A Short (but Thorough) Guide to Contact Lens Care

by | Read time: 5 minutes

The day my parents trusted me to replace my huge glasses with contact lenses was glorious. I was in seventh grade, that awkward time when there’s no way to be cool unless you’ve tended to details like eyewear. I wore lenses then and nearly every day after, splitting time with glasses only recently.

Woman Practicing Good Contact Lens Care Guidelines Inserting Contacts While Looking into Tabletop Mirror

Knock on wood, I’ve never had an eye infection in the many decades since. I thought this was normal. Then a while back, a fellow reporter barreled into the newsroom, glasses askew, after an appointment with her ophthalmologist. Another eye infection. Another? She couldn’t break her habit of not washing her hands before removing her lenses. Forget about cleaning her lenses. She rarely did. So let’s start there. All the care tips for contact lenses are simple — you just have to actually follow them.

To put this guide together I consulted the pros: the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Optometric Association. Also, Acuvue, which is the maker of my contact lenses, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For good measure, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, too.

First, know that several types of the most common contact lenses, soft contact lenses, exist. They include disposable (wear for one day then throw away), daily (wear for one day, clean afterward; often made to last two weeks) and extended wear (wear up to 30 days then throw away).

We’re talking about daily contact lenses in this piece, though the good-hygiene routine applies to the other types of soft lenses and to rigid gas permeable lenses.

Contact lens care dos

Here are four non-negotiable things you should do to care for contact lenses:

Wash your hand before touching your contact lenses

I wasn’t kidding. Simple first step for care: Wash your hands with water and soap that won’t leave a film (so nothing hydrating). Then dry your hands on a towel that doesn’t have lint.

Remove your contact lenses before removing eye makeup

You want to keep your lenses as pure as possible, which means not getting water, makeup remover or anything other than the appropriate solutions on them. Even if you squeeze your eyes shut, eye makeup remover or water can get in. Don’t risk it.

Rub your contact lenses in order to clean them

Rub your contact lenses against a clean palm with clean fingers and cleaning solution — even if you use a no-rub solution, the pros say. Rubbing duration varies by cleaning solution brand, but you generally want to rub each side for some five to 20 seconds, and then rinse the lenses with solution for some five to 20 seconds, before you store them in solution. Rubbing the lenses helps remove deposits and microorganisms (bacteria, virus, fungus).

Clean your contact lenses upon removal/before you put them back in

I must admit, when I wear my lenses for only a couple hours, sometimes I don’t complete the prescribed cleaning ritual before storing them. Instead, I place them in a clean case with fresh solution. Like I said, no eye infection for decades. Still, this is a no-no.

“You must clean and disinfect any contact lens you remove from your eye before you put the lens back in,” according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Contact lens care don’ts

Here are six things you should never do, in order to maintain healthy contact lenses:

Don’t let your contact lenses or lens case touch water

Not allowing water to get on your lenses is paramount, according to all the experts. Don’t even shower in them. Forget about swimming in them.

“Water can introduce germs to the eyes through contact lenses,” according to the CDC. Or as the American Academy of Ophthalmology puts it: “Water and contacts don’t mix.” Apparently, certain forms of bacteria and other eye-menacing stuff in water, like the acanthamoeba, can attach to contacts, leading to infection.

At times, I’ve showered with my lenses in, mainly because my vision is so bad. When I have, my eyes are uncomfortable afterward, and my lenses never seem to last as long as they do when I don’t. That should have tipped me off. Now I know better. No more showering with my lenses in.

Don’t put your contact lenses in your mouth or get saliva on them

I mean, if water, which is something clean enough to drink, can get germs on your contacts, imagine what your mouth would do. Let only saline solution, cleaning solution or eye drops designed for contacts touch those babies.

Don’t wear contact lenses that you’ve stored for more than 30 days

Well, you can wear them, according to the experts. Just be sure to disinfect them again, like you would when you remove them. It’s also worth noting that solutions have varied storage durations: Some allow for storage only up to 24 hours, some allow up to seven days, and so on. Mine allows 30 days. Check yours.

Don’t sleep in your contact lenses

Daily wear lenses are not meant to be slept in.

Don’t use solutions that have expired

It’s really bad to use expired solutions. So bad that the FDA has recommended that manufacturers put a “discard by” date on packaging. Don’t reuse your solution either.

Don’t make your own saline solution

If you’re not supposed to let water get near your lenses, there’s no way to create a homemade solution — but people try to. Don’t.

Journalist Mitra Malek is a recovering newspaper reporter. In recent years, she’s shifted to writing about topics that don’t involve city hall or cancer clusters — and that let her wear glasses instead while writing from home.

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