Are You Cleaning Your Sex Toys Wrong?

Are You Cleaning Your Sex Toys Wrong? - Sex guides and relationship advice from Lascivity

Settle down, class. Today we’re going to talk about the care and maintenance of sex toys. As someone who owns more toys than could reasonably be used in a week-long orgy, it’s a subject that’s close to my heart.

And it’s a subject that nobody is talking about.

Perhaps it’s not as sexy as talking about actual fucking, or about erotic vampirism, or about getting a blowjob in your date’s driveway. But it’s important.

Almost everyone I know owns at least one sex toy. And only about one percent of them know how to properly clean or store it. One of my friends keeps her dildo in the laundry-strewn gap alongside her bed. Another has admitted that she sometimes cleans her high-end boutique vibrator by spitting on it and rubbing it with a clean bit of her jumper.

My disgusting friends aside, most people have no clue what phthalates are. Or they don’t know that butt plugs will melt if you just stick them in a drawer together. Or they’ve never even heard of the relative merits of silicone vs water-based lube.

And it’s because nobody really writes about this stuff. The technical stuff. The nitty-gritty. Apart from me, obviously. Because I’m great. So… here it is: everything you need to know about buying, cleaning and caring for your sex toy collection. Read this, and you’ll never have to throw out a melted conglomeration of ruined butt plugs ever again.

Buy Quality

Buying a dildo is a bit like buying a new pair of boots, except with fewer salespeople fondling your sock-clad foot. Buying something of decent quality will cost you more to begin with, but will also mean you won’t have to buy a replacement for at least a couple of years.

It doesn’t help that the sex toy industry is, in many countries, as obscenely unregulated as the lunch queue on a pirate ship. After all, would you want to be the politician whose legacy was clearing the streets of knock-off dildos? That’s a battle that nobody is fighting. And, as such, the market is flooded with cheap, flimsy, sometimes dangerous products.

Buy your stuff from a reputable retailer. You can usually get sex toys cheaper on Amazon than you can elsewhere, but they’re cheap because they’re almost certainly fakes. Buying one decent toy is cheaper than buying cheap, being disappointed and buying again.

Avoid Phthalates

While you’re browsing through the filthy, depraved, ungodly stock of your local friendly sex toy peddler, you may want to keep an eye out for the words “Phthalate Free”. Phthalates are an ingredient in a lot of soft or jelly toys, and are potentially cancer-causing. So… yanno… avoid that shit.

Inspect Before Use

Each time you whack out your Megacock 3000, you should give it a quick look over before jamming it into anyone’s genitals. You’re looking for cracks, degraded or damaged areas, visible signs of soiling, mould or rust. If any or all (gross) are present, then the toy could be harbouring a whole civilisation of hidden bacteria. Do not use.

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. Don’t be shy about using it. Whatever embarrassing reason you have for sending a toy back to the warehouse, they’ve almost certainly heard it before.

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.

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 off/out of your body. Oil’s great for cooking with, though, and works okay with stainless steel and glass toys.

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 above and get some water-based lube. It’s basically the universal blood type of personal sexy slipperiness.

Porous Or Non-Porous?

Some sex toy materials are porous. Like a sponge. And, also like a sponge, they probably get a bit gross after you’ve been using them for a while. Porous toys absorb and retain bacteria and other nastiness, which makes it a bad idea to ever share porous toys, even if you wash them in between uses.

If you’re super keen to share a porous toy, you can make it a lot safer by covering it with a condom before use. If, like me, you’re a product of the British education system, awkwardly wrangling a condom onto an inanimate, vaguely penis-shaped object should be second nature. Now you can finally put that skill to good use.

Non-porous toys, on the other hand, are fine to share so long as you give them a good scrub in between each person who uses them. The bacteria and dirt don’t seep into the toy itself, and instead sit on the surface where they can be easily washed away.

How do you tell what’s porous and what’s non-porous? I’m glad you asked. Because I’ve made a handy list.

Porous Materials

  • Untreated Wood
  • Jelly
  • Some Types Of Silicone
  • PVC
  • Latex
  • Most Flesh-like Materials

Non-porous Materials

  • Stainless Steel
  • Professionally-treated Wood
  • Pure Silicone
  • Hard Plastic
  • Some Rubbers

Cleaning Your Toys

The methods you use to clean your toys will vary depending on whether they are porous or non-porous, and depending on whether you’re the only one who’s going to use them or not.

I’ve detailed all of the common methods below. Pick one that gives you the level of cleaning you require, but which also doesn’t wreck your gear. Don’t boil soft plastic toys, for example, unless you’re trying to make the world’s least-appetising soup.

Non-Porous Toys

My favourite method for cleaning non-porous toys is with bleach. Mix up a ten percent bleach solution (in a well ventilated space, please) and use it to rinse your toy. 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 (just borrow your housemate’s) to get in there and clean.

Always rinse off the toy afterwards so that no bleach residue remains on the surface. Omit this last step and your future self will not be especially pleased.

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 against the sides.

You can also opt for a simple soap and water wash. This is fine if you’re 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 non-fragranced soap or a specially-formulated toy cleaner. Lather, rinse, repeat, and then leave to dry somewhere where the cat isn’t going to get to it.

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 do the work.

Porous Toys

This section is going to be a short one, because when you get right down to it you can’t really clean porous toys. Much of the contamination will be within the material itself, below the surface and impossible to wipe away. Once used, a porous toy 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 presentable (as my grandma would say). Unfragranced soap or toy cleaner and hot water should do the trick.

Wooden Toys

Wooden insertables are relatively rare, but are gaining in popularity as time goes on (*cough* hipsters *cough*). 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 moist mould-friendly conditions. There is nothing sexy about opening your sex toy drawer and finding that it’s full of fungus. Unless you’re into that kind of thing. No judgement.

Before putting my toys away, 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. Then I read them a nice bedtime story and tuck them away with a night light on so they don’t get scared.

Store Separately

Many toys can be quite comfortably chucked in the same box and left. Some, however, have a tendency to react with one another due to the softening agents used in their manufacture. Jelly and soft toys are the worst culprits. Store these items either touching or in the same drawer and you may come back later to find that they’ve morphed into an ugly postmodern dildo sculpture.

Resolve this problem by storing your insertable toys in separate boxes, drawers or individual silk bags (although, if you’re on a budget, socks work just as well).


Enjoyed this? Found it useful? Tell me about it so that I know how sex toys I’ve saved from an untimely death.

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Wanna learn about anal? Face slapping? Unusual punishments? I’ve got you covered.

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