As someone who owns more sex toys than could reasonably be used in a week-long orgy, this is a subject that’s close to my heart. Sex toys – being made from the spongy, rubbery, jelly-like materials they often are – can be difficult to clean, store, and generally look after, especially as they often don’t come with very specific instructions.
For that reason, here I’ll be gathering everything you need to know about how to look after your collection of sex toys. That’s something worth knowing, by the way, even if cleaning isn’t normally your thing. Treating your toys right means that they’ll last longer and – more importantly – that you won’t catch anything mortifying from a dirty dildo… something I’m sure most of us would rather avoid.
The first – and perhaps the most significant thing – you can do to ensure the lasting integrity of your collection is to buy toys that are of decent quality in the first place. The sex toy industry is, in many countries, lacking in regulation, and as such the market is flooded with cheap, flimsy, sometimes dangerous products. Buy from a reputable retailer, and take your time to satisfy yourself that their products are solid. Good quality toys may be more expensive in the first instance, but buying once is cheaper than buying and breaking and buying again.
Oh, and while you’re thinking about which toys you’re going to buy, you may wish to consider picking up phthalate-free ones. Phthalates are an ingredient in a lot of soft or jelly toys, and are potentially harmful, although more research in this area is needed. If you want to play on the safe side, avoid them – reputable retailers won’t be shy about letting you know when an item contains phthalates.
Inspect Before Use
Each time you think about using a sex toy, you should give it a quick look over before you do. Keep an eye out for any cracks, degraded or damaged areas, visible signs of soiling, mould or rust. All of these are signs that a toy isn’t as clean as it might look at first glance, and could be harbouring bacteria. It’s best to throw out damaged toys, or return them to the retailer (Lovehoney has a very generous returns policy, which allows you to send any toy back within a year for any reason). Cracked or otherwise damaged toys could also physically hurt you, so don’t take the risk.
Use The Right Lube
Lube – as well as easing the giving and receiving of pleasure – can also do a fatal amount of damage to your toys if you use the wrong type. For this reason it pays to know what your toys are made of, so that you can plan accordingly. As a basic guide, water-based lube can be used with anything. Hurrah. Silicone lube cannot be used with silicone or jelly toys, and will require extra cleaning (as it’s water-resistant to a degree). Oil-based lubes are bad for pretty much everything, and I’d advise avoiding them altogether; they weaken condoms, cause damage to a wide range of toys, are difficult to wash off toys, and similarly difficult to wash out of your body. They work okay with stainless steel and glass toys, but the amount of hassle they can be makes them not really worth it.
There are exceptions to these rules. Taking into account the actual composition of various toys and lubes you’ll find that some silicone lubes are fine with some silicone toys, and some oil-based lubes aren’t all that harmful. Broadly speaking though, if you want to play it safe, stick to the rules above and get some water-based lube. It’s basically the universal blood type of personal sexy slipperiness.
Identify If It’s Porous Or Non-Porous
Depending on the material that your toy is made of, it may be porous or non-porous. Non-porous toys are easily cleaned, as the bacteria and dirt doesn’t seep into the toy itself, and can generally be cleaned from the surface. Porous toys, however, have a tendency to absorb and retain bacteria and other nastiness. For this reason it’s a bad idea to ever share porous toys, even if you wash them in between uses. If you are really keen to share a porous toy, you can make it a lot safer by covering it with a condom. Non-porous toys, on the other hand, can be easily shared with sufficient cleaning in between each person who uses them.
Porous materials include: untreated wood, jelly, some types of silicone, PVC, latex, most flesh-like materials.
Non-porous materials include: Stainless steel, professionally-treated wood, pure silicone, hard plastic, some rubbers.
How Do I Know What Material My Toy Is?
Hopefully you’ll be able to determine what materials your toy is made from by consulting the packaging or the manufacturer. This is another area where buying quality pays off – there is little regulation when it comes to sex toys, and it’s easy for unscrupulous toy makers to lie about materials used in the making of their products.
Cleaning Your Toys
The methods you can use to clean your toys vary depending on whether they are porous or non-porous. I’ve detailed all of the common methods used and their effectiveness below, but it’s up to you to pick a method that gives you the level of cleaning you require, and also doesn’t wreck your gear. It is, for example, not a good idea to submerge and boil something that isn’t waterproof. Obviously.
My favoured method of cleaning non-porous toys is with bleach. Either mix up a 10% bleach solution and use it to rinse your toy (wear gloves and do this in a well-ventilated space to avoid hurting yourself in a fabulously-embarrassing way). A quick scrub with a clean sponge should be enough in most cases, but if your toy has a lot of cracks and crevices then you may wish to get hold of a toothbrush (unused, obviously… ugh) to get in there and clean. You can also use bleach wipes for this purpose – Clinell is a skin-safe and medical-grade brand. Make sure you’re thorough in your cleaning, and always rinse off the toy afterwards so that no bleach residue remains on the surface.
Boiling is also an option, although this only really works with completely waterproof and very durable toys – I’d personally only use it on stainless steel items. Get a clean pan of clean water, set it boiling and submerge the toy in it for about ten minutes. When it’s done you’ll have one delicious, sterile, but very hot sex toy. Pro tip: line the pan with a clean cloth to stop the toy knocking itself against the sides.
You can also opt for a simple soap and water wash. I would recommend this only if you are the only person who is planning to ever use the toy. In this case you don’t have to worry about the transmission of disease, and so sterilisation is not strictly necessary. Use a non-fragranced soap or toy cleaner, and wash thoroughly with a clean sponge or cloth, then rinse before leaving to dry.
Steel And Glass Toys
These can be cleaned using the same methods as non-porous toys, as described above. It amuses me, however, that they can also be sterilised by sticking them in the dishwasher. I personally would do this on a separate wash from my plates and cutlery, but to each their own. Select the “Sterilise” cycle (assuming your dishwasher has one) and wash without soap – it’s the temperature and the steam that will do the work in this case.
This section is going to be a short one, because when you get right down to it you can’t actually really clean porous toys. Much of the contamination will be within the material itself, below the surface and impossible to wipe away. Once used, they likely won’t ever be sterile again.
Assuming, however, that you know this and you are keeping your porous toys for use only on yourself, or using them judiciously on others with the added protection of condoms, then you will still need to wash your toys after use, if only to keep them clean and presentable. Unfragranced soap or toy cleaner and hot water should do the trick.
Wooden insertables are relatively rare, but are gaining in popularity as time goes on. The quality varies enormously. Some are coated with a lacquer that is resilient enough to withstand years of washing and use. Some are merely coated in a light layer of wax that will wear away with time. Consult the manufacturer for detailed care instructions – but in the absence of these, wash them as with non-porous toys, and keep a close eye on the condition of the coating. If it wears away, ditch or return the toy.
Keep Things Dry
After washing, let your toys dry thoroughly before putting them away. This ensures that you don’t shut them in a drawer and incubate them in conditions that will allow mould to grow. Before putting my toys to bed, I pat them dry with a paper towel and then let them dry completely on a windowsill until there are absolutely no traces of moisture.
Many toys can be quite comfortably chucked into the same box and left. Some, however, have a tendency to react due to the softening agents used in their manufacture. This is something you mostly have to watch out for with jelly and other soft toys. Store these items either touching or in the same drawer and you may come back later to find that they have “melted” into an amorphous mass. Not so sexy. Resolve this problem by storing them in separate boxes, drawers or individual silk bags (although, if you’re on a budget, socks work just as well).