The truth about "sterilizing"?

The truth about "sterilizing"?

Owl Identified Owl Identified
I've always assumed the following were true, because it's generally regarded as common knowledge: isopropyl alcohol of a strength of 70% or higher can sterilize (if left on an item and allowed to evaporate) and bleach (like Clorox) in a solution with water at a ratio of 1:9 will similarly sterilize. Obviously this only pertains to non-porous materials.

But I've been reading and I keep encountering those who say that neither bleach nor rubbing alcohol are truly effective against all microbes (namely Hepatitis and even HIV). I have read in numerous places now that both of those viruses can survive bleach and rubbing alcohol, which makes me feel really uncomfortable recommending these methods.

Does anyone know for sure if this is true? Additionally, how do those of you that have stainless steel/aluminum toys that can be damaged by harsh chemicals go about sterilizing your materials? Dish washer? Boiling?

Thanks everyone. I just had a mini-freak-out because I started thinking I could potentially be doling out advice that allows for the communication of a deadly virus --all under the heading of "sex positivity" as well.
03/28/2010
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El-Jaro El-Jaro
well, if you're reviewing something that is porous, you could mention condom use with sharing.

if you're not too sure, you could always suggest something like "check out webmd" or something
03/28/2010
ScottA ScottA
There are different degrees here. Alcohol is only disinfecting - it doesn't kill anywhere near everything, most noticeably Hep. 10% bleach is sanitizing - it kills most things, but there is the occasional beastie that slips through, especially if proper cleaning methods haven't been followed. Boiling is the same - it kills almost everything. but there are microbes that can survive at 100C.

Absolute sterility is hart to guarantee. Classically, you need to first clean off all organic matter, since it can get in the way of sterilizing, especially if you opt for a chemical method. Secondly you need to autoclave at high temperatures, although boiling in a pressure cooker at 15PSI will also work if you do it for about 20 minutes. Chemical sterilization generally uses gluteraldehyde solutions, which are toxic, or provided you have the means you can also expose the item to strong ionizing radiation.

All of these (with the possible exception of the pressure cooker) are difficult and rely on uncommon materials/equipment. For most of what you'll come across thorough cleaning followed by bleach or boiling for about 10 minutes will be fine, unless you live at a high altitude. Most human communicable diseases will be destroyed by these methods, and their use renders the likelihood of contracting one about the equivalent of using safer sex practice.

If I were given a silicone toy from someone unknown I would feel comfortable using it after the pressure-cooker technique, provided it was something nonporous (silicone, metal, etc.). I would be more comfortable with pressure-cook (or indeed clean/boil) then condoms, since things can get around condoms.
03/28/2010
Darling Dove Darling Dove
I had heard HIV is extremely fragile so this is news to me.
I'm sure boiling would do the trick though, wouldn't it? Someone else on the forums also mentioned prolonged UV light exposure for things that couldn't be sterilized in the usual manner, that's a concept that could be explored for the hardier microbes perhaps?
03/28/2010
ScottA ScottA
Update:

A DISH WASHER WILL NOT STERILIZE!!! It's convenient for cleaning and will disinfect if it's hot enough (but many are not) BUT IT DOESN'T COME ANYWHERE CLOSE TO STERILIZING. Boil or bleach after the dishwasher if you're concerned.
03/28/2010
Luscious Lily Luscious Lily
The fact that we've got this thread going with so much good info in it makes my geeky soul happy.

I guess we all need to be a little more careful about terminology, since many of us use disinfect, sanitize, and sterilize interchangeably. Most of the methods we recommend just sanitize.

Yes, Darling Dove, HIV is extremely fragile. If you, say, get a drop of blood on a table, the virus is dead by the time the blood finishes drying. It's Hep you really have to worry about; that's one terribly tenacious virus.

I'd like to add something to the bit about dishwashers. Some newer ones have a "sanitize" button. For those that want to use dishwashers for cleaning, these are the ONLY ones you can count on to actually achieve this level of microbe destruction. As ScottA said, they are NOT sterile.

