I work at a lingerie/novelty store and we sell toy cleaners. We have customers ask us all the time if they can just use soap and water, but we tell them that the soap can leave behind soap scum and if they use soap with alcohol in it, it can damage the material of some of the toys. Are toy cleaners really best for toys, or is soap and water just fine?
Cleaning protocol depends on the material and structure of the toy. Soap and water and sex toy cleaner are both fairly universal options. However, the perk of the cleaner is that, unlike regular antibacterial soap, it is designed with your toy and your genitals in mind. Also, a number of cleaners do not need water, meaning that you can tidy up without leaving the comfort of your bed/couch/floor/sling/etc.
Here’s the down-low on how to keep your down-low (and the various types of toys that venture there) bacteria-free:
Jelly Rubber/Soft Plastic: These toys are generally porous, so much so that you can sometimes see little bubbles on the surface. Bacteria and dirt love setting up shop in these warm crevices. As a result, they are impossible to sterilize. However, even though complete sterilization is not an option, removing the debris, lube, and bodily fluids post-use is a must! Wash with warm water and antibacterial soap or with a sex toy cleaner.
CyberSkin: Most thermal plastic toys involve a multi-step cleaning process. You begin by rinsing the toy in warm water (NO SOAP) and letting it air dry. Once dry, douse the toy in cornstarch (the cornstarch prevents the toy from attracting debris) and place it somewhere away from other toys. Why the separate storage? Many materials melt when placed alongside thermal plastic. Keep in mind that not all thermal plastics have the same cleaning protocol, so make sure to read the instructions that come with the toy. Also, like its jelly rubber and soft plastic peers, CyberSkin is porous, meaning that it can never be fully sterilized.
Silicone (my personal favorite): Silicone is non-porous, thus making it a wonderful material for sex toys. Products made from silicon can be cleaned using hot water and antibacterial soap or a toy cleaner. Silicon toys that do not have batteries or an electrical system can also be boiled or placed in the top shelf on a dishwasher. When storing your toy, remember that silicone often acts as a magnet to dust, lint, and debris, so it is best to place in a clean location (a small, silky bag works best).
Hard Plastic: The specific make-up of hard plastics depends on the toy. Some are porous. Some are not. Unless the toy clearly states that it made from medical grade, non-porous plastic, assume that it cannot be sterilized. To clean, use warm water and antibacterial soap or a toy cleaner. Never boil or put in the dishwasher, as this can ruin the material.
Non-Porous, Rigid Materials (including glass and metal toys): These toys can be boiled, placed in the dishwasher, scrubbed with hot water and soap, or disinfected with a toy cleaner. Plus, they can be sterilized.
Last (but not least) always remember to use condoms when sharing toys that cannot be sterilized.
Abby Spector is a recent graduate of Wesleyan University, where she majored in Feminist/Gender/Sexuality Studies. She is currently interning for Tristan, a job that allows her to write about sex, research feminist porn, and play with dogs (among other, equally awesome things). When she isn’t working, Abby enjoys comfortable nudity and salty foods. Her dream? A world where she could sit around naked and eat overly-salted french fries. Her blog is Sexy Awkward Times.