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How long can you keep contacts in solution?

Dried contact lenses in case

Whether you’re new to contact lenses or have been wearing them for years, you've probably wondered, “How long can I keep my contacts in solution?”

Here’s the answer to that question and a lot more good information about the proper care of your contacts in lens solution. 

Depending on the suggested replacement schedule (or wear cycle) of your contacts, you may keep them in contact solution in a tightly closed contact lens case for up to 30 days. However, storing your contacts in solution won't extend that wear cycle.

For instance, if you open a pair of monthly contacts but only wear them for two weeks (wearing glasses and keeping them in storage for the other two), it's best for your eye health to throw them out and start with a new pair.

Before putting contacts you've stored in your eyes, clean and disinfect them with fresh contact solution. If you feel any unusual irritation, it's best to throw the old contacts away and start with a new pair.

That’s the general rule — some eye doctors and manufacturers of contact solution and lenses may have different guidelines. Talk to your doctor and check the patient instruction booklet that came with your contact lenses and contact solution to find out what they recommend.

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Do contacts go bad in solution?

While soft contacts don’t exactly “go bad,” contact solution can act as a breeding ground for germs over time. Reduce your risk of eye infection by tossing lenses that have been sitting in solution for more than 30 days. The best plan is to follow the suggested replacement schedule of the lens, whether it's monthly, weekly or daily.

Also, soft contacts that sit in solution for a long time may eventually dry out as the solution evaporates. Dried-out lenses may be damaged, so don’t try to rehydrate and reuse them. Throw out those shriveled-up lenses and put in a fresh pair of contacts.

Gas permeable lenses should not be left in solution, but gas permeable contacts can be safely stored in a dry case for months or longer. After storing gas permeable lenses, you should clean them with a lens cleaner and rinse them with saline before placing them in your eyes.

SEE RELATED: Tips for contact lens wearers

Can I wear contacts that have been in solution for a long time?

If your monthly disposable soft contacts have been sitting in solution for less than 30 days, you can clean and disinfect them with new solution before putting them in your eyes. 

If they’ve been sitting in solution for several months to a year or longer, it’s safest to throw them away and start over with a fresh pair. 

How often should I change contact solution in my contact lens case?

If your contacts are sitting in a case, you should change your disinfecting solution at least once every 30 days. 

That’s an absolute minimum — and may need to be more frequent depending on your contacts' replacement schedule — so talk to your eye doctor to find out what's right for you. In the meantime, you may want to change the solution every week or two to be on the safe side.

How long do contacts last unopened?

Soft contact lens packages are stamped with an expiration date, and they’re good through that month and year as long as the packaging stays intact. 

The expiration date on soft contact lenses is typically about four years from the date of manufacture. After that time, the seal on the package can degrade, potentially exposing the sterile lens to contamination. 

So get rid of lenses that are past their expiration date.

Do I need contact lens solution?

If you wear contact lenses, you may need contact lens solution to rinse, clean and disinfect your lenses. 

If you wear daily disposable contacts that must be discarded after each use, you don’t necessarily need contact lens solution. 

However, if you have sensitive eyes, you may want to buy FDA-approved saline solution to rinse the lenses before putting them in your eyes. Daily disposable lenses should not be cleaned or disinfected. 

If you wear other types of soft contact lenses, or gas permeable contact lenses, you may need an FDA-approved multi-purpose solution for rinsing, disinfection and storage. You may also use an enzymatic cleaner to remove buildup. 

Ask your eye doctor what kind of contact solution and cleaner you need for your lenses.

How can you store contact lenses without solution?

You can’t safely store contact lenses without the right contact lens disinfecting solution. 

If you don’t have solution available, you’ll need to buy some or dispose of your contacts and use a fresh pair next time.

The only safe way to store contact lenses is in a contact case fully covered by fresh contact lens disinfecting solution. You should never store contact lenses in water (neither bottled, distilled nor tap), homemade saline solution, saline nasal spray, eye drops or any other liquid not expressly intended for disinfecting and storing contact lenses. 

It should go without saying, but most contact lens patient instruction booklets also warn against using saliva (yes, really!) to store your lenses. Also, never store your contacts in a drinking glass, a jar or anything other than a clean contact lenses case (which needs to be replaced every three months).

Storing your contacts incorrectly can lead to serious corneal infections and even blindness. It's worth a quick run to the drug store to save your eyes!

Should you change contact solution every day?

It’s important to use fresh contact solution every time you disinfect and store your contact lenses. Never reuse or “top off” contact solution that’s sitting in your contact case. 

If you store your contacts for an extended period of time, be sure to clean and disinfect them with fresh contact solution before putting them in your eyes.

Leaving contacts in solution for too long is risky, so follow the same rule with your contacts that you’d use for food safety: When in doubt, toss it out. Then reach for a fresh pair of contacts to keep your eyes safe and your vision sharp.

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Allie Johnson

Allie Johnson has been a freelance writer for over 10 years, covering topics such as personal finance, insurance and health. Allie started wearing glasses in fifth grade and switched ... Read more