It’s always been my personal opinion that, for most people and circumstances, simple sex toy cleaning methods are generally best. I’ve never liked “sex toy cleaner” solutions and have made my own simple cleaning wipes. But today I want to talk about the UV Light sex toy cleaning boxes that have been added to the lineup recently. Using UV-C light to kill wigglies isn’t new – I bought a similar item to keep my toothbrushes clean a few years ago. And sure, UV-C will kill stuff, but as Kenton so eloquently put it to me: “but, other things don’t not kill stuff”. A year ago there was another brand selling a UV-C light box, Dorr. SheVibe doesn’t carry it anymore; I so far can only find it on shadier sites like AdamEve, Sextoy.com, and Amazon. It’s considerably cheaper than the UVEE, but also seems to be smaller and doesn’t double as a charging station.
In this post I’m focusing on the selling points that UVEE is making for their product (and against other cleaning methods) because I feel it’s important to look critically at their claims to help you decide if the expensive light box is worth it.
ETA: For further information on sanitizing standards and more, start with this article on sanitizing via your dishwasher. In the first paragraph there are links to articles about sanitizing, disinfecting, and more.
I keep getting approached to review the UVEE sex toy cleaning box by the company and every time I’ve been approached, I’ve fired back with a lot of questions. They have always answered me, but I’ve never been quite convinced that the UVEE is something I should recommend to my readers. Sometimes it’s a money issue I keep coming back to – most of my readers can’t afford to drop $120 and up for something that isn’t going to get them off. Mostly it’s a “but this isn’t really necessary” issue combined with a little “yeah, but, will this actually work?” skepticism.
One of my biggest complaints about the UVEE isn’t actually about the UVEE system itself, but the fact that they seem to be using scare tactics to tell you that whatever cleaning method you’re using, it isn’t enough. On their site: “Bottom line, you can clean your toys but without UV-C you can’t sanitize them.” This feels dangerous, to me, because then people may think “well I can’t afford the UVEE and nothing else is effective, so why bother?” But last year the Head of Operations said this: “Yes, there are ways to sanitize without UV-C, including bleach, alcohol, and soap & water. However, we don’t believe this is something the average person actually does.”
That last line contradicts their current website claims.
Wherein They Put Down Alcohol and Bleach
Recently their latest PR company contacted a number of bloggers with a list of bullet-points that counters every cleaning method I’d asked them about in the past when they’d reach out, and they claim that UV-C light is superior to all of these things1. When I got to the bullet point that says, and I quote: “Alcohol and bleach – can destroy surface materials and change body’s natural pH balance”, well, I think you know my reaction.
I specifically countered to them the last time that these two cleaning methods are well-accepted by many medical organizations as a way to disinfect. And most bloggers and educators will take the time to explain to people that you do not just pour on unadulerated bleach, let it air dry, and go forth and fuck. You use a solution of bleach and water (10% bleach, 90% water) and then you rinse it off well with water or mild soap and water.
This means there’s not anything left on the sex toy to harm your body, right? When I Google “will bleach on your sex toy harm your pH” I see the same, generic rhetoric without anybody linking to a study that details whether or not this effect happens if the person does not rinse/wash the evaporated alcohol/bleach off the sex toy. When I see a study that tells me otherwise, I will change my opinion on alcohol and bleach cleaning. Until then, I decided to run a little experiment and y’all know how I love doing that. More on that in a minute.
And alcohol? Rubbing alcohol can sometimes create swelling of silicone but that will return to normal as you let the item air dry. It doesn’t cause any lasting harm. Some sex toy manufacturers may caution against using it because of this temporary swelling, due to customer complaints and customers thinking their item is defective. It is also possible (but I have no idea on the liklihood) that rubbing alcohol could do harm to a polyurethane coating which sometimes exists on silicone products.
When I asked the person I go to the most these days for science-y stuff (Kenton, if you haven’t figured that out by now), his response told me all I needed to know about their claims against alcohol and bleach. I also work at a company that uses silicone products and cleans them with alcohol, to no detriment.
The pH Experiment
It’s pretty simple – Start with a water-based liquid solution. Test the pH. In a different container let a silicone sex toy hang out in something with a very different pH, rinse it, then put the sex toy in the control liquid container and swish it around and re-test the pH of the control liquid. I started with tap water (pH was around 6.5) and used vinegar because that’s what I easily had on hand at the moment. Vinegar had a pH of somewhere around 3. When I then put the vinegar-soaked-and-then-rinsed silicone back in the tap water and re-tested the pH of the water I found no change to the pH.
While this is a very rudimentary experiment, the experiment combined with the expert input from others tells me that it’s not going to change your body’s pH to clean sex toys in rubbing alcohol or bleach so long as you rinse (water or soap and water) and then air-dry if you used alcohol.
Boiling Water Isn’t Good Enough?
