How to Disinfect & Clean Contacts
A guide to cleaning and disinfecting your lenses before and after you wear them.
Whether you are use daily wear or extended wear contact lenses, and whether you discard them each day or after two weeks or more, it is important to follow your eye-care provider’s instructions carefully regarding cleaning and disinfection. Keep in mind that rigid gas permeable (RGP) and soft contact lenses require slightly different kinds of care.
Each type of contact lens and care product or solution will have specific instructions for how long to rub the lenses to clean them (or not to rub them at all), how long to soak the lenses, and how long to rinse the lenses and in what type of solution. Follow these instructions carefully. If you are unsure about any step, you should ask your eye-care provider to further review and explain the process.
Preparing to Insert Your Lenses
Before inserting your lenses you should take proper precautions to ensure they are in good condition and ready for wear. Before handling your lenses, always wash your hands using a non-creamy, non-oily soap. Tip: Most pump soaps contain creams. Ivory and Neutrogena are both appropriate soaps. If your eyes are red or irritated, do not insert your lenses. Wait a few hours or until the symptoms pass. If they do not pass within a reasonable amount of time, call your eye doctor. If you are in pain, call your eye doctor immediately.
If you are going to be inserting your lenses over a bathroom sink, close the drain. Always inspect your lenses before inserting them. If they are damaged—even if they only have tiny nicks or tears—do not use them even if they are clean and ready for insertion. Instead call your doctor for a replacement pair and use another pair of lenses or your eyeglasses. If your eye doctor believes the lenses are safe and can be worn comfortably, follow his or her instructions.
Moistening Your Contact Lenses
Most contact lens wearers know it can sometimes be difficult to keep their lenses moist. It is very common for contact lenses to become dry. Environmental factors are usually the culprit, although some people’s eyes have a natural tendency to become dry, which in effect dries out the lenses. Tip: Never use saliva or tap water to moisten your lenses. Both of these substances contain bacteria that can cause significant damage to your lenses and overall eye health. These substances are a leading cause of eye infections. In some cases, such as when wearing RGP lenses, it is better to insert the lenses dry rather than moisten them with saliva or tap water. If so directed by your eye doctor, you may be able to use bottled or distilled water to wet your RGP lenses. Soft contact lens wearers should never use any of the substances mentioned above. Instead, always use a wetting solution such as saline solution or over-the-counter soft contact-lens rinse. It is recommended that soft contact-lens wearers keep some of this solution with them at all times in case of emergencies.
Regardless of which type of lens you wear, never use tap water or saliva. Unfiltered tap water is not clean enough to clean and disinfect your lenses. In fact, any kind of water, including bottled and distilled, gets absorbed by the lenses and may cause the lens material to warp.
Removing Your Contact Lenses
Many eye care professionals recommend that you get into the habit of starting with the same eye every time. This is done to avoid accidentally interchanging the lenses. If you are left-handed, start with your left eye first, or vice-versa. You should begin your routine by removing the lens, cleaning it, and placing it in the proper case chamber before moving on to the other lens.
General Cleaning Instructions
Some general guidelines should be followed for all lens types. These include:
- Always wash your hands before removing or inserting the lens.
- Always use quality lens-care products instead of homemade solutions, and try to clean lenses as often as possible to remove buildup.
- Always follow the minimum soaking-time guidelines in the instructions before wearing your lenses again.
- Never rinse your lenses with tap water.
- Frequently clean the lens case with solution and replace it regularly.
- After inserting your lenses into your eyes, rinse the case with fresh solution and allow it to air dry fully.
- Never sterilize lenses that are designed to be discarded after use.
- Do not share contact lenses with others.
- Avoid purchasing bootleg contact lenses.
- Do not put a lens in your mouth and then your eye.
- Regardless of where you purchase your lenses, always have them fitted by an eye care professional.
- Do not switch cleaning-solution brands unless authorized to do so by your eye doctor.
- Keep your fingernails short and clean.
- Change your storing solution daily.
- To clean the lenses, rub them firmly in a straight back-and-forth motion; do not be afraid to rub with pressure—contact lenses are durable and can withstand this process.
- Make-up wearers should use creams instead of powdered or water-soluble cosmetics; some cosmetics are specifically designed for contact-lens wearers to wash away more easily and not irritate the eyes.
- Finish your morning routine (showering, hair spraying, etc.) before inserting your lenses. Hairspray is known to ruin lenses on contact.
Your eye care practitioner will advise you how often your case should be replaced. By following the lens care and cleaning instructions, you will have a safe and comfortable lens-wearing experience.
Contact Lens Cleaning Solutions
There are two methods for cleaning and disinfecting your contact lenses:
- Hydrogen Peroxide: This method involves two steps; cleaning your lenses, then disinfecting them with a hydrogen peroxide solution. The hydrogen peroxide neutralizes during the disinfection process. Many people believe this method gets the lenses cleaner and leaves virtually no preservatives or deposits on the lenses.
- Multipurpose Solution: This one-step process is the most commonly used method for cleaning all types of contact lenses. Multipurpose solutions are quick and simple and allow you to clean and disinfect at the same time. Although some people react negatively to these solutions, most people can tolerate them.
Learn more about Contact Lens Solutions
Additional Care Tips for Lens Wearers
All contact lens wearers should take extra precautions while wearing their lenses, such as:
- Avoid smoke, chemicals, and other irritants.
- Wear sunglasses when outdoors to reduce light sensitivity caused by lenses.
- Do not rub your eyes while your lenses are in.
- Remove a lens if it is out of position or becomes dislodged.
- Do not wear your lenses if you experience discomfort.
- Do not sleep with your lenses in unless directed to do so by your eye doctor.
- Do not swim with your lenses in.
- Contact your eye doctor immediately with any concerns.
- J. Anshel, MD “Smart Medicine for Your Eyes” (SquareOne Publishers, 2011) 334-338
- J. Weizer, MD; J. Stein, MD, MS “Reader’s Digest Guide to Eye Care” (Quantum Publishing Ltd, 2009) 37; 40; 54-55