by Alanna Greco
Sex toys are fun, reliable, and can be integral to a satisfying sex life. But they aren’t like most of the other stuff we own (read: you put them in and on your genitals), so they need specific TLC to keep them clean and functioning. I spoke with experts to figure out how to make your toys stay nice and last, so you can enjoy them for as long as possible.
When it comes to storing your toys, satin and cloth bags are best
Where you keep your toys is key to keeping them in good shape. “I don’t think people realize how delicate toys can be,” says Emily Morse, sexologist and host of the Sex With Emily podcast. “Leaving a toy in places where the temperature is too hot or stuffy can cause the toys to break down depending on the quality and materials.”
Firstly, best practice is to store your toys in a satin or cloth bag. “That way, any dust or hair hanging around will usually get trapped on the bag rather than locking onto your toy,” says Lisa Finn, sex educator at the sex toy boutique Babeland. If you don’t have a satin or cloth bag, think twice before storing your toys in plastic. It’s okay to do if your toy is non-porous, meaning that it’s made of silicone (like Dame’s products), stainless steel, or a hard, smooth material like glass or most plastics. But if your toy is porous, avoid stowing the toy in plastic bags. “Not only will it trap heat which could potentially cause the materials break down faster,” says Finn, “but also sometimes the plastics will react with one another.” You can check what your toy is made of in its manual, or by looking it up online. And check out our own material explainer here!
And what about just storing your toy in the container it came it? That works too — “just make sure that you’re cleaning your toy off before you store it,” says Finn. “Cardboard and certain plastics will harbor bacteria, so if you don’t clean off your sex toy before putting it away, it could get funky.”
Know what kind of lube you’re using
“I’m not here to shame anybody,” says Finn, “but if you aren’t using lube, you’re missing out. It makes the experience so much better!”
That said, make sure you’re using the right kind of lubricant with your toy. “Silicone toys don’t mix with silicone lubricant,” says Finn. “That’s because the element in silicone lubricant that keeps it a liquid will try to liquefy the toy. And even though that doesn’t turn it into some sort of unsafe science experiment, it could potentially ruin your toy. It could make a cock-ring snap or make the beautiful, plush outside of your vibrator start flaking — and these are things that you just don’t want, especially if you have a nice silicone vibe.”
As a rule of thumb, don’t mix lubes and toys of the same type. Silicone doesn’t mix with silicone, and oil-based lubes shouldn’t be used with latex or petroleum-based rubbers. Water-based lubes are generally safe with everything.
Don’t skimp on washing your toys
“It’s incredibly important to wash and care for your sex toys because you can still get infections and STDs from unclean toys,” says Morse. “You wash your hands after you masturbate (hopefully), so you should do the same for your sex toys.”
Even though getting an infection from your toys is “pretty low risk,” according to Sunny Soroosh, Registered Nurse Coordinator for Planned Parenthood NYC, “it’s always a good idea to keep your toys clean for hygiene purposes.” Warm water and soap should do the trick, and it doesn’t matter if the soap is antibiotic or not. “It’s more the mechanics of using the soap and rubbing the toy to dislodge and rinse off the bacteria than the actual antibiotic properties,” says Soroosh. If the toy is porous, “just keep in mind that you may need to be more thorough in the rinsing stage of porous toys so soap doesn't get trapped,” says Finn. If your toy has any bedazzling or crevices, use a q-tip to get up in there. And if you’re using a new UV sterilizer, remember that they only kill bacteria — they won’t clean away any gunk. Old fashioned soap and water are still necessary!
So, why do you have to clean your sex toys if you’re only using them on yourself? “While yes, it’s your own bacteria,” says Finn, “when it’s hanging out on a toy, other bacteria from the air could get introduced — dust, pet hair, things like that. Not to mention, if you get cum on a toy and then you leave it out for three days, do you really want to put that dried cum onto or into your body?”
Throwing your toys into the dishwasher is not the answer
“Here’s the thing about running toys through the dishwasher,” says Finn. “The toys that are safe to do so, like medical-grade silicone, stainless steel, and glass, are easy enough to clean that you shouldn’t have to run them through the dishwasher. You can disinfect these toys by boiling them or using hot water, and they’re good to go.”
But if you’re just itching to pull an Abbi from Broad City, know no toy that has electronics should go in the dishwasher. “The heat from the dishwasher can go ahead and destroy that motor,” says Finn. “So anything that vibrates, shakes or has any sort of buttons, gizmos, or gadgets—keep out.”
Take precautions before sharing toys with multiple partners
Even though, again, using sex toys is pretty low risk when it comes to infections, you should still be cognizant of potential risks when sharing a toy with a partner. Because porous toys absorb bacteria, it’s a good idea to use a condom when sharing these types of toys, and especially if you use the toy with multiple partners. You can’t fully sanitize porous toys, so whatever bacteria the toy picks up could potentially transfer to the next person. Also, you never want to use the same porous toy vaginally and anally without putting a condom on the toy for the same reasons.
When it comes to sharing non-porous toys, make sure they’re clean before use. If you don’t want to use a condom on the toy, you can sanitize non-porous waterproof toys by boiling them (if they don’t have a motor), rinsing them well with warm water and mild soap. “Certain toys you can wipe down with diluted rubbing alcohol, and then rinse super thoroughly,” says Finn. “A lot of toys will let you know whether or not that is an option on the inside of the packaging.” If you’re unsure if your toy is waterproof, “use a spray-on toy cleaner or use mild soap on a damp cloth,” says Finn.
If you think something’s going on, tell your doctor about your sex toys
If you’re at the doctor’s because you’re concerned about something going on down there, mention that you’re using sex toys. “It’s important to bring it up,” says Soroosh. “Sometimes people will say they aren’t sexually active, but maybe they’re using sex toys anally or vaginally, and you want to mention that. Don’t be embarrassed because it can really help with the diagnosis if you’re have reoccurring infections or something along those lines.”
The UTI-prone should pee after using
Just like peeing after penetrative sex can help prevent infections, peeing after using a sex toy works the same way. “If you’re masturbating with toy, or even just your fingers, you’re still introducing potential bacteria and penetrating a sensitive area,” says Finn. “Going to the bathroom will make sure that if anything did get into the urethra, it’s being peed out.”
If you have specific question or concerns, you can always look up your toy’s manual online (Eva II’s is here and Fin’s is here), or give the sex shop where you got your toy a call — they should be happy to help. Remember: taking care of your toys will help you get the most out of them, and more time with your sex toys equals more fun. Enjoy!
Alanna Greco is a writer and editor living in New York.