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. 

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 Oddity #1: Studio Line Vibrating Makeup Brush from Screaming O

Not shown is the Screaming O Studio Line Makeup Brush; it was subjected to a flame test and it behaved in exactly the same way as the Bedroom Kandi HOTM. There was destruction of material – I had sticky, gooey black material on my fingers that reminded me of what happens to bike tires on a really hot summer day – and it burned nicely, but there was ash. At the time, Screaming O said 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. UPDATE: what actually has happened with Screaming O materials isn’t that they were lying to us, but they had been lied to. Years ago the manufacturing plant claimed this material, SEBS, was a “silicone elastomer blend”. Pepper in some of that “10% myth” because they didn’t know any better, and Screaming O actually had no idea what materials they were using. They do NOW, and we know that there’s no such thing as homogenizing elastomers and silicone to create a blend, plus Screaming O now admits their SEBS rings were never silicone. So what the hell was this makeup brush? The same as the Bedroom Kandi holster – a super-soft silicone in small pieces that burn up easily. The ash means dimethicone is burning.

Flame Test Oddity #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. UPDATE: Screaming O now admits their SEBS rings were never silicone. They were wrong for years, they believed something a manufacturing plant told them ages ago and just ran with it. After enough people like us kept saying “hey, this really isn’t silicone” they ran tests and publicly admitted their wrongness.

{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.

For a complete guide on how to do the flame test and to see results, with a list of “not silicone” vs “silicone” traits, go here.

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” 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! If you have uncertainties though, before going public, feel free to contact me and I’ll help decipher the results.

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