toy in should be relatively airtight and free from any dust, dirt, animal hair, plant matter, and cosmetics. You might also want a container that’s discreet and easily mistaken for something else: a cosmetics bag or lockable box can be sturdy enough to contain your toys without piquing the interest of any visitors to your space.
To learn more about the foundations of great sex with acclaimed sex coach Georgia Grace, check out NORMAL's video masterclass, The Modern Guide To Sex.
- Schettler, Ted. 2006. ‘Human exposure to phthalates through consumer products’, International Journal of Andrology, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 134—139. Accessed 27 November 2020, <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2605.2005.00567.x>.