Are second hand sex toys safe?

Second Hand Sex Toys

Rose MacDowell
If you love sex toys but don’t want to break the bank for a new one, you may be tempted by the idea of buying second hand. After all, why pay full price when you can get a used toy for less? And keep it from ending up in a landfill? 

    A high-quality, brand name sex toy can cost upwards of $100, making used toys look like a bargain. But is it safe to use a pre-loved sex toy? 

    Come along as we dive into the trending topic of second hand sex toys. We’ll discuss the ins and outs of buying a pre-owned toy, how to know if they’re free from bacteria and other pathogens, and the precautions you can take for safety and peace of mind.

    Do People Really Buy Used Sex Toys?

    The market for used sex toys is here – and it’s growing. Online shops are popping up in response to increasing demand, and various Facebook groups and Reddit forums are awash in used vibrators, dildos, and anal toys. 

    Surprised? Well, this niche industry offers a unique and affordable alternative for sex toy lovers in search of a deal, or, in some cases, a product they can’t find anywhere else.

    Here are some of the most common reasons for buying a used sex toy:

    It’s better for the environment

    Most sex toys, even those made from glass, aren’t recyclable. Of those that are, many need to be taken apart and recycled or discarded in pieces. When you buy a used toy, you reduce waste by giving new life to an item that would have been thrown away. 

    It’s less expensive

    When you go sex toy thrifting, you spend less money than you would on new toys. Whether your tastes run to the simple or the feature-packed, a pre-owned toy will cost less almost every time. 

    It’s easier to find unusual or discontinued toys

    Collectors and lovers of interesting and hard-to-find pleasure products may find their next treasure on a used sex toy site. The original Magic Wand from the 70s, with its brown and orange color scheme, may not be in stock on websites that sell new toys, but it lives on in the listings on used toy sites and social media groups. 

    A used toy can be cleaned

    Fans of used sex toys point out that, like most other objects, sex toys can be cleaned thoroughly. As long as you choose a toy made non-porous material and give it a proper going-over before use, it poses little to no danger, especially if it comes from a reliable source. 

    Used toy skeptics, on the other hand, mention the potential hygiene and safety risks these products could pose if they're not cleaned properly. So, which side is right, and can the right cleaning method eliminate all bacteria and viruses? Let's find out. 

    Which Used Sex Toys Are Safest?

    When it comes to pre-owned sex toys, all materials are not created equal. Porous materials absorb bacteria and microparticles of bodily fluid, and can't be properly cleaned by any method. Porous sex toy materials include:

    • PVC, also known as polyvinyl chloride
    • TPE/TPR. These acronyms stand for thermoplastic elastomer and thermoplastic rubber
    • Ordinary plastic
    • Vinyl
    • Rubber

    Learn more: Are TPE Sex Toys Safe?

    Non-porous materials have become the gold standard for sex toys, and are often referred to as "body-safe." Some used toy websites sell toys made exclusively from non-porous materials. These materials include:

    • Silicone
    • Stainless steel
    • Borosilicate glass
    • ABS plastic 
    • Wood and stone that have been treated with a non-porous sealant that makes them body-safe

    Because bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens can't penetrate non-porous materials, these materials are easier to clean, sanitize, and sterilize. When shopping for a used sex toy, look for non-porous materials only.

    Bacteria and viruses may not penetrate non-porous materials, but they can still live on the surface. How can they be cleaned well enough before use? By sanitizing or sterilizing.

    Learn more: What Is Body-Safe Silicone?

      Sanitizing Vs. Sterilizing 

      Sanitizing and sterilizing are intended to make a material safer, less likely to cause infection, and reduce exposure to pathogens. So how are they different? 

      Sanitizing reduces the number of microorganisms to what is generally considered a safe level, whereas sterilizing completely eliminates all microorganisms. Sanitizing is often used in food preparation, while sterilizing is used in medical settings to prevent the spread of infections.

      Sterilizing a sex toy can be difficult if the toy contains a motor or is not waterproof.

      Most sellers of used sex toys promise to clean and sanitize or sterilize an item before shipping it out. For safety, we advise giving the toy another deep clean when it arrives. Most used sex toys websites and group recommend an additional clean, as well.   

