Advice on cleaning sex toys isn’t hard to find – I particularly like this Wirecutter guide. But what about sex toys that go in your peehole? Should cleaning those be different?
I’ve written before about my advice troubleshooting possible problems when sounding, but how to clean toys deserves a deep dive. After all, cleaning practices can make the difference between whether you ever need to read the linked post or not!
Best Practices for Cleaning Sounding Rods and Other Urethral Toys
In order of preference, I think these are the best ways to make sure your sounds and other toys aren’t carrying any pathogens which could cause an infection.
An autoclave is the gold standard, but most of us don’t have access to one. If you do, congratulations! You really don’t need to read further- just use that on any toys that can tolerate the heat.
Every so often, I’ll see people recommending tiny low-cost devices that are being sold as autoclaves for use in nail salons, such as this example on Amazon. I am simply not convinced that these can properly be called autoclaves, nor that they sterilize tools.
In medical contexts, autoclaves are monitored carefully to be sure they’re effective. Indicators are placed inside each time the autoclave is run, to confirm that appropriate temperatures were reached. Spore tests are also run regularly: spores are among the most difficult things to kill, so to confirm that an autoclave is sterilizing tools, a sample of spores is processed and then sent to a lab to be cultured. (You can read more about autoclave monitoring here.)
If a manufacturer is selling a device as an autoclave but offers no information about how to do proper monitoring, I wouldn’t trust it any more than an Easy-Bake Oven.
Pressure cooker sterilization
While this method is not FDA approved for medical instrument sterilization, pressure cookers create steam under pressure, just as autoclaves do. You can find an instructable here about using a pressure cooker in place of an autoclave. It’s written with a homebrewing focus, but includes plenty of relevant details. You might also be interested in this PubMed article studying the efficacy of pressure cookers for sterilization.
When used for pressure canning food, it’s often recommended to have the gauge tested annually, so that you can be sure the pressure cooker is reaching the pressure (and thus temperature) intended. It’s also possible to use weights sold specifically for the purpose, in lieu of relying on the pressure gauge. These techniques might not be as direct a measure of whether the device will kill spores as an autoclave spore test, but that’s the goal here too: one of the primary dangers if low-acid foods are canned at too low of a temperature is that spores of botulism will survive and be able to multiply in the preserved food!
If you have a pressure cooker but aren’t able to have the gauge tested annually, or if you’d like to be even more certain that it’s working as an autoclave substitute, you can buy spore test kits online and simply mail them in for evaluation.
The most common pressure cooker at present is probably the Instant Pot, but Instant Pots are not recommended for pressure canning due to uncertainty about the temperatures reached and possible fluctuations in temperature and pressure. This doesn’t mean you can’t use your Instant Pot as a makeshift substitute for an autoclave, but I wanted to mention that it may not be quite as effective as a traditional stovetop pressure cooker.
Boiling isn’t routinely used for medical instruments, but it’s a common way for people to sanitize things like silicone dildos, kitchen tools, menstrual cups, and other things we use in daily life which we’d like to be as clean as possible.
I’ve seen recommendations ranging from 3 minutes to 10 minutes of boiling time. Because I don’t boil anything that I’m not sure can withstand that treatment, I go ahead and err on the long side, letting toys keep boiling for a full ten minutes. After all, most of the time this process takes is the time for the water to reach a boil & the time waiting for toys to cool. Letting the water boil for an extra few minutes doesn’t feel like a hardship to me.
High-level chemical disinfection
For toys that can’t withstand heat, such as vibrators, high-level chemical disinfection is likely to be the best we can do in a home setting. There’s abundant- although dense and very dry- information on these options on the CDC’s website.
The chemical in this category that’s most common in most of our houses is bleach, sodium hypochlorite. If you choose to go this route, do be careful about which bleach you choose! What you want is “chlorine bleach” rather than anything advertised as “color-safe” or similar. Some non-chlorine bleach is hydrogen peroxide, which is also a chemical used for high-level disinfection, but when it’s being sold for laundry purposes the concentration is not high enough for reliable disinfection. Other non-chlorine bleach products are made of sodium percarbonate.
