After putting in more than 40 hours of research, consulting with a physician, a sex educator, and two nationally known sex shops, and testing with a panel of seven couples of various gender mixes, we recommend Good Clean Love’s Almost Naked Organic Personal Lubricant for most people. Good Clean Love has a texture that is smooth but not gummy or sticky, and was preferred over the other water-based lubes by our panel of testers. Its slickness lasted longer than the competitors’, and it was the best smelling and tasting lube in the water-based category. Good Clean Love has a very slight, citrus-like smell and taste, unlike the more medicinal tastes and outright funky smells of other brands we tried.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.
We focused on finding a versatile lube that could be used for vaginal sex, anal sex, and masturbation, and, whenever possible, sex toys. Our pick can be used for all of these activities. What’s more, its flip-lid standing squeeze tube prevents a big mess without wasting the product. Unlike silicone-based lubes, Good Clean Love doesn’t stain clothes or bed sheets, and it washed out in our laundry tests. Our testers said it was more easily washed off of bare hands than all the other brands we considered.
Water-based lubes tend to be the most easily available in pharmacies, but silicone lubes also offer some really great features. We recommend Swiss Navy Silicone Lubricant as the best lube for people who prefer silicone. Silicone lubes stay slick longer than water-based ones, and that’s convenient, since you don’t have to reapply as often. Swiss Navy Silicone offers the most versatile combination of texture, slickness, neutral smell and taste, at one of the lowest prices for a silicone lube (which isn’t always cheap). Swiss Navy feels like a layer of silk on the skin, and it has none of the viscous and gummy aspects of some water-based lubes. It also stayed slick for longer than any of the other brands we tested, but beware: It stains bedsheets, just like all silicone lubes do.
When we thought about how to research this guide, I felt that we weren’t going to get the answers we needed about lubes without actually talking to real people about how they use them. So, I talked to sex education experts, as well as people of all genders who use lube. We then sent a more formal survey to our research panelists to find out what they thought of all the lubes on our list. As a result, we got answers from our research panelists that showed us that people really do care a lot about how a lube feels and works. I can’t think of many other publications who have reached out to actual people about the lubes they prefer and how they actually use them.
I, too, have my own relationship with lube: Not only has it brought me enjoyment over the years, but it has also helped me raise the level of safety in my own lovemaking, because it’s so essential for using a latex condom properly. I believe in using it liberally. Besides working as the managing editor at Sweethome, I write a series of erotic novels under the pen name Pablo Greene, and sex educators, sex writers, podcasters, and readers often ask me for advice on how to have a better sex life; they ask specifically about lube more often than you know. It’s a topic that’s very close to all aspects of my life. Personal lubricant is plainly fun—its textures, scents, the playfulness of the product—and I like the fact that it can enhance people’s sex lives metaphorically, but also as a personal-care product.
For this guide I also consulted with Coyote Dave, educational outreach and affiliate manager for Good Vibrations, the San Francisco-based sex store and manufacturer of products.
We selected lubes from the two most popular and most versatile categories on the market: water-based and silicone.
Water-based lubricants use—you guessed it—water. These are the most popular lubes, but that’s likely because they are the most widely available in pharmacies. In general, water-based lubes are cheaper per ounce than silicone. That means that with water-based lubes you may often get more volume of the product to use more generously, but as you’ll see, slickness matters a lot, so volume and price may not always be what makes a lube great. Water will generally be listed as an ingredient, but sometimes it can show up under another name, as in the case of Good Clean Love, which lists aloe leaf juice as the main ingredient (aloe has a high water content). Water-based lubricants are generally going to feel a little lighter. They don’t stain sheets and other fabrics (unless colorings or other ingredients are involved). Water-based lubes are the most popular type of lubricant.1 They also tend to be a whole lot cheaper than silicone lubes. However, water-based lubes don’t stay slick as long as silicone lubes, because they can be absorbed into the skin. The CDC recommends water-based lubes2 because they help make latex condoms safer in preventing sexually transmitted infections, and that means water-based is a pretty practical choice for most people who also want to consider safer sex in addition to texture and slickness.
