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Credit: Photography: Chelsie Craig, Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

10 Questions About Sex and Cleaning You Didn’t Know How to Ask

updated Feb 12, 2021
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There comes a stage in life where everyone finds out that sex can be messy (usually through a lot of trial and error). But now that we exist in a post-WAP era, it’s worth freely reevaluating the conditions in which we live, laugh, and buss it

With all this newfound time to spend indoors, there’s honestly no better occasion to start implementing better cleaning practices, since the likelihood of fornicating outside your home is at an all time low. (Nobody in their right mind should be doing “34+35” in filth!) 

A tidy home is what first sets the stage for a hygienic, and satisfying, sex life. Cyndi Darnell, a clinical sexologist and globally recognized sexuality expert, says that the things you surround yourself with at home can have an enormous effect on your sex life. If your space is dirty or cluttered, it can have a direct effect on your capacity for pleasure, she says. “While a disorganized living space won’t reduce everyone’s libido, clutter and dirty surfaces like sheets, towels, tubs, and sex toys are a cause for concern,” she explains in an email.

Then, once the stage is set and the deed is done, you’ll need some help cleaning up. Apartment Therapy consulted a group of cleaning and sexual health experts to field your burning questions about sex, cleaning, and hygiene at home. No inquiry was off limits — we got down and dirty with it so you don’t have to! Contrary to what Sky Ferreira once declared during the 2010s, everything is not embarrassing — or at least, it doesn’t always have to be.

Before getting into it, please keep in mind that this advice is all in relation to surfaces around your home, not the actual cleaning of your anatomy.

Credit: Photography: Chelsie Craig, Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

Should you wash your sheets every time you have sex? And how soon should you remove them once they’re covered in fluids?

The Short Answer: No need to freak if you wash them once a week.

Emily Morse (doctor of human sexuality & host of Sex With Emily): “Let me preface this by saying that most of us don’t wash our sheets nearly as often as we should, whether we’re having sex or not. The general rule is to wash your sheets at least once a week because we accumulate a lot of sweat, dead skin, pet hair, and residue. If you’re having sex with the same partner, at least once a week should do the trick. However, if you’ve had a particularly exciting experience (read: extra fluids including sweat or semen) it’s best to wash more frequently.”

Natalie Barrett (cleaning expert & quality supervisor at Nifty Cleaning Services): “Ideally, you should opt for washing your bed sheets after having sex, especially if you are not with a regular partner. However, even if your partner is long-term and you have every confidence in their hygienic habits, it’s best to ensure all fluids, dead skin cells, lube stains, and other dirty leftovers are removed.”

Carly S. (sex educator, writer, and merchandiser & customer service representative at  Spectrum Boutique): “In general, once a week is fine unless there are extenuating fluids to deal with. Getting a waterproof blanket that you can put down can help save your sheets. We sell the Liberator Throe and that’s something that’s really changed my sex life, as someone who is polyamorous and has multiple people coming over that [are] not necessarily people that I’m having sex with. Being able to put down a blanket or even a towel depending on how much liquid you think is going to come on the bed is an easy way to keep your sheets clean and not have to fight over who’s going to sleep in the wet spot.”

Are there any stain removal tips we should know when it comes to couch sex?

The Short Answer: Hydrogen peroxide works wonders, but get a towel to avoid the foul.

NB: “When it comes to sex stains on your couch, the first thing to consider is that semen is a protein stain. One of the best ways to get rid of protein stains is by using a cleaning detergent rich in hydrogen peroxide. Always apply on a damp surface and then remove the dirt using a damp cloth. If you spot a lube stain or body fluids, clean them as soon as you notice them using water and an enzyme detergent. Keep in mind that the material of the couch is important to take note of. For example, leather couches are extremely delicate and require a different type of treatment.”

CS: “If you have a sex towel or blanket just put that down, that’s what I do. Especially because it’s a communal space, I don’t want to come all over it and then have my friends come and sit on the couch… or like the dog licks the wet spot or something weird. I would rather be protected from body fluids preemptively.”

Credit: Photography: Chelsie Craig, Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

Does sex have a lingering smell and is there anything you can do about that?

The Short Answer: No smell would be weirder, but try airing out the room.

CS: “You’re getting sweaty so a lot of the time it’s really just body funk. With that, you just air out the room. Light a candle or incense, you should be fine. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

NB: “Sex could have a number of different scents associated with it, both pleasant and unpleasant, depending on the hygiene of the individuals involved. This could be a result of bacterial vaginosis, sexually transmitted infections, poor hygiene, condoms, sweat, and more. The scents can be removed either by taking better care of the body or washing the bedsheets thoroughly, using strong aromatic detergent. You could also make use of scented candles, scented body oils, and other cosmetic products that can help you enjoy a more pleasant scent.” 

Should you wash a sex blanket or towel separate from the rest of the laundry load? 

The Short Answer: It’s not a bad idea, and wash them with hot water.

EM: “Sex gets messy, but if you ask me, that’s part of the fun. What to do when you’ve had a particularly soiled evening? Best to take the sheets off right away and wash them. Not a fan of stripping the bed every time? Throw down a towel so you can make as much of a mess as you’d like, toss the towel in the hamper, and catch some sleep or go for round two!”

