What to Know About Eyewash Solutions

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on July 15, 2020

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.

When Should You Use Them?

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.

What’s in Eyewash Solutions?

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.

Eyedrops vs. Eyewash

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.

How Do You Use Them?

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.

Side Effects and Risks

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.

Show Sources


U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Label: Eye-Wash Water Solution.”

Medscape: “Purified water, ophthalmic.”

American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators: “FDA Announces Recall of Eye Wash/Eye Irrigating Solutions Distributed by Major Pharmaceuticals and Rugby Laboratories Due to Microbial Contamination

Mayo Clinic: “Artificial Tears: How to select eyedrops for dry eyes.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Eye Drops,” “Should I use boric acid for dry eye?”

Kaiser Permanente: “Boric Acid.”

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital: “Preparing Saline Solution.”

John Hopkins: “Boric acid solution.”

Arquivos Brasileiros de Oftalmologia: “Use Conditions of Boric Acid Solution in the Eye: Handling and Occurrence of Contamination.”

National Pesticide Information Center: “Boric Acid Fact Sheet.”

International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology: “Strategies for Decreasing Contamination of Homemade Nasal Saline Irrigation Solutions.”

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