Apr 062012
 

Update: Major developments in the Flame Testing and Sex Toy material testing world have occurred. “Updates” are added throughout the post.

What is Flame Testing and What Does it Prove in Regards to Silicone Sex Toys?

Flame testing a silicone sex toy is neither unheard of or common. Where did it originate, I wonder? Was Metis Black the first to do it and the sex toy reviewers followed suit, eager to seek truths where we were skeptical? In my opinion, a fair number of sex toy reviewers are reviewing for one primary reason: as a means to get “free” sex toys and perhaps earn a little affiliate money. They will rarely dig deep into faulty toys and will rarely have a strong negative review posted. However there is a smaller circle (which is happily growing) who actually care about what you, our readers, purchase because we were once the buyer and burned too many times and wasted too much money on shitty toys or toys that were harmful to our health. I will slap you silly1 if you buy a jelly dildo.

Why flame test? “Pure” silicone, be it food grade or medical grade, shouldn’t melt or deform under the heat of an open flame from a disposable lighter or match – a fact you’ll see demonstrated in the video below. I discussed this a little bit with Metis Black of Tantus in my interview with her. I’ve seen numerous blog reviews on various sex toys where the reviewer did a flame test. I’ve also had scared manufacturers try to tell me that the flame of a Bic lighter will melt anything, even silicone (hint: that’s not fully true – silicone won’t melt and it won’t burn like an oil torch, but it can smolder and flame and it will produce ash) and that it is an inaccurate test. Ok, fine. But who the hell has access to fancy machines and labs? Not us reviewers. Update: Now we do! Dildology has been formed and will be running tests on toys so long as they can continue to be funded via donations.

Here was my logic: If a flame from a match or lighter, held directly to a silicone sex toy, will melt said sex toy – then what the fuck is Tantus using? Because their silicone products do not melt. In fact, neither does Lelo or Jollies2 or Fun Factory or We Vibe3.

You’ll hear a lot of manufacturers putting it down but the basic fact is this: Flame testing isn’t perfect but 8 times out of 10 it will properly reveal that a sex toy is or is not pure silicone 4. Since the government will not regulate adult products, and the manufacturers can literally say anything they want on their packaging, there is a lot of distrust floating around in the sex toy industry. Unless you are buying your sex toy from a trusted manufacturer, I’d suggest that you perform the flame test on your sex toys.
Update: The flame test is not so black and white in its results. I discussed with Metis Black some results that readers were getting: The tell-tale grey ash was produced, but the material was becoming very sticky. Since I, too, experienced similar results with a material we didn’t think was pure silicone, deciphering the results can be confusing. More research led to us figuring out the there’s a difference in results between RTV cured and LIM. The new post Deciphering the Results, shows photos of flame tests and a list of traits and what to expect from silicone and non-silicone.

What can you expect from a flame test if the material actually is silicone?

A number of things, depending on the oils (softeners) in the silicone and the way that the silicone is cured. Metis Black of Tantus cleared up some confusion for me – “Tantus which uses RTV silicone primarily and Lelo and WeVibe who exclusively LIM silicone- LIM silicones are sticky unless they are post cured by heat. The silicone is heated in the mold, but then needs a post cure in an oven to completely cure it to nonsticky. RTV will eventually cure without it no matter who’s garage it’s poured in.”

Silicone products that have varying levels dimethicone mixed in that will burn in a smolder and you will see a pale ash left behind. This ash can then be brushed off and you usually will see virtually no damage to the silicone. It usually won’t be sticky, there usually will not be a chunk missing from the product – I say usually because it’s not often but I’ve seen both happen though on a mild level with products that used a lot of dimethicone.

LIM Silicone products from “luxury” manufacturers where the end result is a very matte-finish, silky smooth silicone could be using something like what Lelo uses, called SST:

“We [Lelo] use certified “body safe food-grade phthalate-free silicone” which is coated in SST (Silicone Soft Touch). It’s used to enhance the silicone, otherwise silicone will not be as smooth to touch or pleasant in the body. It’s completely safe for use in the body (liquid silicone) and we have the FDA certificate to prove that, but it may be causing the carbon marks you are talking about.”5.

How much smoldering/burning occurs depends on where you apply the flame. If you apply it to a thin edge of material, you’ll see a lot more burning. If you apply it to say…the middle of the dildo, you won’t see as much of a reaction. 