For materials that can withstand fire, I've heard soaking in rubbing alcohol, then burning the alcohol off will sterilize a surface. I think it was Cynthia/Miss Cinnamon who mentioned this? That it's used for sterilizing glass slides and such in some labs? (I've seen surgical needles torched before use, but I don't know if that sterilized them or not.) I'm not solid on the details, though, someone will have to ask her.
03/28/2010
Sammi Sammi
Quote:
Originally posted by ScottA
There are different degrees here. Alcohol is only disinfecting - it doesn't kill anywhere near everything, most noticeably Hep. 10% bleach is sanitizing - it kills most things, but there is the occasional beastie that slips through, especially if ...
What happens at a high altitude? Do you just have to lengthen the time?
03/28/2010
Miss Cinnamon Miss Cinnamon
Quote:
Originally posted by Luscious Lily
The fact that we've got this thread going with so much good info in it makes my geeky soul happy.

I guess we all need to be a little more careful about terminology, since many of us use disinfect, sanitize, and sterilize interchangeably. ...
Yup. Back in my intro Microbiology lab, we used a coarse soap powder to do the actual washing up after lab, but to prepare slides for use, we would dip them in a jar of ethanol so that they were decently coated and then pass the slide over the flame of a Bunsen burner (we held onto it with a clothes pin). Once the ethanol burns off completely, you're good to go. When we were doing cultures, we would prevent cross-contamination by sticking the wire loop used for sample collection in the flame until the metal glowed hot red. I asked Kevin of Xhale about using fire to sterilize glass toys during the Xhale interview. His reply:

"The ethanol does sound fun. Although you might burn a finger or something, I don't think it would harm the glass. I'm sure the ethanol burns off quick and at a pretty low temperature. But just to be safe always use a soft anti bacterial soap after every use. And it would be a good thing to use a bleach or alcohal solution every once and a while. I don't care for the boiling thing, there's always that chance of thermal shock (a rapid change in temperature causing breakage)."

I haven't actually tested the effectiveness of the technique on a glass toy, however, so I can give no guarantees. Hopefully one of these days I can have my own tiny lab... or a grad/postdoc who is willing to let me abuse the facilities
03/28/2010
Owl Identified Owl Identified
I've also read that soaking something like glass in isopropyl alcohol and letting it evaporate is a good way to sanitize? Hm. I think I'm going to have to start using sanitize in my reviews (and working my way back through to replace "sterilize" with "sanitize" eesh!)
03/28/2010
Miss Cinnamon Miss Cinnamon
Quote:
Originally posted by Owl Identified
I've also read that soaking something like glass in isopropyl alcohol and letting it evaporate is a good way to sanitize? Hm. I think I'm going to have to start using sanitize in my reviews (and working my way back through to replace ...
Technically, sanitize (as a microbio term) applies primarily to getting rid of pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes from public eating utensils and other food service-related things. I believe you'd want to use "disinfect" instead. I don't think there are many, though, who would jump and scream/attack/flame/ra te your reviews less useful just because you didn't use the perfect term, as long as you make it clear that the technique removes most, but not all microbes.
03/29/2010
Liz2 Liz2
Quote:
Originally posted by Sammi
What happens at a high altitude? Do you just have to lengthen the time?
Yes!!
03/29/2010
Luscious Lily Luscious Lily
Quote:
Originally posted by Sammi
What happens at a high altitude? Do you just have to lengthen the time?
At high altitude, water boils at a lower temperature. You'd need to increase the pressure (say, by putting a lid on the pot or something) to get it to boil at the same temperature. It's not a huge difference in terms of killing microbes, though, so increasing the time should be ok.
03/29/2010
ScottA ScottA
Quote:
Originally posted by Luscious Lily
At high altitude, water boils at a lower temperature. You'd need to increase the pressure (say, by putting a lid on the pot or something) to get it to boil at the same temperature. It's not a huge difference in terms of killing microbes, ...
A lid won't make much difference unless it locks on (i.e. pressure cooker).

Alcohol does not reliably inactivate hep or many other beasties. Don't trust it with your life.

