How to Clean a Vibrator

Alexandra Fine, Credentialed Sexologist, M. Psych | Written by Dame

If you’re a big fan of vaginal infections, you can move on. There’s nothing here you need to see.

Otherwise, may we suggest spending a few minutes learning the right way to clean your sex toys? It may help you avoid days or weeks of soreness, burning, swelling and vaginal discharge – not to mention the possibility of more serious medical issues.

Why Cleaning a Vibrator is So Important

Sure, we all know we should clean our sex toys before and/or after use. But when you’re excited – or when you’re exhausted – it’s easy to say “I’ll definitely do it next time” and let it go.

Many people do just that, according to the company Adam and Eve. They surveyed 1000 customers, and nine percent reported that they only clean their vibrators or toys after using them a few times. Another 28% said they never clean them.

It’s not our job to pass judgment, particularly since you may be represented in that 37%. We’ll simply point out the reasons why “cleanliness is all,” as a villain in the 2010s hit TV show Person of Interest was fond of saying.

  • Dirty toys aren’t clean: Yes, this is obvious. But even if picking up a dirty dildo, vibe, strap-on or butt plug before sex play isn’t off-putting to you, it might turn off a partner.
  • Bacteria and fungi can grow: As many as 25% of vagina owners have experienced bacterial vaginosis (often called BV), and an estimated 50% will develop UTIs (urinary tract infections) at some point in their lives. Dirty toys are ideal Petri dishes for fungi and bacteria, and it’s not hard to imagine what might happen when you insert them into one of your favorite openings. Adult toys that haven’t been cleaned can also alter the pH of a vagina, leading to yeast infections.
  • STD transmission is possible: Research studies have shown that dirty vibrators, dildos or other toys are able to harbor HPV, and may transfer other sexually transmitted diseases between users.

This isn’t just speculation. A survey on vulvovaginal health and practices conducted in Canada, with more than 1500 participants, found that those who shared sex toys with partners were more likely to develop bacterial vaginosis and candida infections.

If you aren’t already cleaning your toys regularly, those should be plenty of reasons to be more diligent moving forward.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, it’s time for the “how to” section of our Ted Talk.

How to Clean Your Vibrator or Other Toys

1. When to Clean

Always. That means before or after every single use; before and after is even safer if you don’t store your toys in sanitary conditions. It might be a good idea to clean them after you first take them out of their packages, too.

It’s best to clean sex toys before putting them away, if you can. If you can’t, a quick wipe with a wet washcloth or towel will help remove the lube, bodily fluids and other gunk in which bacteria and fungi can grow. That’s particularly important if you store several toys in the same place, because cross-contamination is always possible. 

Speaking of storage, don’t just drop them into “that drawer in the nightstand.” Keep your sex toys in clean pouches, bags or boxes. That will keep them free of dust, dirt and lint, and prevent them from touching anything else which might be carrying germs. Breathable cloth is a better choice than plastic, since a still-damp toy placed in a tightly-closed plastic container can easily mildew.

One more point: vaginal and anal play can each be fun, but they don’t always mix when you’re using sex toys. Never use a dildo or vibrator vaginally after it’s been used for anal penetration, without fully cleaning it first. The same goes for sharing toys; clean them before a second person uses them, unless the fun is worth running the risk of infections and UTIs.

2. What to Use

Soap and water are always good.

We’re serious. You can certainly pick up a bottle of sex toy cleaner on Amazon or at your local sex shop, and many people find it easier to just spray, wipe and stash. Some of these sprays also contain anti-bacterial agents, making them a decent choice for porous toys as long as the cleaner is rinsed off afterward.

But if soap and water were good enough for the CDC when it came to COVID-19 hand washing guidelines, they’re fine for almost all of your toys as well. We’ll discuss the exceptions shortly.

Use warm water (or hot water if you choose), and a mild soap. Stay away from fancy soaps with fragrances, because their ingredients can irritate the vagina or cause infections. It’s also best to avoid antibacterial soaps because many contain Triclosan, an ingredient which can potentially wreak havoc with your hormones. Letting the toys air dry is preferable, but be sure to use a clean towel if you have to tuck them away quickly.

Can you let them soak in a sink full of soapy water? Drop them into a pot of boiling water? Put them into the dishwasher? That depends.

3. Where to Clean Them

Before you clean your vibrator or dildo for the first time, find out what materials it’s made from. That information should be on the original packaging or on the vendor’s website.

Here’s why. Some sex toys are waterproof, others aren’t. Some can withstand boiling water, but some can’t. And cleaning a toy the wrong way can leave you with a damaged or unusable bedtime buddy.

One rule-of-thumb is easy to remember. If your toy buzzes, don’t submerge it unless you know that it’s waterproof. (A few of them are, but not many.) Whether a vibrator is powered by batteries or you plug it in, getting the electronics wet could immediately render it useless. 

A closer look at the details:

Stainless steel, Silicone, Glass and Pyrex Toys

These are all made from non-porous materials, meaning nothing can become embedded in them – including water and bacteria. That makes them safe to sanitize in boiling water for a few minutes, and most can even withstand the dishwasher. Boiling your toys is a very good idea if they’re being shared, because the process kills bacteria.

Several important warnings, though. We’re only talking about Pyrex, stainless steel or silicone dildos, not vibrators or other electronics. And some silicone toys have plastic components; don’t put them into boiling water because the plastic might melt.

You can put your non-Pyrex toys into boiling water as well, but they shouldn’t be put cleaned in a dishwasher because the high heat could cause them to warp.

Jelly, Rubber, Vinyl, Cyberskin, PVC, Leather and Elastomer Toys

You guessed it: these are all porous materials. All should all be hand-washed either with a clean, soapy washcloth or – you guessed it again – with soapy hands. 

Spend a good amount of time on these toys. (Yes, we know you may already spend a lot of time with them, but we’re talking about the cleaning process here.) A quick wash might leave them looking clean but can also leave residue behind, especially on toys made from extremely-porous materials like jelly or plastic.

Unfortunately, it’s still possible for bacteria to hide in the grooves or pores of a porous toy even after cleaning. For that reason, some people like to use one of the anti-bacterial sprays we mentioned earlier, or cover the toys with condoms before use. One newer option is a high-tech sanitizing system called the UVee, which uses UV light and claims to remove 99.9% of bacteria from sex toys in ten minutes.

(While we’re on the subject of jelly/rubber toys, be aware that many lower-quality ones contain phthalates which may cause cancer. Dame Products does not use phthalates in any of its products, but you should carefully check the labels on other brands in order to protect both your personal and sexual health.)

And if you’re cleaning leather toys, it’s a good idea to sanitize them with isopropyl alcohol afterward. Good leather can handle it.

Vibrators and Other Electronic Toys

Clean your buzzy toys by hand with soap and water, just as you would clean a porous dildo. Just be certain to fully cover all of the controls, battery compartments and other electronic components so they don’t get wet.

Having a great choice of vibrators, dildos and other toys on hand can make your sex life even more fun and pleasurable, as long as you clean them properly. Otherwise, they might carry fungi, bacteria, or diseases that could put you out of commission sexually – and there’s no fun or pleasure in that.

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