Silicone lubes use liquid silicones such as dimethicone for their base. They feel smooth and silky to the touch, and are not readily absorbed into the skin. This means that the layer of lubrication can stay put for a long time and require less reapplication. However, silicone lubes will definitely stain your sheets, and that’s good to keep in mind when choosing a lube for a particular activity. They also should not be used with silicone-based toys.
We categorically excluded oil-based lubes, because oil can break down latex condoms, raising the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, syphilis, and many more. We also avoided lubes with glycerin, as the sex educators we spoke to don’t recommend it. Glycerin is a sugar that may increase the chances of a yeast infection. “In order for yeast to grow, it needs lots of air,” Dr. Dan Gingold said. “This means that the jury’s still out on whether glycerin is a direct cause of yeast infections, but it makes sense to not feed the bacteria with a food source [like glycerin].”
Likewise, we excluded lubes with sensation-enhancing ingredients, which may irritate sensitive skin.
We focused on finding a versatile lube that could be used for vaginal sex, anal sex, and masturbation, and, whenever possible, with sex toys. We also looked at price, and price per ounce to determine what lubes offer the best bang for your buck. (Yes, that pun is intended.) Also, lube manufacturers usually market lube to men or women, but their contents are the same. Some manufacturers will even market two versions of the same lube and price them differently for each gender.
Next, we looked at Amazon for the lubricants that tended to get the most and highest reviews and ratings from users. This gave us a pretty long list of brands to choose from, because there are lots of manufacturers out there in the market. We then discarded several brands based on their ingredients.
After winnowing the list to 18 possible choices, we decided to look for these qualities:
I did a preliminary elimination round myself by rubbing each brand on the back of my wrist for two minutes to test for feel and for slickness. I also tested for smell and taste. As a result, I dismissed seven brands, which left us with 11 finalists.
We selected seven couples of various genders for our research panel. Those couples consisted of one female/female couple, three male/male couples, and three male/female couples. One of the male/female couples was non-monogamous, and each had sex with additional partners. We sent each of these couples samples of the 11 brands we chose to test, and they provided their feedback on the brands through a survey and additional comments on their experiences with the lubes. All the couples rated the lubes’ feel, lasting power, smell, and taste, just like I did in the preliminary knockout round.
We also tested the lubes in a stain test using a brand-new cotton sheet. We applied about a teaspoon of product to several marked sections of the sheet, and we ran it through the warm wash cycle using Tide liquid detergent. We dried it on medium heat, and we photographed the results. We looked for permanent stains on the sheet. The results of the testing were very simple: Silicone lubes stained the sheets permanently across the board, while water-based lubes did not.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.
Good Clean Love’s Almost Naked Personal Lubricant is the best water-based lubricant for most people, because it has the best mix of great texture, slickness, taste, and smell for the price. Our panel of testers liked our pick the most among the water-based lubes they tried. It has the consistency of dish soap, and its texture is very wet and smooth. It doesn’t leave a film or greasy residue, either. Some of our testers described its texture as “creamy.” Good Clean Love is likely to do a great job with anal sex, vaginal sex, and masturbation for most people, and it can be used on virtually any sex toy—you never have to worry about this lube reacting with silicone material in a toy. Our testers enjoyed Good Clean Love for both vaginal and anal sex, and two of our 14 testers remarked that it was their favorite brand for masturbation. Not all of our testers used it with a sex toy, but the ones who did also gave it high marks. None of our testers experienced itching, burning, or hives with our pick.
Unlike the plastic-scented competition, Good Clean Love has a pleasant, faint smell of vanilla and citrus. It also tastes pretty good (though we’re not going to be using it as cake frosting anytime soon).
It washes off easily with soap. In fact, we found it easier to wash than other brands, and it didn’t stain bed sheets in our laundry tests. The 4-ounce tube won’t make it through airport security regulations, but it’s a very discreet and fun-looking package. Good Clean Love also offers small tin-foil packets or “pillow packs” for travel purposes if you need to take it with you on the go. You can also pour it into our pick for travel bottles, if you need more of the product.
