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.
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 2. 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: However, the flame test is not, I must underscore again, 100% accurate. We knew this, yet we did not know to what degree. In April of 2013 a new organization was created – Dildology - after I managed to secure funds to get a definitive lab test done on my latest “failure” in flame testing. The lab test revealed that despite the reaction to the flame (showing some material destruction, however, still a lot of telltale ash), the item in question was actually true silicone with no other vinyls/other polymers added in for elasticity.
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 we 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 Jollies3 or Fun Factory or We Vibe4.
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. Tantus products have varying levels dimethicone mixed in that will burn and you will see a very pale ash left behind. This ash can then be brushed off and you will see virtually no damage to the silicone. It will not be sticky, there will not be a chunk missing from the product. Products from manufacturers like Lelo, Je Joue and other “luxury” silicone sex toy makers use something 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.
When a flame is taken to these matte-finish silicone toys the material won’t burn at all like the Tantus dildos (and there will be little to no ash) and it won’t melt like silicone blends. The most you’ll see here is some brownish-blackish scorch/carbon marks. These marks will mostly or completely wipe away and the material will be unharmed. Again, there is no stickiness or material loss. The product is not ruined. You may see a change in the material that Metis called “petrified” (think Death Valley-esque texture) but in the cases I’ve had that happen, I was able to scrape that portion off using my fingernail – what was left behind had no visual or “structural” damage and no discernible loss of material.
Silicone items CAN burn but will NOT melt 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.
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?
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 not melt, 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.
Flame Test Failure #1: Hold On To Me Kegel Exerciser from Bedroom Kandi, a line from OhMiBod
I spoke at length with Brian, founder of OhMiBod, regarding my flame test and the material of the kegel ball holders for Hold On To Me but at the end of the day he said that his labs say it is pure food-grade silicone and that his own flame tests did not have the same results as mine (mine are pictured below and shown in the video). Be that as it may, I waited until MomentumCon where I could show my results in person to other people who are experts: both retailers and manufacturers. Every single person immediately said without question: “This doesn’t appear to be silicone”. Brian had told me that flames from a lighter were too hot (incorrectly listing a Bic lighter as 1900 degrees; that isn’t the case, that’s a butane torch not a diffuse flame of a disposable lighter), that instead I should be heating up my oven to about 450 degrees and placing the black holster for the beads directly on the oven rack. Given what had happened during my flame test I simply was not willing to risk having this material burning and sticking to my oven racks. It’s a good thing I didn’t try that. I recently did a similar test while cooking dinner; I had roasted chicken in a 400 degree oven in a metal roasting pan. A few minutes after I pulled it from the oven I reached for the already-very-ruined Hold On To Me holster and simply pressed it to the hot pan. While it was no longer hot enough to deform the material and produce ash, it was hot enough to slightly melt it and make it sticky. That did not happen to my food-grade silicone kitchen utensils. While a pure silicone toy will burn a little bit after the flame is removed, it was never more than a glowing smolder. The HOTM went up in serious flames. Update: Due to the results of the lab test of the JimmyJane Hello Touch, it may not be the case that the HOTM is not pure silicone.
Flame Test Failure #2: 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.
At this point I cannot trust that anything Screaming O packages as “silicone” (as opposed to SEBS, if they even package anything that way) is true silicone and non-porous. I’d advise you to assume the same from this company until they change their shady practice. I’d expect such loop-hole marketing from the likes of Pipedreams, CalEx or Topco or even Doc Johnson but I was surprised to see it with Screaming O since I had heard good things about them.
Products shown in the video below are listed in the order they’re shown: Pleasure Dome Hitachi cap from DownUnder Toys; Lelo Tor II cock ring; Bedroom Kandi Hold on To Me kegel ball holster; Silk Small dildo from Tantus; Super Soft Stretchy C-Ring from Tantus; Fun Factory Ellove. The Pleasure Dome was chosen because the material is thinner and stretchier than the dildos. The Tantus items chosen as “control group” pieces. The Lelo and the Fun Factory were chosen to show what happens to silicone coated with the silky, matte-finish liquid silicone product.
So I’ve now had two companies scoff at the Flame Test, claiming it is unreliable and impossible to achieve similar results every time (except…I did) and these two companies have both said that the flame is too hot (except that one company’s product didn’t melt and one did, and the Tantus didn’t). Metis still stands by the flame test but admits that there are more accurate tests – they’re just not available to consumers, however. I can get a little bit Aspy in my logical thinking skills, I’ll admit, but logic here is telling me:
1. The products known to be true silicone (medical grade like Tantus or food grade like Lelo) simply did not melt or disintegrate. I couldn’t make them melt. I tried!
2. A product known to be a silicone-elastomer blend, the Screaming O Studio Vibrating Makeup Brush, looked and felt just like the Bedroom Kandi Hold On To Me holster. The flame test results were identical there, melting and material destruction and flames.
I believe in the flame test, and not just for “anecdotal” purposes as Lelo deemed it. I recognize that it’s not perfect and when an item appears to fail, I will add it to the “test” list over at Dildology.
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 that lower quality silicone and blends will retain more heat, as will food grade vs medical grade (my Tantus items didn’t retain much heat but the food-grade ones like Lelo did). 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.
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).
Update: If you find an item that you believe is not pure silicone, or not at all silicone, please contact Dildology. We can add it to our list of sex toys to submit for lab testing. We are also working on other “kitchen” tests to help the Home Dildologist better determine silicone purity.
- What is the hottest part of a flame? (I applied only the yellow/orange part of the flame to these toys.)
- What is the temperature of a Bic lighter flame? (Those looking things up online and confusing “butane” temps with a simple lighter will refer to this for accurate information)
- Healthy and Green Sex Toys (Metis Black writes about her take on Tantus silicone and the adult industry)
- 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! ↩
- as opposed to a “blend” – once you mix silicone with Elastomer or TPR, it no longer retains the non-porous properties of true silicone ↩
- 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) ↩
- This is not an exclusive list, these were simply the only other manufacturers I tested ↩
- 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 ↩
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