Can you get an STI from a used sex toy ?

Do you mean when sharing a toy during sex, or when buying a used toy ?


Good news - time is on your side when you´re buying a used one.

¨most pathogens that cause STDs cannot live outside of the human body for very long without deteriorating. Once bacteria and viruses start to break down, they are no longer able to infect human beings.¨


Buying vs. Sharing

Buying a sex toy second hand is quite a new thing, so the current answers you read online are all about the risks of sharing a toy in the heat of the moment during a sex session, not about buying one second-hand – one that has been cleaned first, disinfected or sterilized, and then packaged up, and sent by post to you.


Everyone has an opinion, or an agenda.

If you ask everyone, you´ll get answers all the way from a yes depending to a no depending. And still, you´re none the wiser, really. Believe me, we have circled the internet and asked around – everyone has an opinion, or an agenda !

And are you even asking the right questions ? This article is about buying a used sex toy, and we´ve used the officials and experts to provide the answers,  but if you want to know what they say about the risks of sharing one during sex, jump to the answer here.


Myth vs. Fact

In the great echo chamber that is the internet, some detail gets lost, and a general opinion just hangs around with no real purpose. And we´re left asking – are the risks actually real any more, or just perceived ? When discussing this very subject, states the difference for us.

¨A perceived (or theoretical) risk is one that is based on belief rather than fact and persists despite the unlikeliness of the event ever occurring. By contrast, a documented (or actual) risk is based on statistical evidence of something actually occurring. Where a perceived risk is about theory, a documented risk is about the fact.¨


We all take risks with germs every day, and more when we go to public places, to hospitals, or have any invasive procedures. So the medical community have this covered, and are monitoring it all the time. Like a dog with a bone, we were determined to get to the facts.

Ask the right questions. Get the full story. Listen to the experts.


If we´re all grown-up enough to play with sex toys, we need to get practical about this really important subject.

We´ll get right down to the nitty-gritty here, with some really specific questions, to see what the medical specialists, the official government or health organisations say about this.


The medical answer tells us first, that if you´re buying one, TIME is on your side. Great !

Question: how-long-can-stds-gonorrhoea-chlamydia-syphilis-hiv-survive-outside-human-host ?

Answer: ¨In general, bacteria and viruses do not survive long outside the body (the organisms die in minutes to hours), hence they do not spread via toilet seats, swimming pools etc. However, they may be transmitted via bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal fluids, especially so if there is a break in the skin or mucosal membranes.¨

Source: Dr Jipson Quah GP, MBBS (Singapore), DipRCPath (UK) With Special Interest in Pathology


Let´s go deeper – take any risk away – make it clean and sterile

Why ? Because the right cleaning, disinfecting or sterilizing can get rid of any possible germs too. So, even we´ve looked at sexually transmitted infections / diseases, and how the experts say you can kill them off surfaces. Remember always clean first, then disinfect or sterilize. Also, remember that toys made of non-porous materials ( e.g. silicone, glass, metal ) will be easier to clean thoroughly. You can jump to our HOW TO CLEAN A USED SEX TOY post for more details.

Let´s summarize.

How to avoid getting germs from a sex toy.

1. Know the possible STIs. Face it, even if the risk is tiny.

2. Learn how long they last outside the human body.

3. Discover what kills them ( if time has not already done the job for you ).

What are the STIs / STDs ?

The two terms tend to be used interchangeably but one stands for ´sexually transmitted infection´ and the other stands for ´sexually transmitted disease´. Let´s name them.

¨STDs can include bacterial, viral and parasitic infection. Bacterial STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis. Viral STDs include HIV, genital herpes, genital warts (HPV), and hepatitis B. Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite.
The germs that cause STDs hide in semen, blood, vaginal secretions, and sometimes saliva. Most of the organisms are spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex, but some, such as those that cause genital herpes and genital warts, may be spread through skin contact. One can get hepatitis B by sharing personal items, such as toothbrushes or razors, with someone who has it.¨



This type of germ lasts the shortest time, but washing your sex toys with warm water and unscented soap, or with a specific sex toy cleaner, then rinsed and air dried is good practice to keep your toy clean here.



How long it can last outside the body.

¨It can survive on surfaces for 2-3 hours under humid conditions.¨
SOURCE:  Govt of Canada (Pathogen Safety Data Sheets: Infectious Substances: Chlamydia trachomatis)


Gonorrhoea (the clap)

How long it can last outside the body.

¨It cannot live outside the body for more than a few seconds or minutes.¨


How long it can last outside the body.

¨It can survive only briefly outside of the body; thus, transmission almost always requires direct contact with the infectious lesions.¨
Source: Intechopen book on the STI fundamentals 


This type of germ can last longer so  level 2 or preferably a level 3 disinfectants or sterilization like bleach seems to be the way to get rid of these. Read on for the detail and references.




¨In general, the virus doesn’t live long once it’s outside of a human body. Studies show that HIV grown in the lab, when placed on a surface, loses most of its ability to infect — 90% to 99% — within several hours

¨Under specific conditions, HIV can survive outside of the body for hours or even days if the temperature, humidity, UV exposure, and pH balance are all just right. It is a very unusual set of conditions but one that is, in fact, possible. ¨
¨Unless all of these conditions are satisfied, an HIV infection simply cannot occur¨


Use a level 2 (intermediate)  or 3 (high level) disinfectant.

¨EPA-registered tuberculocidal disinfectants are best for cleaning surfaces contaminated with blood.
Disinfectants that kill the bacteria that cause tuberculosis can also kill HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses.¨

( Note: there are 3 levels of disinfectants – the one referred to here are level 2 / intermediate level.)