      How To Clean A Used Sex Toy

      Start by giving the toy a surface clean to remove dust and dirt. Waterproof toys can washed under running water with mild soap or toy cleaner. Toys that aren't waterproof should be wiped clean with toy cleaner and a damp towel. 

      Be sure to get clean around charging ports, under wand heads, and around control buttons, being careful not to submerged non-waterproof items. Use a soft toothbrush and/or cotton swabs to clean hard-to-reach crevices. Dispose of all cleaning tools once you finish with them. 

      Dry the toy or allow it air dry. Then inspect it to make sure all surfaces are clean and gunk-free. Let the toy sit for 24 hours to allow remaining bacteria to die off. One study showed that HPV, a sexually transmissible virus, can live on the surface of a nonporous toy for up to 24 hours after the toy is cleaned. 

      Once you've done a careful surface clean, it's time to move on the deeper phase of the cleaning process. 

      Learn more: How To Clean Your Sex Toys

      How To Sanitize A Used Sex Toy

      To kill more pathogens, use 70% isopropyl alcohol, antibacterial soap, or bleach wipes to clean your used toy. This method can be used on toys that can't be exposed to high temperatures, such as those with motors and parts that might melt.  

      Following these tips for sanitizing a used sex toy:

      • Do not use alcohol or bleach on plastic parts or design features that may be damaged by chemicals
      • Never mix alcohol and bleach
      • Protect your hands and eye from harsh chemicals and work in a well-ventilated space
      • After sanitizing, rinse the toy, then wash it again with mild soap and water or toy spray

      How To Sterilize A Used Sex Toy

      Used toys can be sterilized with boiling water, chemicals, or UV light. Choose your method according to the type of toy you have, and follow the steps carefully. 


      If your toy is made from stainless steel or silicone and has no motor, boiling is easiest sterilization method. It may also be the most effective. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, drop the toy in carefully using tongs, and boil for at least 20 minutes.

      Certain types of toys should not be boiled, including:

      • Toys with motors or batteries
      • Toys with gems 
      • Toys made from blended silicone rather than 100% pure silicone
      • Any toy made with plastic or other components that could melt or be damaged by high temperatures

      Remove the toy from the boiling water with clean tongs and allow to air dry. A boiled toy can be extremely hot, so be careful not to let it come in contact with your skin.

      Learn more: Can I Boil My Sex Toys?


      To sterilize a silicone, stainless steel, or glass toy using chemicals, use a solution of 10% bleach and 90% cold water. A waterproof toy with no plastic parts can be soaked in the bleach solution, while a non-waterproof toy should be wiped down instead.

      Allow the bleach solution to stay in contact with the toy for at least ten minutes. Wash and rinse thoroughly. 

      Remember: never combine bleach and alcohol, and use only cold water. When used with hot water, bleach will release noxious gases that are unsafe to breathe. Work in a well-ventilated space when using chemicals of any kind.  

      UV light

      To sterilize a used toy using UV light, use a UV sterilizer specifically designed for sex toys and follow the instructions. Be careful not to expose your eyes or skin to the UV light. Turn the toy several times and re-sterilize to make sure all parts of the toy have been adequately exposed. 

      All toys, no matter what their material, can safely be sterilized using a UV light sex toy cleaner. You can even use the sterilizer for keys, credit cards, and other household items like toothbrushes and retainers. 

      Our Take

      So, how do we feel about used sex toys? While we love the idea of reduce, reuse, recycle, we're still on the fence when it comes to the safety of pre-owned pleasure products.

      Sanitizing or, preferably, sterilizing can go a long way toward reducing risk, but there's no way to check the health or STI status of a former user when you buy a used vibe or dildo. We feel better about toys that can be boiled, but even boiled silicone can retain the odors of the body it once belonged to. We would find this distracting and, well, not sexy. 

      Until there's a way to guarantee the safety of used sex toys and fully remove odors from silicone, we'll stick with new toys fresh out of the package. We'd rather save up for the toy of our dreams, or try a slightly less pricey option than wonder who's been sleeping with our toy at night. It feels safer, and for us, safety is key to pleasure.