Although our panel of testers didn’t comment on how long our pick stays slick, more than a few Amazon reviewers note that the product dries quickly or feels gummy after some time. This a typical issue with water-based lubricants, which don’t last as long as silicone. Good Clean Love has a moderate price point, so reapplying isn’t too costly, and because it’s water-based, you can reactivate it easily with a few drops of tap water.
Silicone lubes tend to feel the smoothest, and stay slick for a much longer time than water-based ones, and we think they’re a great choice if you are okay with the fact that they can stain sheets and other fabrics. We think Swiss Navy Silicone Lubricant is the best silicone lube for most people, because it offers the best mix of texture, slickness, smell and value in a convenient, inconspicuous pump top container. It’s also the brand of lube that our panel of testers liked the most overall among all of the water- and silicone-based lubes they tried. Our panel of testers liked its ultra-silky texture and long-lasting slickness. Out of all the lubes we tested (including water-based lubes), our panelists said it was the best brand for use with condoms. A few of our testers also remarked that they liked it a lot for masturbation and use with sex toys. None of our testers experienced itching, burning or hives with our main pick.
Swiss Navy comes in a very unassuming but elegant clear bottle (though packaging varies by size). We like its pump top; twist or pop-off caps, as well as tearing up tiny packets of lube, can get really messy if you have product on your fingers, while pumps are great for keeping things clean. Swiss Navy’s bottle does not attract attention to itself, so it won’t look sleazy in your bathroom, bedroom, or toiletry case.
The liquid pours out thickly from the pump and has the consistency of Hershey’s syrup: It flows smoothly and doesn’t clump up. Compared with other lubes, Swiss Navy feels more like a thin layer of silk—it has a smoothness that is both pleasant and unobtrusive, unlike the watery, gummy, or slimy feel of other lubes we looked at. Once it’s on your fingertips, be careful, because it goes on as a very slick film that isn’t easily rubbed off. We found it to feel great while lasting a long time. It has no discernible smell, making it very neutral, and doesn’t taste like much.
Swiss Navy will likely do a great job with vaginal sex and anal sex, since it doesn’t need to be reapplied very often. Cleanup is easy (just use water and soap), and it’s reasonably priced compared with other silicone lubes we considered, costing about $2 per ounce. (Our next favorite, Gun Oil, costs about $2.50/oz.)
Like all the other silicone lubes we tested, it’s going to leave permanent (yes, permanent) stains on your sheets if it comes into contact with them. The stains look like light oil stains and are semi-transparent. This might determine where and how you use this lube, but if you are not that concerned about small spots like this in your linens, it’s still a great choice.
We also don’t recommend using Swiss Navy (or any silicone lube) with silicone sex toys. Silicone lubes tend to react with solid silicone, sometimes degrading the shape of the toy, or creating pits or defects on the surface. Use a water-based lube with them instead.
Carrageenan Gently Natural Personal Lubricant is the runner-up to Good Clean Love, our water-based pick. Our testers liked its feel and its lasting power, almost as much as Good Clean Love. In fact, it ranked almost the same with our panel of seven couples who tested it. Its ingredient list is very long and includes carrageenan, which is a substance that is derived from seaweed that can be used for foods and other products. In this case, it’s probably one of the ingredients that helps give the lube its feel and texture. Keep in mind that a product marketed as “natural” doesn’t mean it’s better, or safer, than any others. We ignored that labeling and chose this product because it is rated highly on Amazon and has plenty of positive reviews. Carrageenan was particularly well-liked by some of our panelists for sex with condoms. Being water-based, it’s easy to clean and did not stain sheets in our laundry test.
Please Liquid Lube fared well in our tests for water-based lubricants, though it was not the highest rated. It features discreet blue packaging (and comes in pillow packs), but it didn’t have enough lasting power in our testing to be the best in the category.
