Here’s How to Pick the Right Sex Toy Cleaner

If you spent a lot of time trapped indoors over the last year, you might’ve racked up quite the sex toy collection. (Maybe you were even gifted a few.) No matter the circumstances, we hope your toys bring you lots of pleasure. But we should also discuss something a little less sexy: We need to talk about if you should be using an antibacterial cleaner for your sex toys.

Let’s start with the basics of why clean sex toys matter. Sex toys fall into two main categories: Some are made from porous materials, like skin-safe rubber and latex, and others are made from nonporous materials, like plastic, glass, silicone, and metals such as steel and gold, SELF previously reported. If your toys are porous, they have tiny holes that can trap microorganisms even if you clean your toys diligently, Lisa Finn, a sex educator at the sex toy boutique Babeland, previously told SELF. If your toys are nonporous, they’re a bit less likely to hold onto those microorganisms and give them an environment to grow, Finn explained. But germs can still linger on surfaces for a while before they die.

Vaginas have lots of helpful bacteria and fungi that keep infections at bay, but when you use a sex toy, those microorganisms can stay on the toy for a period of time (the exact amount of time depends on things like the microorganism in question and the material of the toy). This doesn’t at all mean you’ll automatically get ill if you don’t clean your sex toys, but it’s still a good practice to be careful about reintroducing potential pathogens into your body if, for instance, you had a vaginal infection and those microorganisms sat on the toy, Peter Leone, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the UNC School of Medicine, previously told SELF. Additionally, if you’re sharing toys or engaging in anal play, microorganisms from your anus or your partner can remain on your toy and potentially cause issues. These are theoretical situations—it’s also possible that you could use sex toys for your entire life without cleaning them once and still have a healthy and happy vagina. But if you want to increase your odds of that outcome, it’s essential to keep your sex toys nice and clean.

Here’s the deal with sex toy cleaners.

Do you need a toy cleaner? Not necessarily. “Mild soap [and water] is definitely the way to go,” Cecilia Villero, M.S.W., sexuality and pleasure educator, tells SELF. “Use something that doesn’t have any scent and doesn’t have a lot of intense ingredients,” she adds. But even though taking the time to hand-wash your toys after every use is ideal, it’s not always realistic. If you’ve just had an orgasm and you’re wiped out, an antibacterial cleaner on your nightstand can get the job done until you have the energy to do a deeper clean. “It’s sort of like a prewash,” Villero explains.

It might help to think of it like this: By now, you’re no stranger to the difference between washing your hands and using hand sanitizer, right? As you might’ve heard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that handwashing is more effective than sanitizer, but a small squirt of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol on your hands will help in a pinch. In the same way, you might think of a sex toy cleaner as a hand sanitizer for your sex toys.

How do you pick a sex toy cleaner?

Villero explains that there are solid sex toy cleaner options that claim to be effective at killing 99% of germs that might hang out on your toys. Still, there are a few things you might keep in mind. Villero says that you should opt for an alcohol-free cleaner because “alcohol can dry everything out,” including certain sex toy materials (and, potentially, your skin).