How Should I Clean My Eyes?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on August 27, 2020

Dirt gets in your eye, or you accidentally squirt nail polish into it. You wake to find your peepers full of pus or mucus. You wash your body with soap and water. But what’s the right way to clean your eyes?

If you get something in your eye, it can be a little uncomfortable or be very painful. The best way to wash it out depends on what it is. Act quickly so you can prevent any damage to your eye and vision.


Lots of household chemicals can hurt your eyes. They include bleach, drain cleaners, fertilizers, dishwater powder, glass polish, and lime products like plaster and cement.

Flush it. Rinse your eye with cool water or saline solution right away for at least 15 minutes. You can do this over a sink or in the shower. If you wear contacts, take them out, but don’t stop rinsing your eye while you do it.

Get advice. When you finish rinsing, call your local poison control center or the national hotline at 800-222-1222. They can tell you what to do next, based on the chemical. For things like soap and shampoo, a good rinse is probably all you’ll need. If you’re unsure, call the hotline.

Go to the ER. If the poison expert tells you to go to the emergency room, take the container of the chemical so doctors will know exactly what it is.

Pus or Mucus

Gunky pus or mucus can dry into an itchy or uncomfortable crust. You can get it from a cold, allergies, or pinkeye. Or you might have a blocked tear duct or problems with the oil glands in your eyelids, which can clog things up.

Here’s what to do:

First, break up any crusty discharge. Put a warm, moist washcloth on your closed eye for a few minutes. Warm the washcloth again with water if you need to get the gunk off. Then take damp, warm cotton balls or a corner of a washcloth and gently wipe your closed eye from the inner corner to the outer corner. Repeat with new cotton balls until the eye is clean.


Keep it clean. Wash your hands before and after.

Warm is best. Don’t use hot water. Your eye, eyelid, and nearby skin are delicate.

Don’t spread infection. Use a new washcloth for each wipe if you have an infection like pinkeye. Use two washcloths if you have pinkeye in both eyes so you don’t transfer the infection from one eye to the other.

Dirt or Debris

Every now and then, the wind can kick dirt or sand into your face. Or you may get something bigger caught in your eye.

Use your tears. Gently pull your upper eyelid down so it hangs over your lower lashes. Blink a few times. This should make you tear up, which can flush out the object.

Flush it. You can also rinse your eye with cool water from a sink. Do it for as long as you need.

Wipe it. If you see the small object on your eyeball, you can try to get it out by gently swiping with a wet washcloth. Don’t poke at it. And don’t do this if the object is stuck in your eye.

Don’t rub. This may push the dirt or debris deeper into your eye.

When to See a Doctor

You’ll probably need medical care if you have:

  • Trouble seeing or opening the eye
  • Pain
  • Redness in the white part of the eye
  • Eye that’s bothered by bright light
  • Discharge that won’t stop
  • Trouble getting the debris out yourself

Show Sources


Mayo Clinic: “Foreign object in the eye: First aid.”

Nemours Foundation: “Pink eye (conjunctivitis),” “Eye injuries.”

Paediatrics & Child Health: “Colds in children.”

UpToDate: “Patient education: Chemical eye injury (The Basics).”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Crusty eyelid or eyelashes,” “What is blepharitis?” “Quick home remedies for pink eye,” “Epsom salts for chalazion,” “Recognizing and treating eye injuries.”

Children’s Hospital Colorado: “Eye -- Pus or discharge.”

Australian Government Department of Health: “Eye discharge.”

Cleveland Clinic: “First aid for eyes.”

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Eye exposures.”

National Capital Poison Center: “The baby drank shampoo.”

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