Silicone items CAN burn but will NOT melt/become permanently pliable as a result of a flame test. There is a difference.  Ash will be produced. As I found when flame testing the JimmyJane Hello Touch in April 2013, there actually can be material loss and destruction and stickiness, and the product is still pure silicone – this was not previously thought to be true, but a lab test verified the product as being silicone. This is because is it LIM silicone and it can behave differently.

Update: I’ve done a newer flame test video – watch it for more info:

What can you expect from a flame test if the material is not pure silicone?

I’ve seen it where the material didn’t catch a flame, it just absorbed the heat and melted. I’ve seen it where the material caught flame, the entire thing engulfed and continued to burn like an oil lamp – when it fact, that makes perfect sense. TPE/TPR is softened by mineral oil.  If a material is not silicone, it will not produce any grey ash. That is one big telltale sign to look for.

Elastomer, TPR, TPE and of course jelly/rubber WILL MELT to various degrees. I put flame to a SinFive Pikilo dildo because I knew what the material was (a non-porous type of TPE called WTP) and simply wanted to see what would happen. It would not burn no matter how long I held the flame. There was no ash. However, the material was extremely hot to touch and was shiny; it was also then pliable and could be deformed sort of like putty. The material did not disintegrate though like TPR blends have. The softer portion of the dildo had the most obvious melting. The bottom portion which was extremely solid and unyielding didn’t show as much damage but it did change the texture and it was sticky.

Update: I have held a flame to materials known as NOT being silicone, and they did actually melt. There was no ash. Another product which was acquired and flame-tested more recently than this original post, a Screaming O cock ring which the company likes to call silicone, did melt after a long burn time, but it did not product ash, either. In fact it burned like an oil lamp – a hot, bright flame that did not smolder and did not die out. There was material destruction – it cracked and dried out and no longer would withstand being stretched out (it broke).

Flame Test Failure #1: Studio Line Vibrating Makeup Brush from Screaming O

The other product is the Screaming O Studio Line Makeup Brush; it was subjected to a flame test and it failed in exactly the same way as the Bedroom Kandi HOTM. There was destruction of material, flames, and in the end it *melted* – I had sticky, gooey black material on my fingers that reminded me of what happens to bike tires on a really hot summer day. Screaming O admitted via email that their product is not 100% silicone. A fellow EdenFantasys reviewer commented on my EF review of the Studio Line Brush telling me that

“the toy is made from “latex and phthalate free SEBS silicone, which is a silicone elastomer blend.” So, they don’t claim it’s medical silicone or 100% silicone. Elastomer will melt if a flame is held to it. But, even silicone toys should only be tested with a match, anything hotter may actually burn or melt 100% silicone.”

Um yeah, they do imply/”claim” it’s pure silicone simply by not saying that it isn’t. Right there on their website, as I noted in my review, it says “Phthalate-free soft silicone”. I, as the consumer, therefore assume they mean true silicone and that it is non-porous. But it’s not. Why? According to Screaming O:

“Our government says that a company can  label a toy as “silicone” if at least 10% of the product is silicone, which is how we originally came up with “what” the products were made of on our packaging.  After some thought about this, we too think that this needs to be defined a bit further. We are actually in the process of updating all of our products to offer detailed information on what they are made of.  We realize that our consumers are becoming more savvy and educated about things like that and want to make sure everyone has complete information. Please bear with us as we compile this information, update our packaging and websites, and get it all out to our customers.”

I called them out on it personally saying that it’s troubling and does not breed respect or trust in the brand, hence the response above.

Flame Test Failure #2: Screaming O brand simple cock rings – they look like jelly but are marketed as “sebs” silicone.

These puppies are porous. I let them soak for 12 hours in concentrated Kool-Aid and they absorbed food coloring. When I took the flame to it, they burned like an oil lamp. No ash.

At this point I cannot trust that anything Screaming O packages as “silicone” or “Sebs” silicone” is true silicone and non-porous. I’d advise you to assume the same from this company until they change their shady practice. When I researched “sebs” what comes up has absolutely nothing to do with silicone in the least.

{For repeat visitors to this post: yes there was another video, but it’s outdated now}

How to perform a flame test if you suspect that a sex toy is not a pure silicone item

For safety’s sake you should have a bucket of ice water nearby. Be aware some materials can retain a lot of heat, so be careful brushing off the ash (if there is any) or touching the melted part too soon. Use either (both if you’re feeling geeky) a match or a simple Bic style / disposable lighter. I’m not sure if a standard Zippo (the refillable kinds) would be too hot, but the “windproof” lighters most certainly are too hot and should not be used.

