You practice safe sex when you’re using sex toys (and if you don’t, you really need to), but what about the actual sex toy in itself? Is it safe? Considering you’re getting up close and personal with it and putting it inside your body on a regular basis, it needs to be. Here’s how to ensure you’re not putting anything toxic in your lady bits.

Avoid novelty toys.

Although you might be tempted to buy those inexpensive novelty sex toys, most of the time they’re made of jelly rubber. This is bad news as they tend to contain phthalates, a substance put into sex toys to make them more flexible. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, phthalates are possible carcinogens, meaning that they can cause cancer. It’s just not worth the risk. If a sex toy is very cheap, it’s made with cheap materials—that means you should keep it away from your body.

Avoid PVC and vinyl products.

Polyvinyl chloride in sex toys is a bad idea. It’s porous, causing bacteria to sneak inside it really easily and remain lodged in difficult-to-clean places. This can boost your risk of infections. Both PVC and vinyl sex toys contain phthalates, so chuck them away!

Choose silicone.

Silicone sex toys tend to be safer than plastic or rubber, but there are different kinds that you should know about to increase your safety. They definitely don’t come standard! Chat with the workers in your favorite sex toy shop—they tend to be educated about these things (or at least they should be).

Food-grade silicone is good. 

If your sex toy is made with food-grade silicone, that means it’s pretty much the same kind of material used to make silicone kitchen equipment. It’s been tested so that chemicals won’t leak out of it when it’s placed in hot or cold environments. That’s good, but…

Medical-grade silicone is best.

This is the gold standard of sex toys. It’s the only type of silicone that’s been tested to interact with our bodies. Scary to think, especially since there are so many different sex toy materials out there!

Alternatives to silicone can work.

If you’re not really into silicone, that’s OK. Just make sure your sex toy is made of other safe materials. These include glass and stainless steel. The reason why these are good to go is that they won’t hold onto bacteria or leak chemicals. They’re also easier to wash, which is a bonus. You can simply put both stainless steel and glass sex toys in your dishwasher so they get a really thorough clean without the risk of getting damaged.

Use condoms.

If you have an old, beloved sex toy but it’s not medical-grade silicone, does that mean you need to throw it out? No, just use a condom every time you use it to make it safer. When you do this, you prevent any harmful chemicals from touching your skin or entering your body. See, there’s yet another reason why condoms should always be in your bedside drawer!

Keep away from chemicals.

It’s not just phthalates in condoms you should worry about. Other chemicals that can sneak their way into your sex toys include phenol, carbon disulfide, toluene, admium, and timethytin chloride. They can have harmful side-effects like disrupting the central nervous system. Damn. And, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, these chemicals can even affect the health of your unborn baby. Not acceptable!

Conduct the sniff test.

If you’ve had your sex toy for a while, sniff it. If it smells dodgy, no matter how much you clean it, it’s time for it to get thrown out in the trash. Bad odors can hint to bacteria buildup. Maybe bacteria has snuck into your sex toy and cleaning it just can’t get it out. Another reason for a strong smell is a sign that the toy contains phthalates. This is especially the case if you get a strong smell of plastic. Gross. When shopping for new sex toys, you should also give them a good sniff before buying them so that you can put those with phthalates back on the shelf. Same goes for any sex toy that has a greasy feeling in your hands—this points to it containing chemicals. Next!

Treat them well.

As with any product, how you look after your sex toys can prevent them from turning toxic on you. Wash them regularly and stay away from any sex toys that you can’t clean in boiling water to rid them of germs. Watch how you use lube. If your sex toy is made of silicone, only use a silicone-based lube so that you don’t damage the toy. And, be careful when sharing sex toys. Use condoms to prevent the transfer of germs and STIs. Sex toys can pass on a variety of STIs including but not limited to chlamydia and herpes. If your sex toy is meant for anal or vaginal use only, don’t mix them around. They’re not meant to multitask like that! Not only can doing this cause infections but also injuries that can land you in the ER with an embarrassing tale.

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