They also tried to tell us that “Boiling water will not kill bacteria and can damage the toys”. Again, context. Are you talking about a vibrator? They do mention electronics on the website but not in their PR pitch. Sure as hell that’ll destroy a vibrator. But most bloggers and educators take the time to spell out “don’t put anything with a motor in boiling water”. We also tell folks that it needs to be in the boiling water for about 10 minutes – dildo soup! They also state that a dishwasher can damage toys. Yes, it can, if people aren’t educated to avoid using detergent in the cycle and if they put a toy with a motor in there. From what I’ve read a dishwasher can only sanitize your sex toys if the dishwasher has a sanitize cycle – anything less and you’re just getting them a little more clean.
Sex Toy Cleansers
And then they talk about sex toy cleaning “foams and gels”, which as I’ve said, I dislike. They’re not necessary, especially in light of using affordable, readily available, rubbing alcohol and bleach (diluted). Unless you have an active infection or plan to use a sex toy between untested partners or plan to use a sex toy between ass and vagina, mild soap and warm water are enough. Mild soap, warm water, and a few minutes of rubbing are what every doctor will tell you to employ to keep yourself healthy during cold and flu season, yet somehow this is not good enough for sex toys?
However, my final skepticism comes from, well, good ole sex-toy-industry-skepticism. They can tell me they have run lab tests. They can show me the lab tests. But what do I have at home to prove that the UV light is killing whatever might have been on the sex toy in the first place?
Nothing. This may come off very conspiracy-theory because there’s also nothing telling me that I’ve gotten my sex toys disinfected at home with my own methods, right?
It Cleans What It Sees
Here’s the other aspect of UV-C light being used to sanitize: It can only clean what it sees, essentially. The light has to hit the spot. The UVEE box has lights on the bottom and top and seems to do a pretty good job of avoiding shadows but I don’t think it’s foolproof for every sex toy. Because you can’t see what’s happening, you won’t know if you missed a spot with the light. When I’m cleaning by hand I can feel pretty confident that I’ve washed all the surfaces.
Porous Materials and UV-C Light
I also asked about the porous materials, at one point, because if UV light could sanitize a porous material then that could be very awesome. Most people who buy porous sex toys cannot afford the UVEE, but I’m thinking specifically about the people who spend money on masturbation sleeves like Tenga and Fleshlight – they’re not cheap! Because the UV light can only kill what it can “see” it’s surface-only for opaque materials – which is no better than any other cleaning method since we know that bacteria, yeast and other things can make a home down in the pores. If it’s completely clear, then it’s possible. There are clear Fleshlight sleeves, and you can remove them from their cases, so I will cautiously approve it for that. The Tenga Flip Hole material may also be clear enough for this to work, but again…without an indepedant lab test I am extremely reluctant to tell you it’ll work. I’d want to cut into the product to make sure it sanitized down into the pores.
Specifically, here is what I was told from the company:
The UV-C light can eliminate bacteria as deep as light can penetrate. Light can penetrate deeper (even all the way through) in lighter/ clear/more transparent toys than it can darker or more opaque toys. We have tested our systems on many of the materials that pleasure products are made out of including jelly (which is quite porous), our study found our system to be over 99.9% effective at eliminating bacteria, which is 3-5 times more effective than foam and spray cleaners. Bacteria is killed quickly under UV-C light but our systems run longer than the time necessary to kill the bacteria, this gives more time for the light to penetrate materials. Also, we did a specific study on “complex devices”, specifically the Magic Wand. This is called a crevice test, and we were able to prove that our system is 99.9% effective at eliminating bacteria on complex devices as well. As you know, these devices are not water proof and problematic to properly clean in the nooks and crannies.
A reader recently asked me about combining the UVEE with a Womanizer, because they felt that the Womanizer was hard to thoroughly clean. Again I am concerned about the “shadows” in the nozzles and that that therefore makes it possibly less effective than the following method: Remove the silicone nozzle and wash it in soap and water or soak it in a 10% bleach solution for 10 minutes – followed by a thorough rinse and air dry. Use a Q-tip or paper towel corner to get some rubbing alcohol swabbed inside the hard plastic nozzle of the toy, or just soapy water. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Re-assemble.
The bottom line is that the UVEE system will appeal to a small percentage of folx, and that’s fine. I’m not here to shame your choice in the matter and I’m not here to say that the UVEE, or similar products, are 100% useless. I’m writing this because the claims made in favor of the UVEE system, claims which put down perfectly good (and accessible) cleaning methods feels wrong and dangerous. I want people to understand that they do not *need* UV light to clean their sex toys properly and thoroughly.
If you absolutely hate taking the time to properly clean your sex toys then by all means get that UVEE system. If you’re in situations where sex toys will be shared – or used anally and then vaginally – and you’re not able to get easy access to alcohol or bleach, etc, then a UV light box could be right for you. If you don’t have the spoons or physical ability to clean things properly every time, that’s valid, too. Get that UVEE. But I want to offset the marketing buzz with some logic, education, and a healthy dose of skepticism. Unlike the creators of UVEE I feel that the general population of sex toy owners doesn’t need such an expensive tool for cleaning, it’s a niche product.
- these claims are also on the website ↩