As explained in a “further reading” link below, the temp of the flame of a lighter or match is about 600-800 degrees. By only applying the yellow/orange part of the flame to the sex toy you’re safely staying around that 600 (or less?) mark. The blue/white portions that are closest to the ignition source are potentially too hot. Apply the flame for about 5-8 seconds to a portion of the toy as close to the base as possible if it is a toy you would want to continue using. Let it cool off a few seconds and then view your results. If you see ash, wipe it off.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: Try not to flame test a definitive “edge”. That thinner portion will smolder/burn  – even on Tantus toys. You should always try to flame test a flat/rounded section that is at least 1/2″ thick.  If you’re looking at the base of a harness-compatible dildo, for example, you’d want to put the flame to the flat bottom, not the edges of it. Do it right in the middle.

I’d suggest that you document the results. If you find that an item fails the test and the manufacturer is calling it merely “silicone” (since as Screaming O said, they’re allowed to do that by law even if it’s a blend) and not labeling it as a blend you should be ready to back up your public claims with photos and/or video. If you’re reviewing the toy, be it on a blog or as a consumer, and you have a flame test failure it would be helpful to the sex toy community if you’d let us all know! Blends lack the properties that we hold dear to silicone: Bacteria-resistant, non-porous, sanitizable .

Update: On April 26, 2013, we received back the official lab test results of a product that we believed failed the flame test. It had been assumed by others in the industry that, due to the material destruction/loss and stickiness, the material was not pure silicone. Lab tests showed that it was, in fact pure silicone. Does this mean that the flame test is a complete failure to us all? Not exactly. But it means that we need amend our definition of pass/fail and understand that a failed result may not truly be a failed result (depending on the results). (Updated Feb 2014: It “failed” because it was a thin piece and because it is LIM silicone. It didn’t really fail, we just didn’t know enough)

Further Reading:

  1. With that nasty jelly dildo you stupidly bought, and I won’t just slap you with the jelly dildo I will shove it in your mouth so you can taste the sweet stench of phthalates. Ok maybe that’s going a little far. But I’ll still slap you with it!
  2. Yes they’re still available for sale, the offspring of the original designer were selling them on Etsy and now have a site, but I won’t link to it because not even if you were higher than a kite is the design acceptable or less likely to cause seizures. Google ChavezDezignz (yes, with all the fuckin z’s)
  3. This is not an exclusive list, these were simply the only other manufacturers I tested
  4. as opposed to a “blend” – once you mix silicone with Elastomer or TPR, it no longer retains the non-porous properties of true silicone
  5. This quote comes from my rep at Lelo – while the stuff Lelo uses is called SST, it’s possible that the other companies use a very similar but differently-named formulation that achieves the same results. I don’t know if there’s a Lelo-only patent on the SST
  • http://incendiaire-reviews.blogspot.com Incendiaire

    Great article, very informative. I’m going to be viewing a lot of things claiming to be silicone with suspicion from now on.

  • JaneBlow

    Dangit! I wish I was there for this! Glad to have had lunch with you though :)

    The disconnect between manufacturers and buyers need to stop, as does the lying/deception of what the toys are made of so people can make their own informed decisions. Whether the company says “no its silicone” and they’re being lied to… or it is only a small percentage (and they know about it) and the consumers are being lied to. Education and trust people, we shouldn’t have to set our toys on fire.

    We know Fast Food is bad for us, we know what is in it, how it is made, how bad for the environment it is to produce and the unfair treatment to farmers and animals… yet, many still eat it. Let us make our own decisions, you’ll still make you’re money.
    Or, yanno, improve the quality of your toys. Instead of rushing them to market with a slightly different silicone mix to stay in competition but they’re still ‘meh’ from material, to shape, to motors… because it makes you look stupid for trying to sneak around and “lie”. Which is like calling us stupid. Heh. Consumers are much smarter and conscious / have more resources at their fingertips than they did in the 70’s, let alone the 90’s.

  • http://early2bed.com searah

    Thanks for sharing this! This is excellent info. I’m also super sick of companies labeling things as silicone when they are not. I’ve even had a rep respond with “Well, I guess you shouldn’t consider it 100% silicone” when questioned about a “Silicone” toy’s material.

    Ugh.

  • Ali R

    This is a great article. Damn those companies that lie 2 you!

    That is why i stick with pure romance. They have several different materials for all sort of needs.

    Thanks for sharing.