Liquid Silk is often listed on Amazon and other shops and tends to get high ratings. That’s because it has a very smooth and—you guessed it—silky texture that stays slick for a pretty good length of time. Some of our own staff choose Liquid Silk as their favorite brand, in fact. We liked its feel and slickness, but the smell and the taste were some of the worst we have ever experienced, distracting and pungent. We literally gagged during our taste test. If you are seeking a very smooth texture and lasting slickness but are not bothered by smell and taste, it may be worth a try.
Sliquid H2O Natural Intimate Lubricant is water-based and generally performs well in terms of feel—it’s very smooth but with a thicker consistency, almost like a cream—but its slickness was not long lasting in our initial editorial tests. What’s more, it foamed up like soap when it was rubbed against the skin, leaving a tacky residue behind.
ID Glide Personal Lubricant is a popular brand in many pharmacies and sex stores, but we do not recommend it. It has glycerin, one of our flagged ingredients, smells like a plastics lab, and tastes so bad we had to wash our mouths out during the initial review.
Pink water-based lubricant didn’t last long enough or feel all that great. It was a bit tacky to the touch, and also tasted like dishwashing soap.
Our testers also liked Gun Oil a lot. It also has a very smooth consistency that never feels like glue, goop, or cream. And just like our main pick, this smoothness feels like a very thin film of silk or light oil. It has a great mix of feel, slickness, smell, and taste, and is often priced competitively in online stores. Gun Oil received high average ratings with our panelists, and a few noted that it was great for masturbation or sex with condoms. Along with dimethicone (the type of silicone also found in our main pick and most silicone lubes), the ingredients in Gun Oil include aloe and vitamin E. Some of the sex education experts we talked to recommend being mindful of reactions to vitamin E in lubes, but in general it doesn’t seem to be a major issue for most people. Gun Oil also manufactures Pink, one of the other lubes we tested. Pink has the same formulation but is marketed to women, and in general has higher retail prices. We think you should get Gun Oil instead and save some money while getting the same value and great balance of features.
Pink Silicone Lubricant for Women is the exact same thing as Gun Oil, only it comes in bubble gum pink packaging. Gun Oil is usually cheaper than Pink, so get Gun Oil when you can, or Pink if you can’t find our main pick. Though it’s marketed to women, the product works for people of all genders.
We tested Please Silicone Lubricant, which is made by Good Vibrations. It performed well in feel, slickness, taste and smell, and is a good option for most people if you can’t find our main pick or runner-up.
Pjur Original Bodyglide has been a longtime favorite of many silicone-lube users, and it was rated highly by our testing panel, as well as our initial editorial testing. Its bottle and packaging may lead you to believe you are lurking inside a Greenwich Village sex shop at the height of the late 1970s, but the product is clear and innocuous, and works well. We found the screw-on tops hard to keep clean after repeated uses, and you may find yourself washing the bottle often.
Please Cream Lubricant fared well in our initial tests, but it was not a panel favorite. This product is considered to be a hybrid lube: It contains both water and silicone. A hybrid lube is going to get you some of the best of both categories. It will have a more silky feel like a silicone lube, but it will also wash off with the ease of a water-based lube. In a pinch, it can also be reactivated with water like a regular water-based lube. The downside is that the silicone in these lubes may yet stain your sheets or clothes. These hybrids have sometimes been highly rated by users, but in this case, our tasters couldn’t discern any advantages. We have categorized it here as a silicone lube.
Our testers liked another simple silicone-based lube, called überlube, almost as much as our main pick. The manufacturers have gone to great lengths to make the bottles, travel packs, and dispensers as sleek as a Jony Ive-designed iPhone. It’s available in various glass containers in monochromatic designs, and even its travel-size vials look like tiny ampules for the secret-spy/sexual powerhouse in all of us. Its formulation is very similar to that of our main pick and runner-up. However, we don’t think most people need to spend this much money on a personal lubricant when other brands offer a similar product for more value.
Originally published: January 27, 2016