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All about contact solution — from disinfection to slime

contact lens case and contact lens solution

When you hear the words “good hygiene,” what do you think of?

Washing your hands, brushing your teeth and showering probably all make the list. And if you wear contact lenses, contact hygiene should also be up there. 

Don’t worry if you’ve been slacking a little — you’re not alone. An estimated 45 million people in the U.S. wear contacts, and of these, up to 90% don’t follow the instructions for proper contact care. 

However, it’s not too late to brush off those old habits and start making contact care a priority. 

The good news? While it may take a few extra minutes every night, contact care is easy. All it takes is dedication — and an ample supply of contact solution.

Whether you’re new to contact lenses or you could use a little refresher, learn why contact lens solution is so important, how to use it correctly and how to find the brand that’s right for you. 

Also, how contact solution relates to slime.

Contact solution and infection prevention

One of the main main reasons to use contact solution is infection prevention.

Contact lenses require a little more daily care than eyeglasses — not just to help you see as well as possible, but also to protect your eyes. Cleaning, disinfecting and storing your contact lenses correctly is critical for avoiding an infection. 

The most common eye infection that stems from wearing contact lenses is keratitis. This is characterized by inflammation (swelling) of the cornea —  the clear, dome-shaped surface on the front of your eye that allows light to enter the eye. While the infectious type can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, noninfectious keratitis can be the result of a minor injury or wearing your contacts for too long. 

Whether infectious or not, keratitis can cause:

But keratitis doesn’t just cause pain and slight difficulty seeing. It can lead to serious complications like open sores on the cornea (ulcers), recurring viral infections in the cornea or severe scarring of the cornea — a complication that may require a corneal transplant in order to see clearly again. 

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent keratitis, including taking your contacts out before bed, switching to disposable lenses designed for one-day use and, of course, cleaning your contacts correctly.

SEE RELATED: Daily disposable contact lenses: pros and cons

Hygiene and the role of contact solution

When it comes to contact lens hygiene, contact solution plays a few key roles — from cleaning your contacts to storing them safely. Knowing how to take care of your lenses and your contact cases can help prevent infection and serious side effects of bacterial buildup.

Cleaning your contacts

The first step is to thoroughly wash your hands. The bacteria on your fingers can easily get transferred onto your lenses, putting you at risk for infection. Drying your hands is equally important. Water contains harmful microorganisms that can also spread easily from your fingers to your lenses. 

Once you’ve properly washed and dried your hands, you’ll move on to what the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) calls the “rub and rinse” method. 

This method starts by gently rubbing the contact lens in some solution in the palm of your hand — you’ll do this for about 20 seconds on each side (unless the directions on the bottle of solution suggest longer). Rubbing gets rid of debris, tear film or allergens that may have built up during the day. Don’t skip the rubbing step, even if the bottle says “no-rub contact lens solution.” 

Then, you’ll rinse off the contact with more solution for about 10 seconds. Again, you may need to rinse longer, depending on the instructions for your specific solution.

Finally, place the lens into a clean, dry case.

The solution in your contact case

The contact lens case (and the solution inside of it) is an often-overlooked part of lens hygiene, but it’s just as important as washing your hands. Contact cases are fairly susceptible to getting contaminated with bacteria. You’re frequently reaching inside of the case, and the bacteria from your fingers can rub off on the inside of the case — and eventually, onto your lenses.

In a 2015 study, researchers found that 66% of contact lens-wearing participants had contaminated cases, and nearly 40% of those were contaminated with multiple organisms. They also found that participants who didn’t wash and dry their hands before taking out their contacts had higher contamination levels than those who did.

To correctly clean your case, start by emptying out any remaining solution. Rinse the case with fresh solution and allow it to air-dry before using it again. 

Once you place the lens into the case, fill the well of the case with solution. Depending on the particular solution, you will most likely need to let your contacts soak for four to eight hours.

Keep in mind that it’s a good idea to replace your case at least every three months in order to avoid infection and irritation.

What to do if you don't have contact solution

If you find yourself ready to take your lenses out and notice there’s no solution in sight, you’re basically out of luck. 

That’s because no other product or material works like contact solution does, and some “alternatives” are downright dangerous. Following the guidelines below can help keep you free from harm.

  • Do not use water as contact solution. Water is rarely free of germs, many of which can cause eye infections. One of the most dangerous is Acanthamoeba, which is often found in lake, well or tap water. It can cause a severe version of keratitis, called Acanthamoeba keratitis, which is not just painful but is also difficult to treat and can sometimes require more than a year of treatment. 

  • Resist the urge to try your hand at a homemade contact solution. No matter how tempting, avoid do-it-yourself remedies. The homemade saline in DIY contact solution is known to contain dangerous germs that can lead to blindness.

  • Using eye drops as contact solution is also a no-no. Even though they’re safe to put in your eyes while you’re wearing contacts, they shouldn’t be used as a solution.

So, what else should you use? Unfortunately, the answer is nothing. 

There is no safe substitute for contact solution. 

Trying to wear contact lenses to bed to salvage them will also do more harm than good — people who sleep in their contacts have an increased risk for problems like severe red eye, infections and ulcers. 