    ~ Wow, did you really think I’d let you link to your affiliate site for a company I cannot STAND?? Yeah, Pure Romance is sooo great. Right. You know that it’s all just renamed and repackaged CalEx shit, right? “Several different materials”?? Bullshit. Several different SHITTY materials, yeah. There’s nothing there that is true silicone, or a brand you should be promoting. SHAME ON YOU. You’re just as bad as those companies that “lie 2″ me.

  • http://pennysdirtythoughts.com Penny

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article and for explaining how to do a proper flame test. I am definitely going to follow your lead and do some flame testing in the near future and will share my results as well.
    Penny

  • http://www.screaming-violet.com Violet

    Thank you so very much for finally dispelling some of the myths & misunderstandings regarding flame tests. Having not been able to discover a tried and true method of flame testing I have always shied away from doing them. I’m incredibly grateful for the great time and effort you have put into this rather awesome resource for reviewers and consumers alike.

    The labeling requirements are ridiculous and completely deceitful. Just like that stupid ‘for novelty use only’ disclaimer certain shitty companies like to try and hide behind.

    ~ Well I’ve found out that not just shitty companies use the novelty label. Some of the ones we like and trust use it as well.

  • http://ofsexandlove.com adriana

    I’ve never used a silicone skin for my gadgets. That is falsification and misleading. ;)

    ~ How so?

  • http://elspethdemina.wordpress.com/ Elspeth Demina

    Have you flame tested the Tantus O2 toys yet? Not saying they aren’t silicone, because we know they are (Metis is awesome!), just curious what your after effect looked like. The O2 line are the only ones I’ve maintained any damage to after flame-testing (lighting toys on fire for science!). I was really curious how the softer material would react. I definitely get some change in the material post-testing with it. Mostly colour change, but some texture too. Curious your experience with these ones, if you’ve tested one via flame yet.

    ~No, but I will, after I ask Jenna and Metis their opinion on what difference to expect. I know that the O2 outer layer is a lot softer and a little bit more porous than their harder silicone (all silicone is a tiny tiny bit porous, but not enough for bad things to hang around, the O2’s though have been shown to absorb some dye from crappy sex toy bags) and therefore has more additives that would burn up (like the dimethicone).

  • Sex Enthusiast

    Hey Lily!

    Wow! This is the first time I’ve come across your blog and I must say I’m pretty impressed by the thoroughness of your silicone experiment! I would hate to do the same test on my own toy box in fear of having to watch some of my favorite ‘silicone’ toys disintegrate before my eyes!

    ~I wish I could say I was impressed by your site, but it contains so much misinformation that I’ve removed the link you included. If you would truly avoid doing the flame test just because you’d fear ruining a toy that you’ve been lied to about, then that’s really damn sad and pathetic.
    And my name is “Lilly”.

  • Mrs Jojo

    very informative :) I didn’t know about this but now I do!

    Thank you for taking the time to write this.

    Mrs JoJo x

  • http://PeggingParadise.com Ruby Ryder

    Hello Lilly,
    Excellent research! Thanks for taking the time to do this, to document it all and be so thorough. I have not tried the flame test but I have done a fair amount of research on toxic toys and why they are bad for you.

    Regarding the Screaming O claim –
    “Our government says that a company can label a toy as ‘silicone’ if at least 10% of the product is silicone, which is how we originally came up with ‘what’ the products were made of on our packaging.”
    I have never heard of ANY regulations on the labeling of novelty items, so I am curious where they came up with this.

    Here’s a second-hand true story about a toy retailer who was speaking to a manufacturer in China about a specific toy the retailer was considering buying. It went something like this:
    The retailer asked the manufacturer – “What material is this toy made out of?” The manufacturer replied, “What would you like the label to say?” Thinking he had been misunderstood, the retailer asked again. “No, I want to know what you make this toy out of, it is silicone?” The manufacturer replied, “It doesn’t matter. What do you want the label to say? 100% silicone? Phthalate-free?”

    Toys that are made in China literally can say anything, as far as I know, and this conversation demonstrates how willing the manufacturers are to lie on the label.

    And as far as just putting a condom over toxic toys? Here is a first-hand conversation with one of my readers who wrote to me about toxic toys:
    ME: I have a question for you, if you don’t mind. You mention that you tried many things to remedy the toxic toy problem – did you try a condom over the toy at any point? And if you did – was it to any degree successful in reducing the reaction? The reason I ask is because many sellers of toxic toys say just use a condom on it but there is actually no evidence that a condom will protect you at this point. So I was wondering if you have any anecdotal evidence one way or the other…?