At very high altitudes (i.e. Colorado) I wouldn't trust boiling if I had a toy that was used on an infected partner unless it was with a pressure cooker. The boiling temp is be under 200F.
03/29/2010
Red Red
The only way to sterilize is with an autoclave or chemical sterilizer. Home autoclaves can indeed be purchased, and people also go to piercing places to rent space out in an autoclave run. But this sort of thing is really only of concern for certain types of play (generally categorized as BDSM play) including bloodplay and sounding. Even then, most common bloodplay is done with single use, sterile packaged materials, and most people just pressure cook sounds for personal use. So the only people, really, needing sterile 'toys' are BDSM pros. At least that's all I can think of.

As soon as something that is "sterile" is opened up 'to the world' boom - no longer sterile. So for a sex toy consumer? sterile isn't that important, but "effectively sanitized" is.

At home options for 'effective sanitization' of a non porous, seam free material include boiling 7+ mins, soalking in a 10% bleach solution (make sure it is submerged) for 10 mins, clean up with hospital grade polyquat disinfectant according to directions, or exposure to UV light.*

If you're less worried about sharing and more worried about just having clean toys for your own personal use? Soap and water should do!

So yes, sterilize is the wrong word. Sanitize is better

* Please note, however, none of these things - with the exception of UV light - kill everything, especially some blood borne pathogens. But if you look at things individually, you'll see that if you just wait a while as well, you'll be safe. HIV dies quickly outside of the body. Hep C is currently said to survive up to 4 days. No references, but they are easy to find - do not take my word for it, however.
03/29/2010
Carrie Ann Carrie Ann
Quote:
Originally posted by Owl Identified
I've also read that soaking something like glass in isopropyl alcohol and letting it evaporate is a good way to sanitize? Hm. I think I'm going to have to start using sanitize in my reviews (and working my way back through to replace ...
Yeah, I need to do this too. I've been using sanitize for awhile now, since I did some research about six months back, but man it's going to be a pain to fix all the old reviews.
03/29/2010
Sir Sir
Quote:
Originally posted by Carrie Ann
Yeah, I need to do this too. I've been using sanitize for awhile now, since I did some research about six months back, but man it's going to be a pain to fix all the old reviews.
I've been using sanitize for my reviews, too, which I should change..
But I do not have as many reviews written as you! That would be a pain in the ass for you to go and change all of those!
03/29/2010
Heartthrob Heartthrob
Quote:
Originally posted by Owl Identified
I've always assumed the following were true, because it's generally regarded as common knowledge: isopropyl alcohol of a strength of 70% or higher can sterilize (if left on an item and allowed to evaporate) and bleach (like Clorox) in a ...
The HIV virus is very easy to kill with soap and water and it can't live outside of the body for more than a few minutes. Also, a 10% bleach solution does sterilize.
03/29/2010
Pleasureman Pleasureman
Quote:
Originally posted by Luscious Lily
The fact that we've got this thread going with so much good info in it makes my geeky soul happy.

I guess we all need to be a little more careful about terminology, since many of us use disinfect, sanitize, and sterilize interchangeably. ...
If the dishwasher reaches a temp above 180 degrees it should sanitize the toy.
03/29/2010
Sammi Sammi
Quote:
Originally posted by Luscious Lily
At high altitude, water boils at a lower temperature. You'd need to increase the pressure (say, by putting a lid on the pot or something) to get it to boil at the same temperature. It's not a huge difference in terms of killing microbes, ...
I guess I knew that, since I always have to adjust recipes for candy and fudge
03/29/2010
Luscious Lily Luscious Lily
Quote:
Originally posted by ScottA
A lid won't make much difference unless it locks on (i.e. pressure cooker).

Alcohol does not reliably inactivate hep or many other beasties. Don't trust it with your life.

At very high altitudes (i.e. Colorado) I wouldn't ...
Ah, thanks for the correction. Having never had to cook at such high altitudes, I didn't realize there was such a difference when you got up that high. Thanks!

@Heartthrob - 10% bleach solutions sanitize, not sterilize.

@Pleasureman - As I said before, MOST dishwashers do not reach the 180 needed to sanitize. The ones that do, don't use that high a temperature all the time, mostly because to heat the water that high when you don't need to is wasteful. Almost always, the dishwashers that can reach hot-water sanitation temperatures (180+, as you said) have a "Sanitize" button to tell it to use the high temperature.