Leaving lenses in overnight can also lead to a complication called corneal neovascularization, where there’s an overgrowth of new blood vessels into your cornea. This causes swelling, which can damage your eye to the point that your doctor won’t ever be able to fit you for contacts again. 

Your best bet is to be prepared and always have extra contact solution on hand (just make sure it isn’t expired). 

If you do run out and aren’t able to buy more contact lens solution, dispose of your current lenses and put on a fresh pair next time. 

Types of contact solution and storage systems

When it’s time to buy contact solution, you’ll find there are several options out there. Some are meant for soft contact lenses, while others are to be used with hard contacts — carefully check the packaging before buying to ensure that you get the right kind for your needs. Each type has its pros and cons, as well as its own set of directions, so it’s important to know the differences.

Soft contact lens solution

For soft contacts, there are two main types of solution: multipurpose and hydrogen peroxide contact solution.

Multipurpose contact solution is designed to clean, disinfect, rinse and store soft lenses. It’s also the most popular type of contact cleaner. Since it is slightly less expensive and a bit easier to use than hydrogen peroxide-based cleaners, it’s more likely that contact-wearers will actually use multipurpose solutions correctly.

A hydrogen peroxide-based system is a preservative-free contact solution. It’s often recommended for people who have allergies or a sensitivity to the preservatives found in multipurpose solutions. Hydrogen peroxide on its own is harmful to your eyes, so all contact solution with hydrogen peroxide needs to first be neutralized (turned into harmless saline) before you can put your lenses back in.

Neutralization can be a one- or two-step process. The one-step process automatically neutralizes your lenses while they’re disinfecting, typically with a storage case that has a built-in neutralizer. The two-step process involves neutralizing your contacts after they have already been disinfected. With this type of solution, you will need to add in a neutralizing tablet. 

If you have a hydrogen peroxide-based system, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully and let your contacts soak for the entire time, as directed. Neutralization takes a specific amount of time, and putting your contacts back in your eyes before the hydrogen peroxide has been entirely neutralized can cause stinging and burning. 

Because it hasn’t been neutralized, never use hydrogen peroxide contact lens solution as a regular cleaner or let it touch your eye directly. 

Hard contact lens solution

Rigid gas permeable (RGP) contacts — often referred to as “hard contacts” — are much less commonly used than soft ones. 

Although they typically provide better vision and durability than soft lenses, they aren’t comfortable right away. You will need to go through an adjustment period to feel comfortable wearing them. You also have to wear them regularly — skipping a week or so can mean having to start that adjustment period over again.

If you do wear hard contacts, look for solutions that are specifically designed and approved for hard lens use. 

Down the line, if you end up switching to soft lenses, do not use your old hard lens cleaner on the soft ones. Solution for hard contact lenses is much stronger and can easily ruin soft lenses. 

SEE RELATED: Caring for your soft contact lenses

The best contact solution brand

There isn’t necessarily one “best” brand when it comes to contact solution. As long as your eye doctor signs off on it and it’s been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), it’s mostly about personal preference. 

That said, it’s not a great idea to try a new one every week. In general, it’s best to find the contact solution that is best for you and stick to it. 

When you’re considering a brand to pledge your loyalty to, be wary of generics. 

While generic contact solution is safe — it couldn’t be sold if it wasn’t approved by the FDA — it can still be problematic. For one thing, the materials found in lenses and those in solutions could interact in a way that can negatively impact the disinfection process. If lens manufacturers start using new materials with different chemical compositions, generic solution — which was likely developed for compatibility with the older lens materials — might no longer work as well.

In addition to avoiding generics, you may also want to look for one of the more popular, top-selling brands. This will ensure that you can find your preferred solution in almost any store, at any time. 

For example, you can buy the hydrogen peroxide-based Clear Care contact solution and multipurpose Opti-Free contact solution at well-known retailers like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Target, Costco, Sam’s Club and Bed Bath & Beyond. As long as you’re around one of those stores, you probably won’t have trouble finding what you need. 

And remember, it’s always a good idea to check with your eye doctor before switching anything to do with your lenses — that goes for the type/brand of solution as well as the contacts themselves. 

READ MORE: The best contact solution products

Doctor knows best

If you ever have any questions about contact solution, or about contact hygiene in general, your eye doctor is the ultimate source. Even if you’ve become a contact lens guru, be sure to visit every two years for a comprehensive eye exam.

READ MORE: Contact lens basics: Types of contact lenses and more

P.S. Contact solution for...slime

Slime isn’t exactly an eye care topic. But it’s become difficult to talk about contact solution without talking about slime. 

That’s because kids (and adults) these days have become obsessed with the goop, and one of the easiest ways to make it is to use a slime recipe with contact solution as the star ingredient.

If you live with little ones who are dying to make slime (or if you’re a kid at heart and want to try making some yourself), just make sure that you don’t use up all of your solution on the slime. You don’t want to be left without enough solution before bed — and “I used it all for slime” isn’t the world’s best excuse for running out. 

And remember, you should always supervise children when they’re making slime to make sure they don’t ingest the contact solution or any other materials.

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