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Be honest: When was the last time you really cleaned your vibrator? According to sexologist Gigi Engle, the number-one mistake most people are making with their sex toys is not cleaning them. But how does one do that, exactly? Does one just throw their dildo on the top rack of the dishwasher and run to retrieve it before visiting in-laws go looking for a clean glass? Is there special protocol for sanitizing couples’ toys? We asked sexual wellness professionals to give us pointers—and tell us when it’s time to discard our toys altogether.

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What’s the big deal about cleaning sex toys?

"The topic of hygiene, at least from a vaginal health perspective, is confusing for women,” says Los Angeles-based Dr. Jennifer Berman, urologist and sex health expert. “We are told it’s a self-cleaning oven, you don’t have to do anything to it, and concerns about douching encourage us to just leave it alone and don’t do anything.” But Dr. Berman points out that women’s physiology makes them especially susceptible to infection. “The urethra hole you pee out of is close to the vagina,” she explains, “whereas that same distance between the urethra opening and the bladder is much longer in men, so that women have a much shorter path for bacteria to travel internally.” So it’s important that women take extra care in making sure anything entering their vagina is as bacteria-free as possible.

Does lube help or hinder bacterial growth?

“If you are using lubes with the toys,” Dr. Berman says, “that is a petri dish where the bacteria can dwell.” (Ok, we’re getting the soap out now, Dr. Berman!)

How often should I clean sex toys?

“You should definitely clean your sex toys after each use and pat them dry or let them air dry before storing them away,” says Taylor Sparks, erotic educator and founder of Organic Loven. “You also want to store them in a bag or toy box that resists bacteria growing in it. A lockable toy case can hold several small toys and keep them dust-free. Or a soft microsuede toy case such as the Tallulah Toy case with a water-resistant nylon interior can also keep toys from growing bacteria.”

Is there any special cleaner I need?

“Rinsing the toy with warm soapy water will suffice,” says Dr. Jed Kaminetsky, urologist and medical advisor to erotic accessory company Promescent. “However, be sure to read the cleaning instructions that come with the device. Some may not be water-resistant and have electrical components that, if exposed to water, will ruin the function of the toy.” Shay Martin, importer of the company that makes the top-selling plug-in vibrator the Magic Wand, recommends this cleaning protocol: “Make sure it’s turned off and unplugged. Also, Magic Wands aren’t waterproof, so don’t run yours under water or submerge it. Just use a damp cloth and a simple mild soap to wipe it clean. Before storing, make sure it’s completely dry, and be sure to store it somewhere it won’t come in contact with dirt or dust.” Dr. Kaminetsky also suggests cleaning electrical toys with cleansing wipes or alcohol, and if alcohol is used to clean the toy, he suggests a final swipe with a damp, water-soaked cloth to remove any of the alcohol residue. Sparks recommends using an organic sex toy cleaner (like this one with antibacterial guava tree bark), lest another cleaner’s chemical residue irritate the genital region.

Anything extra I should be doing?

Never switch from anal to vaginal use in the same "session" without properly cleaning the toy in between, Dr. Kaminetsky advises. And if it's broken, toss it. “If the toy has been materially compromised, I'd suggest discarding the toy, as cracks or crevices can be hard to properly clean and may turn into a breeding ground for bacteria.” Dr. Berman also recommends taking probiotics to keep your microbiome in balance and fend off bacterial infections, which can be caused by not only unhygienic sex-toy practices, but also non-erotic experiences like wearing a wet bathing suit or undergoing hormonal fluxes from low-estrogen birth control pills or perimenopause. Berman recommends Love Bug, which has a probiotic formula specifically for vaginal health. “Keep using toys,” Dr. Berman assures us, even after she finishes ticking off the list of bacterial perils. “I’m all for them.”

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