What to Know About Eyewash Solutions

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on November 09, 2022
3 min read

Eyewash solutions are a safe way to ease irritated eyes when you’re at home or on the go. They’re mostly made of purified water but can have other ingredients, too. It helps to know what they are and how to use them safely.

The solutions can help when one or both of your eyes:

  • Feel irritated
  • Burn
  • Sting
  • Itch

They can bring relief from air pollution and allergens, like pollen. You might also use them to get rid of small objects in your eye or to ease irritation from chlorinated water, like after you get out of a pool.

Most of the products you’ll find at the drugstore are about 99% purified water. But they can have small amounts of other ingredients, too, including trace amounts of salt and boric acid.

Boric acid is a chemical that can fight bacteria and other germs. In some forms, it can damage your eye and irritate your skin. But the levels of boric acid in eyewash solutions are very low. As long as you follow the directions on the packaging, these products are safe to use.

You can find many recipes online to make your own eyewash at home with water and a bit of salt. It may sound simple, but this DIY approach usually isn’t a safe option. Research shows that bacteria begins to form in homemade solutions within 24 hours. Stick with the products you can find on pharmacy shelves.

They may sound the same, but there are some key differences. Lubricant drops, also called artificial tears, help to soothe dry eyes. Other drops may relieve pain, treat infections with antibiotics, ease redness, or treat conditions like glaucoma.

Eyewashes are for removing particles, chemicals, or other substances from your eyes.

If you wear contact lenses, remove them first. Then, you can apply the solution in two ways:

With a nozzle applicator:

  1. Lean back and open your eyes wide.
  2. Squeeze the bottle to add the solution. Don’t let the dropper touch your eye’s surface.
  3. Flush your eyes as much as you need to.

With an eye cup:

  1. Rinse the cup with some of the solution.
  2. Fill half the cup with the eyewash.
  3. Put the cup over your eye. Be sure to hold it there tightly to avoid leaks.
  4. Tilt your head back, open your eye, and move your eyeball around to help the liquid wash the whole surface.
  5. Rinse the cup with clean water.

No matter which way you choose, wait 5 minutes before you put your contacts back in.

Call your doctor if you have symptoms after you use an eyewash solution, including:

  • Sores in or near your eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Red eyes
  • Pain or irritation

Don’t use these products if you have open wounds in or near your eyes. Also, make sure the solution doesn’t look cloudy or discolored before you use it. It’s a good idea to check the expiration date on the package first.