When sex toys were still relatively new to me back in college, I was guilty of using a vibrator to get off, then putting it right back in the drawer. In my mind, since I wasn’t inserting it into my body, it didn’t need to be cleaned every time I used it — every few uses with some hot water and soap was fine…right?
Nope, totally wrong. Bacteria is bacteria, no matter if it’s coming from inside the vagina or being rubbed along the outside of the vulva, including the clitoris. Therefore, sex toys, even if you’re not sharing them, should be cleaned after every use. And, if you want to be extra responsible, before every use too. (See: Why Bacteria Is Important for a Healthy Vagina)
“Cleaning your sex toys before and after any sex play should be part of your self-care routine, just like washing your hands before eating, no matter if you are using them alone or with a partner,” says Laurène Dorléac, CEO and co-founder of Climax, an educational video series that shows people with vulvas how to understand their body and pleasure themselves. “It’s a form of respect for your health and well-being. Cleaning your toys properly will prevent you from possibly getting any STIs [if you’re sharing or using them with other people] or bacterial infections.”
As Dorléac explains, it’s best to clean your toys right before (you never know what bacteria has creeped onto them while they’ve been in your drawer) and after each use, even if you use a condom. And “for vaginal toys, it’s important not to wait too long before cleaning, as some bacteria can stay on the toys and can make it more difficult to clean sufficiently,” says Dorléac. “For anal toys, as bacteria is much more present and harmful, they need to be washed immediately after and before further use.”
But, similar to personal lubricants, what you use to clean your toys should also be compatible with both the material your toy is made of as well as your body. For example, sanitization via boiling water is an option for some sex toys (glass, stainless steel, and some silicone toys), but not those that aren’t waterproof or made of jelly or plastic — although, you shouldn’t be using jelly or plastic toys, anyway, due to the chemicals in them (i.e. phthalates) which are anything but body-friendly. (More on that here: How to Buy Safe and Quality Sex Toys)
Boiling or washing your toys with hot water and soap can do the trick to remove the bacteria that comes with biological fluid such as semen, vaginal secretions, and urine, as well as disinfecting any toy that has come in contact with fecal matter, says Alexis May Kimble, D.O., medical director of Kimble Center for Pelvic Wellness in Pasadena, California, who’s double board-certified in gynecology and female pelvic medicine. The best soaps for this are either castile soap or even liquid hand soap. (You can use antibacterial soap, but it’s not necessary, says Dr. Kimble.)
Just make sure to avoid soaps that could potentially irritate your vagina. Think about it this way: If you wouldn’t use a soap (like dish soap or something equally intense!) on or near your vagina, then don’t use it on your sex toys when you’re cleaning them. If you know certain soaps that contain dyes, chemicals, or fragrances that have caused problems in the past, again, keep them far away from your toys. While the hot water will wash off the soap and the toy will dry, it doesn’t mean remnants of the soap won’t hang around longer than you might expect. Another note: If you share your sex toys and use condoms on them, don’t use soaps that contain oils, as oil can degrade latex, meaning it could break down the condom, making it less effective. (Related: Why You Don’t Need to Clean Your Vagina)
How to Pick a Healthy Sex Toy Cleaner
While soap and water do work and is the go-to for some people, others prefer to buy a sex toy cleaner specifically for cleaning their toys. If that’s the case, knowing what’s in your sex toy cleaner is paramount, especially if you have a vagina and are prone to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and/or urinary tract infections. Here, a few ingredients to steer clear of:
Rubbing Alcohol: “I would advise avoiding cleaners that contain rubbing alcohol as it can be corrosive on the vaginal and anal skin,” says Dr. Kimble.
Glycerin: “This is not an ideal ingredient for products aimed at use in these areas,” says Dr. Kimble. That’s because “glycerin can be irritating and dehydrating for both the vaginal and anal skin, and when it is present in low concentrations, it can serve as a nutrient for yeast.” That means it’ll feed the yeast that’s naturally present in your vagina, and can encourage it to overgrow, resulting in a yeast infection. If you look at sex toy cleaners and lubes, you’ll find glycerin is commonly in the ingredient list. (Womp.) Although it’s not guaranteed to give everyone who uses it a yeast infection, if you’re prone to yeast infections, it’s definitely something to take into consideration.
Parabens: You don’t want parabens in your cleaners or in your sex toys. They’re chemical preservatives that can do a number on hormone function and production in both men and women, according to the Environmental Working Group. In using products that aren’t paraben-free, you’re potentially setting yourself up for reproductive and fertility issues in the long run. (See: Common Endocrine Disruptors Around You — and What You Can Do About Them)
Tricoslan: The jury is still out as to how potentially harmful triclosan, an ingredient intended to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination, can be to the body; however, the Food and Drug Administration did ban it from being used in certain products in 2016 and 2017. Even so, it’s still out there in some products (such as antibacterial soaps and body washes) and should be avoided, as research has found it could possibly be harmful to the immune system and long-term use could lead to becoming antibiotic-resistant, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Two other substances you’ll often see in the ingredients of sex toy cleaners — disodium laureth sulfosuccinate and hexamidine diisethionate — look a bit daunting, but actually aren’t ingredients to fear, according to Dr. Kimble. “They’re well tolerated and gentle enough to the human body because they help clean dirt and oils, and prevent bacterial growth while not penetrating the skin,” says Dr. Kimble. But when it comes the most body-friendly ingredients for sex toy cleaners, aloe is at the top of the list. (Give this sustainable aloe vera lube a try, for example.)
