Okay, look. A blog post talking about sex toy materials isn’t very exciting. You know that, we know that.
But, truth be told, a lot of the nerd shit we talk about here isn’t the most exciting stuff. But it’s important stuff to talk about, so you can make properly informed decisions when buying stuff to stick inside your body.
This is going to be a long post, and we’ll be covering everything from the most popular sex toy materials, to the niche materials, to the unsafe ones. There’s a lot of nuance in this area, and we’re only doing a high level overview.
But you should come out of this post with a basic working expertise on how to choose a material for your next sex toy purchase. Enough preamble, let’s begin!
Understanding The Sex Toy Materials Minefield
The fact is that sex has been a booming industry with lots of money to be made. And that money attract unethical manufacturers who are willing to use the cheapest possible materials, with little regard if those materials are safe for use as a sex toy.
Often what you see is foreign manufacturers (with lax quality control laws) doing the bare minimum to be able to technically say their toy is made of silicone or steel. For example, making metal toys out of toxic heavy metals, and then doing a cheap chrome-plating job to make it look like stainless steel. But guess what happens when that cheap chrome plating starts to flake off…
This is why we really do recommend buying only from reputable, name-brand manufacturers. You get what you pay for, and neither of us would put a toy made of questionable materials anywhere near our orifices.
Anyways, there’s a couple of main categories when it comes to sex toy materials:
- Non-porous, nontoxic, & hard (Glass, metal, and treated wood)
- Non-porous, nontoxic, & soft (Silicone)
- Nontoxic and soft, but porous (TPR, PVC, Latex)
- Toxic and/or porous (Jellies, heavy metals, painted toys)
Here’s a quick cheat sheet that we’ll get into more detail on shortly:
Silicone: The Holy Grail of Sex Toy Materials
The only soft, nonporous, nontoxic, and body-safe material. Silicone is functionally nonporous, meaning it does have pores but they’re so tiny they don’t harbor bacteria or fungi. Silicone is kind of the holy grail of sex toy materials for a few reasons:
- It’s nonporous. That means there aren’t tiny holes in the surface that can harbor bacteria or other dirt
- It’s nontoxic. It can’t make you sick, and is relatively hypoallergenic.
- It’s temperature resistant. Real silicone doesn’t melt or burn (see: the flame test), and doesn’t become brittle in minor cold.
- It’s flexible. Silicone toys can bend inside the body which is ideal for dildos or other penetrating toys.
- It’s soft. Silicone feels a lot like real skin which makes it an ideal surface for external stimulators, and a give that allows larger penetrating toys to feel comfortable.
- It’s relatively cheap. Not as cheap as some other plastics and rubbers (we’ll get to that), but in general it’s very affordable and easy to work with for a range of toys.
This is why the vast majority of sex toys we review – and the majority of sex toys for sale, period – make heavy use of silicone.
Silicone toys must be used with a water or oil-based lube. The tiny particles in a silicone-based lube will cause friction with the silicone in your toys, which will cause micro tears and damage. This will ultimately cause your toys to break down inside you while you use them, and shorten the life span of your toys.
Water-based lubricants do dry out quickly when exposed to air (in 5-15 minutes), so be sure to reapply often. You can use an oil-based lube like coconut oil with your silicone toys, which is the way to go if you’re planning on wearing your toy for an extended period of time.
Types of Silicone in Sex Toys
The gold standard of silicone isn’t actually gold at all – it’s called platinum, or medical-grade silicone. This is pure silicone with no additives or fillers. It will not burn when exposed to flame, and will not degrade over time. This is the only kind of silicone that is tested to be 100% safe with human bodies.
There’s also food grade silicone, which is a bit cheaper and generally safe. “Food Grade” means it has been tested to be safe for heating and cooling with food and cooking, and that particles do not break off when heated.
This is generally considered a safe enough material for sex toys, although it’s worth noting that the data is still out, and more research needs to be done. Mucous membranes like the vagina and anus are not the same as the mouth or food, so we’ll need to keep an eye on the research.
Still, pure silicone should be inert and generally safe for use in sex toys.
Jelly / Silicone Blends
Some cheap silicone sex toys are made with lower quality blends of silicone, that sometimes have rubber fillers or other additives. This may lose their shape or ooze when exposed to heat, and may also burn under a direct flame.
Any silicone blends should be absolutely avoided and considered unsafe as a default. Who knows what actual materials or chemicals they used to make the silicone blend?