CS: “I would use the towel once and then put it in the laundry depending on how wet it got. It just depends on how much liquid is actually getting on the towel.”

NB: “The best way to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria to the rest of your laundry is to separate your sex blankets, towels, or lingerie and wash it in a different cycle [with hot water]. This is advisable due to the fact that most standard washing cycles use cold water to clean your clothes.”

If your shower pipes see a lot of semen, is that OK? Or should you do some kind of special drain maintenance? 

The Short Answer: Nah, it’s fine. 

NB: “Contrary to common belief, semen cannot clog the drain in your shower. The substance does not have a high enough thickness to cause trouble in your shower pipes and is therefore not a threat. Furthermore, after 30 minutes, semen takes the form of runny liquid and is washed away safely.”

Credit: Photography: Chelsie Craig, Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

Is it safe to have sex on surfaces where you eat?

The Short Answer: Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, but wipe them off first!

CS: “If it’s spontaneous then you’re hoping for the best, but in general, I would say wipe it down first because you can get all kinds of bacteria in not-so-fun places. Let’s say you baked cookies and there’s sugar on the table and you set your butt in it and now you’ve got a yeast infection. There’s all kinds of weird things that things-that-aren’t-meant-to-go-in-your-body can do to your body.”

NB: “Having sex on surfaces where you eat could be dangerous for your health and the health of family members sharing this space with you. Leaving behind sex fluids is an inevitable part of having sex and you must ensure that the surfaces are cleaned thoroughly before the area can be used again for its original purpose — eating.”

Is there a window of time when you should probably clean up your surfaces after sex?

The Short Answer: It depends on your environment.

CS: “If you live with other people, it’s going to be a concern for them to run into the space where your body fluids have been. If you live alone and you’re the one eating off the counter that you just had sex on, clean it when you want. You’re clearly bonded with your own body fluids and the person that you’re having sex with so it’s really not an issue. Making sure that you’re being respectful of other people in that space I think is the more important thing.”

What’s the best disinfectant for getting frisky in the kitchen? 

The Short Answer: Your typical sanitizer will get the job done.

EM: “I love The Honest Company’s disinfecting spray. It’s made without harsh chemicals or chlorine bleach and is highly effective. It’s also fragrance free, which is a big plus for me. Get frisky on the counter, then give it a thorough wipe with Honest’s disinfecting spray.”

NB: “After having sex in the kitchen it’s essential to carefully disinfect the area in order to prevent bacteria spread and potential infections. The best way to ensure everything is perfectly cleaned and sanitized is by mixing in equal parts of isopropyl rubbing alcohol with water. Place the mixture in a spray bottle and apply it to the surfaces where the act has taken place. Wipe away with a clean towel.”

Credit: Photography: Chelsie Craig, Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

What’s the protocol for washing sex toys and other essentials?

The Short Answer: Don’t forget to wash your toys before and after using them.

CS: “I would say that it’s a safe bet to assume that no one is cleaning their sex toys enough. Wash them ideally before every use and after every use. But you should always be washing it before you use it, even if you washed it after you were done, because dust can get on there, and you want to watch out for all kinds of environmental factors that aren’t STIs or things that people normally think about that can affect your body. You can never clean your toys too much. 

“Definitely think of investing in unscented soaps. Toy cleaners are really great because it’s kind of hard to find unscented soaps. Dr. Bronner’s is really great, Dial makes a really great unscented antibacterial, but thinking about things that are not going to leave a perfume residue on a toy that you might be using inside of you.”

EM: “After a great sex session with your sex toy, getting up to clean it is likely the last thing on your mind, but it is essential. Not only will sanitizing your toys and pleasure products help them last longer, it will also help you minimize bacteria build-up and infections. Cleaning your sex toys isn’t sexy, but getting a UTI is worse. You can clean any toy with a warm, damp cloth using just a little bit of soap and water. 

“If you’re like me and have managed to stockpile several (or 37) of these toys over the years, check out Uvee by Clean Light Laboratories. It’s the first and only product that discreetly stores, charges, and sanitizes your toys, all at the same time. Unless you’re doing an amazingly good job of cleaning your toys and letting them dry thoroughly before putting them away, it’s very easy for harmful bacteria to grow in the nooks and crannies. And because today’s toys seem to have more nooks and crannies than ever, you can easily wind up putting germs where you really don’t want them. Plus, your sock drawer isn’t going to magically charge your arsenal of toys either.”

Any red flags for washing sex toys in the dishwasher?

The Short Answer: Toys with motors will melt and malfunction.

CS: “There are dishwasher-safe toys, but those are going to be non-motorized. Even if your toy is a material that is safe to be put in the dishwasher, if it has a motor, you don’t want to run that through the dishwasher. Things that are stainless steel, silicone and certain types of plastic depending on what toys are — basically if you can cook with it then it’s safe to go in the dishwasher as long as it’s not motorized. It’s also hot in there so it can warp or melt it. The thing with the dishwasher is that it’s going to get really hot and that’s what’s going to sanitize the toys, so you want to just run it with them on the top rack with no soap.”

These answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.