How to Clean Your Sex Toys, According to Medical Doctors

Sex toys are fun, but take some careful tending-to. Here's how to clean sex toys to avoid infection and keep them running.

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Sex toy demand skyrocketed during the pandemic, and The New York Times reported that one company had a 200% increase in sales. This was partly due to lockdown, but that wasn’t the whole story—evidently, there’s also less stigma. “There appears to be a wider acceptance of sex toys,” explains Emily Morse, host of the #1-ranked sexuality podcast, Sex with Emily and author of the June 2023 book, Smart Sex (Park Row/HarperCollins Publishers). “Sex toys are now sold in department stores and featured in more TV series and movies,” Morse says.

Whether you’re having sex with a partner or masturbating solo, sex toys have the potential to promote health and the connection to our bodies and increase sexual satisfaction. A sonographic study that was conducted by board-certified OB-GYN Dr. Amir Marashi, FACS, FACOG and Dr. Kimberly Lovie, a Harvard and Yale-trained chemist, engineer, and sonographer, conducted research that led them to create the first sexual health company offering pleasure products developed by physicians. The clinical training doctors receive in infection prevention also qualifies these two to explain how to clean sex toys…and why you should.

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Start with a good product

It’s important to note that not all sex toys are created equally, and cleaning can’t make up for poor quality. “You want to use a high-quality silicone product,” Dr. Marashi says. “If the toy changes color, gets stained, or loses shape, get rid of it.”

Marashi and Lovie created CERĒ, the first sexual health company offering pleasure products developed by physicians. With sexual hygiene in mind, their brand uses non-porous, medical-grade silicone.

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Know what you’re dealing with

Insertable dildos (which are not mechanical) and vibrators (which can be used internally or on the clitoris or vulva) achieve the same result, but their care is very different.

“Dildos are straightforward,” explains Suki Dunham, founder and CEO of OhMiBod, a pioneering manufacturer of sex toys since 2006. “You can wash them with gentle soap and water, but since vibrators are mechanical devices with motors and often have rechargeable batteries, it’s important to ensure water doesn’t enter the charging port.”

Dunham stresses the importance of staying aware of potential points of entry for water when cleaning your sex toys, but points out that this rule doesn’t apply if you have products labeled waterproof by their manufacturer. Also, note the difference between water-resistant (can get splashed) and waterproof (can be submerged).

Some people suggest you can put a quality silicone sex toy in the dishwasher—but Deborah Lee, MD, Dr. Fox Online Pharmacy, disagrees. “For a start, anything with electrical components will be ruined, plus the dishwasher leaves a residue that is not meant to end up inside the vagina and could cause an infection,” she says. “Instead, you can boil any silicone, glass, or metal toys (without electrical parts) for one to three minutes.”

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Keep it simple

Soap and water

All of the experts we spoke with agree that warm water and gentle, unscented soap on a washcloth is the best way to clean sex toys, which is excellent news because sex toy cleaner is pricey. “The simpler the soap, the better,” Dunham says.

Morse agrees: “You’re pretty safe using something you’d wash your face with, but stay away from harsh detergents or heavily scented soaps.” Dawn is good for a lot of household tasks, but not this one.

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A little texture

The texture on a washcloth should be enough, but if the toy has grooves or ridges and requires deeper cleaning, Dr. Lee suggests a soft-bristled toothbrush reserved for this purpose.

Rinse

The final rinse should be with plain water. “We never want to put soap in the vagina, so it’s important that sex toys are rinsed completely clean,” Dr. Marashi says, noting that soap throws off the vaginal pH.

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Dry

After rinsing, toys should air dry for 24 hours. “Blow drying your products may seem faster and easier, however, vibrators with motors and batteries can react,” Dunham says.

Store

Store toys in the bags they came with or something similar. “Ideally, you should also wash your toys before you use them,” Dr. Marashi says, pointing out that if toys left out can attract particles, like dust, pollen and pet hair. Marashi and Lovie designed CERĒ’s toys in black for a genius reason: If there’s vaginal discharge, soap residue or dust, you can see it and know it needs more cleaning.

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Why you need to clean your sex toys

“Seventy percent of gynecological visits are due to discharge,” Dr. Marashi says, explaining that the vaginal microbiome has a delicate balance of bacteria living in there, and when the pH gets thrown off, it can lead to yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV), which are both common and avoidable.

“Good hygiene is paramount in terms of putting objects inside the vagina or the rectum,” Dr. Lee says. “Bacteria such as salmonella, shigella, E. coli and campylobacter plus hepatitis, chlamydia and gonorrhea can all be spread via the use of sex toys.”

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Jaime Stathis
Jaime Alexis Stathis is a nonfiction writer whose favorite topics are humans, technology, animals, wildlife, and the places where they intersect. She writes about health, wellness, technology, nutrition, and everything related to being a human being on a constantly evolving planet. Her work has been published in Self, Wired, Parade, Bon Appétit, The Independent, Rachael Ray In Season, and others. She is also a Licenced Massage Therapist. Jaime is working on a novel about a heroine who saves herself and a memoir about caring for her grandmother through the dark stages of dementia.