These cheaper silicone blends are typically seen in knockoff toys from overseas manufacturers, and sold on Amazon for a fraction of the price. These ‘fly-by-night’ manufacturers can advertise whatever they need to, and if they get called out they just close down and open up shop under a new name to continue their shady practices.
Cleaning Your Silicone Sex Toys
Cleaning your silicone sex toys is really easy and forgiving. You don’t need expensive cleaners that websites or sex store reps may try to sell you. All you need is some warm soapy water, and some physical agitation on the surface of the toy. If your toys are smooth, your hands will be plenty. If the toy has ridges or grooves, you may want to use a washcloth or small brush like a toothbrush.
Metal Toys: Stainless Steel and Aluminum
Metal sex toys provide a lot of interesting options and alternatives when compared to the ever-popular silicone toys. Let’s take a look at some of the properties of metal toys vs silcone:
- Nonporous and Nontoxic – Like silicone, stainless steel and aluminum are both nonporous and nontoxic, which makes them great choices for sex toy materials
- Hardness – obviously, metal toys are hard and have no ‘give’ like silicone does. This means a metal toy might feel a bit wider / girther than a same-sized silicone toy. This hardness also allows for pinpointing pressure on pleasure zones like the clit, G-spot, or prostate. Keep in mind hard toys can also get uncomfortable over long periods of time.
- Weight – Steel toys weigh significantly more than silicone toys, which can provide some additional sensation just based off body movements. The added weight can also apply pressure based on gravity alone for those with mobility or joint issues. Keep in mind aluminum is NOT heavy like steel, and is much closer to the weight of conventional toys.
- Temperature Play – metal sex toys conduct temperature very well. This means they can be heated in warm water or cooled in the freezer prior to insertion for some thrilling sensations. Even at room temperature, steel toys will feel cool at first, and the sensations will slowly change as your toy warms up to body temperature,
- Lubricants – Metal toys can be used with all kinds of lubricant – water, silicone, or oil-based. This makes them highly adaptable to whatever the situation calls for. The use with silicone lube also makes metal butt plugs particularly excellent for daily wear, something you can’t do with silicone toys.
Stainless Steel vs Aluminum
Most metal sex toys you find online will be stainless steel. Or at least they’ll claim to be stainless steel.
Real stainless steel sex toys are heavy – which is one of the best perks of the material. Think of how heavy and solid stainless steel silverware is – that’s the feeling we’re talking about. Toys made of stainless steel and damn near indestructible, and that extra weight leads to some excellent stimulation.
Aluminum is less common, but there are some premium manufacturers who use it. Aluminum is much lighter by comparison, but also lends itself to some nifty colors as aluminum can be anodized. This process is completely body-safe, and makes for some very unique metal sex toys.
Cleaning Your Metal Sex Toys
Similar to silicone toys, metal is very easy to clean – just some warm, soapy water and you should be good to go. Toys that are completely steel or aluminum can also be thrown in the top rack of your dishwasher with no problems. Just be careful of toys that might have rubber or plastic attachments on the handle or body that might not do well with extreme heat!
Glass Dildos, Plugs, and Wands
Glass as a sex toy material is complicated.
At the macro level, glass is probably closer to stainless steel than any other sex toy material on the market. It is similarly hard, nonporpous, and nontoxic. It is heavier than silicone and aluminum but not quite as heavy as stainless steel.
This also means glass toys are great for use with any kind of lube, and are great for hitting key pleasure points (G-spot, prostate) due to the extra firmness of the material.
This is where it starts to get tricky. The primary difference between glass and metal is brittleness and how the material responds to stress. Most types of glass have some patterns of stress running throughout the material. These aren’t visible to the naked eye, but can be easily seen with the polarized lens of a polariscope:
As Dangerous Lily put it when conducting her own research on glass sex toy safety (seriously, give this post a read), ideally you’ll see little to no stress if you look at your glass toy under a polarized lens. However, some internal stress can actually strengthen glass, and unless you’re a professional at this it can be hard to tell for sure.
Let’s get into two of the safer types of glass used for making glass sex toys: borosilicate glass and soda lime glass.
Borosilicate glass is a temperature-resistant type of glass made with (as its name implies) boron and more silica than regular glass. It is extremely resistant to temperature changes, and is less dense than regular glass which makes it less prone to breaking when dropped.
Borosilicate glass is the type used in most cookware and laboratory equipment. It is sold under the following brand names (just to list some of the more common ones):
- DURAN (Schott)
- Pyrex (Corning, formerly)
We say formerly because Corning sold the Pyrex brand, and the new ownership switched many of their products to soda lime glass. So if a sex toy says it’s made of Pyrex – just know that doesn’t mean borosilicate glass like it used to.
