Are you cleaning your sex toys wrong?

Sex toy expert Zoë Ligon can help

Whether you’re using sex toys with a partner or solo (btw May is Masturbation Month, enjoy), or both, you’ve probably wondered at some point whether they’re actually clean. Like clean-clean. We went straight to the source, the iconic sex educator and owner/founder of Spectrum Boutique, Zoë Ligon, to find out.*

Q: How do you properly clean sex toys? Straightforward(!) ones like silicone dildos that can be fully submerged in water are a bit easier to deal with, but even then, is using hand soap and water sufficient? Is dish soap better? Should the soap be antibacterial?

A: The simplest way to clean a sex toy is with warm water and any type of soap you would use on your body. I tell people to avoid dish soap and really scented or oily soaps. If it’s a nonporous material like silicone, stainless steel, or glass, then it’s pretty easy to keep toys clean this way. “Clean” isn’t the same thing as “sanitized” however—nonporous toys can be cleaned AND sanitized because there are no pores for bacteria to live in, but porous materials like TPE/TPR/elastomer, Cyber Skin, some hard plastics, stone, and any “mystery” material can only be cleaned and not sanitized since you can’t know what’s below the surface.

Q: So how do you SANITIZE a sex toy then?

A: If you want to sanitize a nonporous toy and it isn’t motorized, you can boil it for 5-10 minutes (like pasta!) and that will kill any remaining bacteria. This is a great thing to do with butt toys or any toy you’ve used during a bacterial infection, fungal infection or STI. It’s also a way that you can safely share a toy with a partner that you aren’t currently swapping fluids with! If your toy is porous, I always recommend putting a condom on it (especially if it’s used internally). That’s a great way to extend the life of toys in general—and definitely a great way to keep your Magic Wand Original head from getting gunky.

I always refer to Dangerous Lilly when I have questions about something specific!

Q: How do you clean toys that can’t be submerged in water, like the Magic Wand for example? Do you just have to use condoms on those kinds of toys?

A: Wands with porous heads should be condomed, but wands with silicone heads can be unplugged and cleaned with warm water and soap under a faucet, just keep it pointed down so the water stays focused on the head.

Q: Should you use condoms on all toys anyway, even if you’re the only one using them, just to keep them clean?

A: I don’t think you must condom every toy, even the porous ones, just be aware of the cleaning and care and how to care for the specific material (so avoid mystery materials and toxic sex toys). It’s also important to know what kind of lube the condom is pre-lubricated with—silicone lube on silicone toys should be avoided, but if you clean the toy off after it’s condomed, it likely won’t be a big deal. Just keep an eye out for any change to the material.

Q: And what if you have an STI or you’re sharing a toy with someone who has or may have an STI? Does that change the cleaning procedure at all?

A: Your safest bet if you or your partner has or may have an STI is to not share toys. You could also condom toys or boil them, and leave them out for 24 hours or more in between uses because some STIs can’t live on dry surfaces for very long. Transmission can be avoided with toys, so with basic precaution it’s relatively safe and nothing to worry about. It also depends on the type of STI and its ability to live on an inorganic surface or not.

Q: What about toys/accessories that involve leather? Will water ruin them? Will they ever actually be clean?

A: I tell people to spot clean, but you can also spray/mist it down with a diluted rubbing alcohol spray (just know that this isn’t ideal for leather’s softness lifespan). It depends whether it’s a flogger, harness, or something else as well. Harnesses are used a bit more intimately than a flogger (although people deffffinitely get fluids on floggers too.) Making sure the harness is left out in a dry area so it can “breathe” is the best way to care for it. Keep in mind though that you can’t fully disinfect leather, just like any other porous material. As always, communication and negotiation before playtime will generally help you feel out whether a play partner is conscientious enough to earn your trust!


P.S. Do you have a younger person in your life who you want to be there for as they’re figuring out sex and relationships, but you’re not sure how to start those awkward conversations? Check out Power to Decide’s conversation guide for millennials.

*Answers sent via email and lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Written by Lauren Kernan, MA

Lauren Kernan is the Director of Content and UX Strategy for Bedsider and Abortion Finder. In her spare time, she can be found sewing or starting and giving up on various other crafts.