    HIM: I am so happy you asked that question. I have used condoms on the toys I had problems with, and these are the ones that have a very strong “chemical smell” right out of the package. A condom(standard latex) will stop the bad sensations for maybe 5-7 minutes, then the bad sensations are just as bad as without the condom. I figured it was because the chemical that was causing the problem was leeching through the condom. After listening to one of your podcasts, now I know that condoms are not 100% non-reactive as is silicone. It just slows down the “issue”.

    So this could very well mean that even if you don’t react to the toxic toys with a condom over them, that does not mean toxic chemicals are not leaching into your body! Yuck!

    I’m linking to your article for my readers. Here’s the article I wrote on toxic toys, if you are interested:
    http://peggingparadise.com/blog/2010/10/sex-toys-making-you-sick/

    Thanks for such great blogging.

    Ruby

    ~ An as for “anecdotal evidence” I’ve been told the opposite: re: condoms. Of course, the person you asked could have a latex sensitivity. Did he rule that out??
    Re: China – that’s a little bit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater as I’ve learned firsthand. Nearly every single sex toy made with moving parts is made in China. It’s too costly to do so anywhere else. So it is the onus of the company to tell the truth. Not China. The company must regulate and check up on their manufacturing plants. The reputable companies that I listed here do that.

  • http://www.sugartheshop.com Jacq Jones

    Thank you so much for this post! I sincerely appreciate all of the work you’re putting into your reviews. With people like you, we can bring significant & needed change to this industry.

    Over the years my store has been open, the neighbors have gotten used to seeing me out back with a lighter & dildo. : )

    May I link to your post from our blog?

  • http://BexTalksSex.com Bex

    Thanks for taking the time to write about this! There’s so little information available about sex toy materials and I’ve always heard about flame testing but never specifics so it’s great to hear exactly what I should be looking for!

  • Panda Dearest

    Thank you so much! I’m a virgin, so I want to be really careful about what I use. Thank you so much for sharing this information. Now I know what to do if I’m in doubt. Thank you and never stop posting!
    -PandaDearest
    P.S – is there a way to tell if a toy has been used before? Thanks!

    ~ No matter your sexual status, you should always be careful with what you use! To answer if there’s a way to tell if it’s been used before….that’s not really an easy answer to give. From what I’ve read, whilst semen and urine glow brightly under UV blackright, vaginal secretions really don’t. I’ve found though that vaginal secretions, whether mixed with lube or not, tend to leave a flakey residue behind. If you’ve ever cooked a pot of pasta where there was more pasta than you should have cooked in the water and it was really starchy water, maybe you’ve seen that opaque paper-thin crust? That’s honestly what it reminds me of. Starch-water. Of course, that would only apply if the toy wasn’t cleaned at all after the suspected use. If it was cleaned, then it should appear clean. In my experience, dried lube just doesn’t look the same.
    If you’re talking about the rumors of people receiving a used sex toy when they thought it was new, my only comment there is to use logic. If it’s a tiny, Amazon seller (many of whom are unauthorized resellers) then I’d lean towards suspect. If it’s from a major retailer, I would contact that retailer. It doesn’t make sense for bigger retailers to do such a thing…they build their brand and site by reputation and if someone would receive a genuinely used toy that is a major, major healthcode violation. They would be shut down. It’s illegal. If you’re talking about lesser quality materials like jelly, pvc, or even moderate-quality like TPR those can have cornstarch powder residue from the manufacturing process sometimes. I received an Evolved Novelties one like that, and a SinFive dildo like that.

  • J

    What’s your opinion on Rocks Off toys? I bought one of them recently (an anal plug), the site had it listed as silicone. But then after I got it, I checked the Rocks Off site and on there it says “silicone rubber.” Which is disappointing. I tried the flame test and it did melt and come off on my finger when I rubbed it after. I tried my other two silicone toys (Dorcel and Fun Factory) and neither even had burn marks, they just got warm.

    How much does the rubber aspect lower the safety? Is the toy actually porous because of it? I’m pretty bummed out (har har).

    Thanks.

  • Robin

    I just flame tested a butt plug that I got years ago from Good Vibes, which I cannot recall the name of, but I know was labelled as 100% silicone. It responded largely in the ways that the definitely silicone items responded in your videos- except that the spots I tested are now noticeably sticky. It’s very odd. Have you ever had a result like this? I’m not sure what to think.
    Thank you so much for your fantastic articles and research!