Soda Lime Glass
Soda lime is typically weaker than borosilicate glass. The key word being typically.
Most soda lime glass – used in everyday objects like drinking glasses – is used because it can be made relatively cheaply and quickly. However, soda lime glass can be further annealed for added strength.
Annealing essentially heats the finished glass up gradually to a high temperature, then gradually allows it to cool at a controlled rate. This process reduces the stress patterns in the final product, resulting in a glass that is several times more durable. This means that annealed soda lime glass is ideal for sex toys because it is even more durable than borosilicate glass.
Keep in mind borosilicate glass can also be annealed for extra durability, but few manufacturers go to the extra lengths because regular borosilicate glass is usually durable enough. Compared to regular soda lime which is not nearly strong enough to be used for sex toys.
The only glass toy maker we’re aware of that uses annealed borosilicate glass is Hedonic Glassworks, which results in an extremely high quality, durable glass toy.
Choosing a Safe Glass Toy
So given the mess of info above, how do we actually choose a safe glass sex toy? Many product descriptions simply don’t provide the info we need to make an informed choice before purchasing, and the lines between “which type of glass is safest” are blurry.
We’ve found two key red flags to look out for when buying a glass sex toy:
- Intricate 3D shapes & sharp curves – glass is safest when the internal structure of the molecules are allowed to align and minimize stress patterns. Glass toys with jarring angles or sharp lines are more likely to crack and break, even without being dropped.
- Unusual colors & shine – rather than use colored glass, a cheap way to give glass color is to coat it with a paint or chemical to give it a shine. These chemicals are not safe for internal use and should be avoided at all costs. Not all colored glass toys are unsafe – there are many beautiful colored ones that are works of art. Just be wary when buying a cheaper, colorful glass sex toy.
When it comes to glass, we’ve found the best route is to partly consider the product description, and to partly just use common sense. Product descriptions can be vague (or downright lie), especially when it comes to materials used in the product. And given the ‘legally correct’ terminology is itself somewhat grey, it makes buying glass toys a real minefield.
Instead, find manufacturers that have been proven to make high quality toys and that you can trust via reviews from customers and the larger sex toy community online. Don’t put something suspiciously cheap inside you, and always inspect your glass toys for stress marks or chips before use.
Wood and Stone
Yes, there are some specialty makers out there who do work in wood and stone sex toys. There aren’t a lot to choose from, but we thought it was worth mentioning.
Wood and stone are both hard materials that are actually porous by default. This means that any wood or stone sex toys need to undergo a curing process with a body-safe material, otherwise you risk bacteria and mold getting into the pores of your expensive artisan toy.
There aren’t many of these out there, and we honestly don’t have much experience with them so we’ll hold off from commenting further until we get our hands on one.
Questionable Materials With Specific Uses
These toys fall under the “maybe” category as far as sex toy materials go. They aren’t directly dangerous, but they have some properties that raise some red flags for use in a sex toy. That said, they also have some redeeming qualities that make them useful for a niche category of sex toy.
ABS Hard Plastic
Our first less-common hard material is ABS plastic – that hard plastic you’re familiar with on many household objects. ABS plastic is light and cheap, but extremely durable and firm.
Because of this hardness, it’s not as comfortable for penetrating toys as silicone, and it doesn’t provide the same sensations as glass or metal. That said, it does a great job of transmitting vibrations which makes it an ideal material for many external or bullet vibrators.
That’s pretty much the only use we recommend for ABS plastic sex toys. It makes for great vibrators, but is less-than-ideal for penetrating toys. You also do have to beware some manufacturers actually painting these kinds of toys to give them a more luxurious look and feel. Painted toys should never be put anywhere near a mucous membrane, and should be avoided at all costs.
But otherwise, ABS plastic is a fine material choice for a vibrator.
TPR / TPE / Elastomer
TPR/TPE/Elastomer are all variants of rubber blends, commonly marketed as “trufeel” or “realskin”. This is because these materials are all quite soft, and are probably the closest approximation to actual skin feeling.
Sounds great, right?
Not so fast – part of why these materials feel so soft and flexible is because they are porous. That means that they can harbor bacteria and dirt after use. It also means they can grow mold if not properly kept dry after being cleaned.