Once you’ve made certain that your bleach is indeed sodium hypochlorite, you’ll need to dilute it for use. Recommendations do vary, but if your household bleach is 5.25% sodium hypochlorite, then a 1:10 dilution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) is often recommended.
An important downside of using bleach to disinfect sounding toys is that it can corrode metals. I don’t recommend putting corroded metal in your urethra… or any other hole, to be honest!
What I Actually Do
How do I clean my own toys, though? Well, mostly I simply wash them with soap and hot water. Typically I use dish soap or liquid castile soap, but any soap with decent grease-cutting properties should work well to disrupt the lipid membrane of pathogens.
Yes, this is quite different from what I see as best practices! I’ve found through experience that my urinary tract microbiome is quite sturdy, and I haven’t had any problems with this approach. If you don’t have this level of experience, the odds are good that you might want to take a different approach!
Things I’d Consider When Deciding How Careful To Be
Will toys be shared?
If you’re going to be sharing your sounding toys with someone else, especially if they aren’t someone you’re in the habit of swapping fluids with, I recommend boiling or a pressure cooker, because then my concerns would include STIs.
Do you have a history of UTIs?
Some people are more susceptible to urinary tract infections than others. If you have a history of UTIs, I’d interpret that as your body telling you that you need to err on the careful side if you’re going to be playing with your urethra.
Are you more at risk of harm from infections than most people?
For example, are you immunocompromised, or do you take medicine that suppresses your immune response, such as corticosteroids?
Would it be difficult for you to access medical care if needed?
If you’re reluctant to see a doctor because of cost, fear of judgment, or other barriers, then I would imagine you’d want to make especially sure that you’re as careful as possible. While a UTI is typically a minor inconvenience for someone who’s healthy and receives treatment quickly, if left untreated it could become serious. Undiagnosed and untreated UTIs in elderly people have even been known to cause symptoms mistaken for dementia, and they can increase confusion for people with dementia.
Are antibiotics especially hard on your body?
Some people find that they struggle with getting their microbiome back in good working order after a course of antibiotics. For example, they might get yeast infections after they’ve taken antibiotics, or they might notice a change in their gut health and their digestion.
If that sounds like you, it would make sense to do your best to avoid needing antibiotics!
Are you simply more risk-averse than I am?
Your own comfort level is also a totally valid detail to base safety decisions on! I’m comfortable with the idea that my extreme play may cause me short-term injuries, but not everyone takes that approach.
Which examples to follow
One more thing to consider is that, while it’s easy to conclude that the things you frequently see people doing in photos and videos online must be safe, that isn’t necessarily the case.
When you pick up information about sounding safety practices online, do you know for sure whether that information is coming from someone new to urethral play whose habits simply haven’t backfired yet, someone experienced who knows that their body is quite tolerant, or someone who likes to be very careful? I would caution against taking what appears to be a community norm and treating it as a hard and fast answer on what will be safe for your unique body.
I had a conversation related to this with worthlessholes, one of the few people I know whose urethra is stretched larger than mine! (Conversation edited, with permission, for length and clarity.)
worthlessholes: “I’ve only had 2 UTIs in five years of doing this, and both were actually pretty early on. We are very diligent in washing toys and hands, and always using fresh/sterile lube. Most people who are serious about it are pretty diligent with cleaning protocols. I find most UTI stories are with beginners. The few of us super advanced players seem to never really have problems.”
strangecares: “I do agree that part of it is that experienced sounding enthusiasts tend to be diligent about cleanliness. I wonder, though, if another part of the difference is just that if someone is susceptible to UTIs, they might try sounding but they don’t continue, so they never get serious about stretching. Which causes which- are people less likely to get UTIs because they’re serious about their play, or are they more likely to get serious about this kind of play if their bodies just happen to be more resistant to UTIs?
I’m thoughtful about the risks I take, but I do think that some of the things I do might cause problems for someone else’s microbiome!”
worthlessholes: “I’ve had the same thoughts! I also wonder if some people’s urinary tracts also get more resistant over time with continued exposure?”
strangecares: “That’s been one of my theories too! I have a suspicion that my bladder has probably been colonized pretty thoroughly by vaginal flora, which I would expect to make it more resilient against other microbes taking over. (Not to the same degree as my vagina itself, because bladders don’t do that neat trick where they acidify themselves, of course.)”