Contact lenses: A guide for first-time users
When you’re learning to ride a bike or drive a car, it takes time and practice to get the hang of it. The same is true of wearing and caring for contact lenses.
Yes, adjusting to all the rules surrounding contact lenses can be frustrating. How do I put these darn things in? Am I really not supposed to swim with my contacts in? What’s this about not rinsing my contacts with tap water?
But once you’ve mastered the rules, it’s easy to see why millions of other people around the world have ditched their glasses in favor of contacts.
Follow this beginner’s guide to contact lenses to get a clear idea of what’s in store for you.
This advice generally covers both soft and hard contact lenses as well as daily and extended-wear contacts, although care suggestions may vary based on which type of lenses you use.
How to put in contact lenses
SEE RELATED: How to read your contact lens prescription
Before you do anything else, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water; this decreases the chance of an eye infection. The ophthalmology group recommends staying away from soap that contains extra oils or fragrances, as soap can stick to the surface of a lens.
Dry your hands with tissues or a lint-free cloth so that particles don’t wind up floating around in one or both of your eyes.
Stand over a clean, flat surface when handling your contacts. If you’re over a sink, be sure to plug the drain.
Always put the first contact lens in the same eye, either the right or left. This keeps you from mixing up the right-eye and left-eye contacts, which typically have different power or measurements.
Remove one of the lenses from the storage case, then carefully slide it into your hand. Use your fingertips, rather than your nails, to handle the lens.
Rinse the lens with contact-lens solution. If you drop a lens, rinse it with solution again before trying to put it in your eye.
Put the contact lens on the tip of either the index finger or middle finger of the hand you write with. Be sure to look for torn or damaged spots on the lens.
Check to see that the lens is right-side out. If the lens forms a bowl and the edges turn up, you’re ready to put it on your eye. If the lens looks like a lid — the edges are turned out — reverse the lens.
Hold your upper eyelid open with your non-writing hand while looking in the mirror. Hold down your lower eyelid with the middle or ring finger of your writing hand. As an alternative, you can use the thumb and fingers of your non-writing hand to widely open your upper and lower eyelids.
Put the lens on your eye. Look in front of you or at the ceiling while doing this.
Slowly shut your eyes and roll them in a full circle to help the lens settle properly. Open your eyes and gently blink a few times. Look in a mirror to see whether the lens shows up in the center of your eye.
If the lens is inserted and centered correctly, your eye should feel comfortable and your vision should be clear. If you feel discomfort or your vision is blurry, you’ll need to take out and reinsert the lens.
Once you’ve got the first lens in, repeat the process with the second lens.
SEE RELATED: How can I tell if my contact lenses are inside-out?
How to take out contact lenses
These are the steps to take when taking out your contacts. They’re supplied by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics, University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center and contact lens retailer Coastal.
As you did when putting in your contacts, handle the lenses only after you’ve carefully washed and dried your hands to prevent an eye infection.
Flip over your storage case and shake out any leftover contact-lens solution, then air dry it or dry the case with a fresh, clean cloth.
Stand in front of a mirror and look up. Pull down your lower eyelid with the middle finger of your writing hand. Remember to always remove the same lens first (right eye or left eye) to avoid confusion.
Carefully slide the contact lens down to the white of your eye with the index finger of your writing hand.
Gently pinch the lens with the pads of your index finger and thumb to remove it from your eye.
Repeat this process to remove the lens from your other eye.
Sticking to instructions from your eyecare professional or the manufacturer, clean the lenses after removing them if they’re not daily-wear contacts. Use only recommended cleaning solutions; don’t use homemade solutions.
Put the contacts in a storage case, immersing them in solution, or toss them out if you use daily-wear lenses.
How to take care of your contacts and your eyes
Proper care of your contacts can help maintain healthy eyes and can prolong the life of your contacts.
Here are eye care recommendations courtesy of the University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, AccuWeather.com, the FDA, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Clean your contact-lens storage case in warm soapy water at least once a week. Rinse it thoroughly and wipe it dry using a clean tissue.
Replace your contact-lens storage case at least every three months, or as recommended by your eyecare professional.
Remove your contacts — and don’t put them back in — if you’re experiencing unusual redness, constant pain or discomfort, vision changes, sensitivity to light, excessive tearing or strange eye discharge. Visit your eyecare professional to get the problem diagnosed.
Don’t wear contacts when you’re ill, even if it’s just a cold. When you’re sick, germs can spread from your hands to your eyes when you’re putting in or removing contacts.
Remember to blink. Regular blinking helps keep your lenses clean and moist.
Put rewetting drops in your eyes as recommended by your eye care professional to prevent your eyes and contacts from drying out.
Get rid of contact-lens solution one month after you’ve opened it, even if there’s some solution left.
Use only sterile saline solution for rinsing, but don’t use it for cleaning and disinfecting your contacts. Rewetting drops also shouldn’t be used as a disinfectant. Never reuse contact-lens solution.
Keep your fingernails short to prevent accidentally scratching your eyes or damaging your contacts while putting the lenses in or taking them out.
Be sure you’ve got an up-to-date pair of backup glasses or contact lenses in case something happens to the contacts you’re wearing.
Don’t wear your contacts while sleeping unless your eye care professional says it’s OK.
Avoid swimming or showering while wearing contacts unless, in the case of swimming, you’re wearing goggles. Exposing your eyes to water when your contacts are in can cause eye infections.
Never clean or moisten contact lenses with saliva from your mouth. This can add germs to the contacts.
Don’t use tap water to soak or rinse your lenses. This might lead to an eye infection.
SEE RELATED: Contact lens basics: Types of contacts and more
Page published in September 2019
Page updated in June 2021