“The EPA has a web site listing all EPA-registered tuberculocides and disinfectants that are effective against HIV and HBV.”



Also known as Hep-B


¨Can vibrators and sex toys spread hepatitis? That’s possible, because the hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for a week or more. Immersing the vibrator in boiling water may reduce the risk.19 Jun 2020


¨Bleach is a wonderful disinfectant, and effectively kills HBV, and other pathogens.¨

(Note: This source also goes on to tell you exactly how to perform the bleaching opertion !)

¨EPA-registered tuberculocidal disinfectants are best for cleaning surfaces contaminated with blood.5Disinfectants that kill the bacteria that cause tuberculosis can also kill HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses.¨


¨The CDC recommendation for high-level disinfection of HBV-, HCV-, HIV- or TB-contaminated devices is appropriate because experiments have demonstrated the effectiveness of high-level disinfectants to inactivate these and other pathogens that might contaminate semicritical devices.¨




Also known as genital herpes.


¨SURVIVAL OUTSIDE HOST: HSV virus survives for short periods of time outside the host 3. It can survive on dry inanimate surfaces (survival ranges from few hours to 8 weeks). They survive longer at lower humidity 14¨

Source: Canada public health services


Ethyl alcohol, at concentrations of 60%–80%, is a potent virucidal agent inactivating all of the lipophilic viruses (e.g., herpes, vaccinia, and influenza virus).

Source: CDC



Also known as genital warts, or Papillomavirus.

How long HPV lasts outside the body

¨HPV is resistant to heat and drying, and is able to survive on inanimate objects, such as clothing and laboratory equipment, that have come into contact with infected patients. The precise survival time is unknown, however. HPV has been shown to retain infectivity even after dehydration for 7 days (Roden et al., 1997).Sep 29, 2016¨

Source: An article about waterpathogens ( how HPV is found outside sexual activity – in waste water for example. 

How to get rid of HSV on a sex toy

3 references showing that bleach or other level 3 disinfectants will do the job.

” It is resistant to drying and heat and able to survive on clothing and laboratory equipment although exact survival time is unknown. HPV is susceptible to a variety of disinfectants including “… 90% ethanol for at least 1 minute, 2% glutaraldehyde, 30% Savlon [chlorhexidine gluconate and cetrimide], and/or 1% sodium hypochlorite can disinfect the pathogen….”


¨ A follow up study showed that high concentration sonicated hydrogen peroxide was an effective disinfection to deactivate HPV on ultrasound probes



“Unless bleach or autoclaving is used in the hospital setting, human papillomavirus is not being killed,” said Craig Meyers.

Source: research article 


Disinfectant or washing with soap as detailed will get rid of this one. Read on for the detail and references.

Trichomoniasis ( Trich )


Trichomoniasis parasites are very sensitive to drying, but can survive for several hours in various body fluids or on moist objects such as sponges or towels.


¨In rare cases, it may be possible to get trich from contact with personal items, such as a wet towel, that a person with trich has just used. The trich parasite cannot live on objects for long, so it isn’t usually spread this way.¨


A 33-year-old female asked ¨ can use Dettol and normal soaps to kill trichomoniasis from hands, surfaces and clothes.¨ The answer is ¨Yes: Wash for two minutes to be sure¨from Dr. Ralph Boling ( 39 years Obstetrics & Gynecology ). His reply was seconded by another doctor.


What about the risks,  when sharing a sex toy during a sex session.

Of course, if you´re taking a sex toy straight of one body and putting it into another within minutes then YES, there´s a risk, if one of you has an infection, that it can be passed on. If you´re going to share toys, or have more than one partner, you know there are going to be associated risks ! The safest thing to do is cover it in a fresh condom every time you use it.

¨If sex toys are used with new, clean condoms for each partner, or are properly cleaned (i.e., disinfected) before use by the uninfected partner, they pose a negligible risk of transmission. Note that using the same condom with both partners is effectively the same as not using one at all.¨


however, conditions have to be right

¨Just because living pathogens can be found on surfaces does not necessarily mean that fomite transmission to humans can take place. The risk of fomite transmission varies depending on a number of factors. These include:
• the bacteria or virus involved
• how much bacteria/virus someone needs to be exposed to in order to become infectious
• the temperature and humidity of the room
• whether the surface is porous or non-porous
Other factors may also be involved. ¨


Another time people ask about the risks, is when they want to borrow a sex toy from a friend.

Remember, time can be on your side here too. And, they´re also probably handing it to you in-person, so don´t be embarrassed to ask when it was last used, and if it´s been cleaned or sterilized. How about just cleaning it yourself when you get it anyway, and suggest to your friend that you would like to disinfect it properly, or sterilize it before you give it back, as a thank-you, or out of common courtesy. It´s their toy and they will have the manufacturer´s instructions so ask them how would they prefer you to do it.

We all need to get in the way of thinking like this. One of the better aspects of Covid-19, I suppose, has been that cleansing and sterilizing has become second nature to us.

Again, if you´re too shy to discuss this with your friend, then the safest thing to do here is to cover it in a fresh condom before you use it.

Be grown up, know your partners, clean a toy before you use it, or use a condom to avoid spreading germs, or getting pregnant even, in the heat of the moment. 

There is no “heat of the moment” when a seller lists (US listings)  (Europe listings)

a toy on Squeaky Clean Toys.

If you buy a second-hand toy from Squeaky, we ask the embarrassing questions for you 😉

Our sellers have to answer questions about the condition of the toy, and how it has been cleaned.

It´s a serious, transactional, non-sexual business.

Read more about how to clean sex toys in our other blog article imaginatively titled HOW TO CLEAN A USED SEX TOY.

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