Because of their ability to act as little bacteria traps, we don’t recommend dildos or other penetrating toys made of these materials. They also have a tendency to degrade over time, which makes them doubly unsafe for putting inside your body. You could use one with a condom… but honestly quality silicone toys would be cheaper than having to buy condoms in the long run.
That said, these materials are fairly ideal for male masturbators, sex dolls, and penis sleeves since they feel like the real thing. You still have to be careful to thoroughly clean and dry it after each use though.
Same as TPR/TPE, PVC is technically non-toxic but is also porous, meaning you really shouldn’t be putting it inside your body. The draw is it’s cheaper than silicone, but when you’re buying a small or medium sized toy the price difference is maybe $5 or $10 at most.
The one real argument to be made for PVC toys is in the extremely large toys category. When you’re looking at a toy that uses 2-3 pounds of material, a $50 PVC toy suddenly costs 3 times that to buy in premium silicone. So there is a cost argument to be made for buying the PVC toy and using condoms.
Still, be sure to store in a cool, dry place away from other rubber toys if you decide you have to have a specific PVC toy.
While there are some good large silicone toys, if you’re dead set on getting a larger PVC toy then you absolutely must use a condom with it! We know that’s a hassle, and we’re not trying to be anyone’s mother here, but we can’t in good conscience recommend PVC toys without putting a serious disclaimer on it first.
The following materials are ones that have serious problems or pose health risks, and should never be purchased in any situation.
The most pernicious category of sex toy. They’re cheap, colorful, and virtually everywhere. Amazon, popular online stores, even local brick & mortar adult stores!
What almost none of these people mention is that these toys contain toxic pthalates, and have been proven to actually degrade over time and slough off plastic particles while inside you! We are both even guilty of buying and using bad toys like these years ago before we knew better!
Due to all the public concern of phthalates over the past decade, thankfully less and less manufacturers are including questionable materials with these chemicals in them. That said, there’s still plenty of porous and otherwise questionable materials out there.
If the toy in question is soft and isn’t 100% pure silicone, that should be a red flag. Not an outright condemnation, but it’s hard to have a completely safe soft toy that isn’t pure silicone.
Not only are these toys directly toxic, but they’re usually porous as well, which gives more opportunities for bacteria and mold to grow in the pores. Jelly toys continue to be sold because they’re cheap to make, and their price point continually gets buyers over healthy, body-safe toys that cost twice as much.
“Metal” and Chrome Plated Toys
Another common trend we’ve noticed is cheap, ambiguous “metal” toys claiming to be stainless steel on Amazon. We’ve also notice a lot of toys that admit to being chrome-plated steel or stainless steel outright, when they’re nothing but a thin plating over a cheaper metal base. The worst offenders are the jeweled “princess plugs” that seem to be everywhere these past 5 years or so.
At $10 there’s no way these are high quality stainless steel, and there’s plenty of evidence that the chrome on these is cheap and could flake off inside you.
Plus, one of the best perks of stainless steel as a sex toy material is that it’s heavy and has a unique sensation because of that weight. Knockoff metals aren’t as heavy, and don’t fully deliver on this front.
Another common red flag is painted sex toys, something we see most commonly with hard materials. We’ve seen painted glass toys, ABS plastic, and metal toys since painting is easier than bothering to get the hard material with the right color from the start.
This might seem obvious, but paint shouldn’t go anywhere near your mucous membranes. These paints can flake off inside you, leaving these chemicals to float around your system and cause all kinds of problems.
This is also less of a problem than it was 10 years ago, because it’s relatively easier now to make sex toy materials with colors built in safely. But that said, it’s something to be aware of when looking at buying a toy that seems suspiciously cheap.
Sex Toy Materials Wrap-Up
So at almost 4,000 words, I think this post is long enough. To sum everything up:
- Safe, nonporous sex toy materials: Silicone (medical/food grade), metals (stainless steel and aluminum), and glass (borosilicate or annealed soda lime).
- Materials that have some safety concerns, but still have a useful niche when used properly: ABS plastic, TPR, TPE, Elastomer, or PVC.
- Materials that are unsafe and should not be used: Jellies, Gels, or unspecified soft blends. Any generic “metal” that doesn’t list the exact composition. When in doubt, better to be safe than sorry.
We’re not trying to be hardliners telling you that any sex toy under $20 is unsafe, and that you have to spend $100 to have a good time safely. That couldn’t be further from the truth – we’re working on a collection of safe toys under $20 right now!
We just want all our readers (and anyone else using a sex toy) to be safe and understand what they’re putting inside their bodies and make educated decisions. If you have any questions on specific toys or materials, let us know in the comments!