If you do opt for a liquid sex toy cleaner, make sure toy fully dries after cleansing and before storing to prevent harboring fungal or bacterial growth, says Dr. Kimble. This is also why cleaning your toys not just after, but also before you use them, is a good idea. It’s also important to make sure you read the directions (for both the toy and the cleaner); some toys need to be rinsed off both before and after being sprayed with cleansers, while others need to have the cleansers left on for a certain amount of time. To get the most out of your sex toy cleaners, don’t assume all are used the same way and read those directions before you put them to use.
As long as you’re using quality, medical-grade, body-safe, sex toys made from non-porous materials (porous materials allow for bacteria to seep into them, making them difficult to properly and thoroughly clean), any of these seven sex toy cleaners make the cut when it comes to being body-friendly, as well as sex-toy friendly.
Then, for the fun part: Go forth and masturbate.
Le Wand Intimate Organic Toy Cleaner
As far as sex toy cleaners with ingredients that aren’t likely to make you scratch your head and mutter “WTF,” Le Wand Intimate Organic Toy Cleaner is up there on the list. It’s free of glycerin, parabens, alcohol, triclosan, or any other chemicals that can cause irritation or potential infections. Consisting of aloe leaf juice, tea tree oil, castor oil, and jojoba oil — all organic — Le Wand keeps things simple but efficient with their hypoallergenic sex toy cleaner.
If you really want your toys to be extra squeaky clean, Le Wand suggests pairing their spray with b-Vibe’s UV Sterilizer Pouch (Buy It, $94, ellaparadis.com). (Le Wand and b-Vibe are both the brainchildren of Alicia Sinclair, who’s the CEO and founder of both.) In just three minutes, the pouch fully sanitizes your sex toys. It can also double as a storage unit for your toys, and its size and drawstring-top make it super travel friendly.
Sliquid Shine Toy Cleaner
Not only does Sliquid Shine Toy Cleaner have lovely packaging — a plus for those who are into aesthetics or want to leave it on their nightstand — it’s also aloe-based and water-soluble. Free of gluten, glycerin, parabens, sorbitol (a sugar alcohol), and sulfates, Sliquid Shine is a great option for those prone to infections. It’s also 100 percent vegan, hypoallergenic, non-toxic, fragrance-free, safe for most toys, and in addition to removing any harmful bacteria that could cause infections, it also removes bacteria that leave a lasting odor on your toys.
Shibari Toy Cleaner
Shibari Toy Cleaner — which, FTR, gets cheaper every time I hop on Amazon — is a sex toy cleaner that isn’t just body-friendly, but also budget friendly. One wouldn’t expect such a high-quality cleaner for so little, but Shibari manages to pull it off. This spray is free of alcohol, glycerin, parabens, as well as tricoslan.
Dame Hand and Vibe Cleaner
You can’t go wrong with Dame’s Hand and Vibe Cleaner. Not only is it water-based, containing small amounts of isopropyl alcohol (different from rubbing alcohol as it contains denaturants) and witch hazel (which is super skin-friendly), but it’s free of parabens and anything else that could possibly lead to an infection like gluten, glycerin, and sugars.
For those who give a damn about whether or not the products in their household have been tested on animals, Dame’s sanitizer is both vegan and cruelty-free. While it kills 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria, it should be noted that it doesn’t meet the CDC’s requirement for products that fight against COVID-19. So keep it with your sex toys, and stick to other CDC-approved products when it comes to sanitizing your hands for germ protection.
AfterGlow Toy Tissues
Because, ideally, you don’t want bodily fluids to stay on your sex toys too long (and sometimes making it all the way to the sink is a tall order), having wipes on hand in your nightstand is a great idea for quick cleanup. Then you can give your toys a more thorough cleaning later if you want. AfterGlow Toy Tissues allow you to keep things sanitary without killing the mood by forcing you to jump out of bed to clean your toys ASAP. These tissues are aloe- and water-based, with castor oil, bergamot fruit oil, and a bit of citric acid to keep things pH-balanced. They also contain chlorhexidine gluconate, a topical antiseptic commonly found in toothpaste and oral rinses, and are free of parabens, alcohol, perfume, glycerin, and dyes.
Before and After Anti-Bacterial Toy Cleaner
As the name suggests, Before and After Anti-Bacterial Toy Cleaner focuses on being anti-bacterial and does so with its “exclusive formula proven effective in killing 99 percent of three major microorganisms.” It’s free of harsh soaps and artificial colors that could cause irritation in or on genitals, and is both paraben- and sugar-free. The formula can be used on all types of sex toys, no matter their material. (Related: Guide to the 12 Main Types of Sex Toys)
Puritize Uvee Home Play
For those who want to play it extra safe, either because they know they’re sensitive in general or would just rather skip the sprays and foams, there’s Puritize Uvee Home Play. This UV toy cleaner kills 99.9 percent of germs and bacteria that lead to infections that come with not properly cleaning your sex toys and does it in just 10 minutes. While it’s definitely more expensive than any of the other cleaners on this list, if you don’t want to worry about what’s in your sex toy cleaner, this scientifically proven, germicidal UVC light system is the way to go. (Related: Does UV Light Actually Disinfect and Kill Viruses?)