@Red - I am SO tempted to snag some quat from lab now, just to clean my toys. Because that would tickle my sense of the strange and silly.
03/29/2010
LicentiouslyYours LicentiouslyYours
I remember talking about issues similar to this awhile back. But I think it's good to bring it up occasionally because the misinformation does persist. It's helpful to remind ourselves of the true definitions of sanitize, disinfect and sterilize... and also which method is really the method we want or need with regard to how we share toys.

Great info y'all!
03/29/2010
ScottA ScottA
It's also important to keep in mind how big of a risk it really is. I don't worry too much if it's my toys to be used on myself, just a quick run-over with soap and water and they're fine. If I'm going to be going from by bottom to my wife's vagina I'm more careful, and will bleach or boil. That gets rid of almost everything, and for most instances of partner sharing (even if you're not exclusive) it should be fine, and there won't be enough of whatever-it-is left to get you.

If I were sharing with someone known to have hep/HIV/some other real baddie I'd probably pressure-cook the toys.
03/30/2010
Owl Identified Owl Identified
Quote:
Originally posted by ScottA
It's also important to keep in mind how big of a risk it really is. I don't worry too much if it's my toys to be used on myself, just a quick run-over with soap and water and they're fine. If I'm going to be going from by bottom ...
I also imagine that if I were sharing with someone with hep/HIV I could presumably just not use the very same toy they are using during that session, but use separate toys. Then after bleaching/boiling, if the toy were left the hang out in the open air long enough then the virus would have to die, no?
03/30/2010
Gary Gary
This is an excellent and informative thread! Somehow it slipped by me.
04/07/2010
sophie2229 sophie2229
As far as the alcohol and biology lab benches, it's optimal to clean with a 70% solution because the others evaporate too very quickly thus killing fewer organisms (since the alcohol is evaporated and not on the bench). This might not be an issue with sex toys, and i never use alcohol so I can't comment any further.
04/07/2010
ScottA ScottA
Quote:
Originally posted by sophie2229
As far as the alcohol and biology lab benches, it's optimal to clean with a 70% solution because the others evaporate too very quickly thus killing fewer organisms (since the alcohol is evaporated and not on the bench). This might not be an issue ...
I wouldn't use alcohol period because it's known to not kill several problem organisms (predominantly viruses). Either use the toy in a relationship where soap and water is good enough, use barriers, or use a santizing method known to work.
04/07/2010
Naughty Student Naughty Student
I am feeling a little uneasy about the terms that I am sure I have interchangebly used. This is a really helpful thread. I am definately going to refer to this one for future reference.
04/08/2010
sophie2229 sophie2229
Quote:
Originally posted by ScottA
I wouldn't use alcohol period because it's known to not kill several problem organisms (predominantly viruses). Either use the toy in a relationship where soap and water is good enough, use barriers, or use a santizing method known to work.
agreed.
04/08/2010
Airen Wolf Airen Wolf
Posts like these are what we need to have available for people who are curious or in relationships where extra care is needed. I would also add that while sanitize is really meant to be used in the food service industry in this case if it's good enough for you to place food on it and ingest it it's probably safe enough for sex play. By that I mean it's a better word than sterilize simply because it's a word people understand and they relate to meaning "clean". Perhaps we could simply say "to be safe" or "to clean effectively"?


It might be an idea to have a section where safety and cleaning proceedures are more thoroughly discussed in articles designed to improve our knowledge base? With so many interested and conscientious scientific types in our community it seems a waste not to ask for their imput in a way to reach as many people as possible. It would also cut down on the amount of repitition in reviews (though I happen to think that sometimes the only way to drum safer sex practices into people's heads is to DRUM in in). That's my 2 cents anyway!
04/08/2010
Jul!a Jul!a
Quote:
Originally posted by Airen Wolf
Posts like these are what we need to have available for people who are curious or in relationships where extra care is needed. I would also add that while sanitize is really meant to be used in the food service industry in this case if it's good ...
Actually having a specific section for safety and cleaning procedures and such sounds like a great idea. I would give my full support for this.
04/08/2010
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