During normal wear, dirt, protein particles, and germs can get on contacts. Germs can cause serious eye infections that may lead to blindness. Proper cleaning of your contact lenses kills these germs. Cleaning also protects your eyes from irritation and removes substances that may shorten the life of the lens.
What kinds of products are used to clean contact lenses?
Gas permeable (GP) lenses require:
Soaking or storage solutions
Wetting solutions, which are used to moisten the lenses while you wear them
Soft lenses require solutions including:
Disinfecting solutions (either chemicals or hydrogen peroxide, which sometimes includes a neutralizing solution)
Rinsing and storage solutions
In addition to cleaning your lenses to remove dirt and germs, your eye care provider may recommend enzyme cleaning to help remove protein deposits.
A multipurpose solution can be used to clean, rinse, disinfect, and store your contact lenses. You can clean your lenses, rinse for as long as directed, and disinfect with the same solution. With multipurpose solutions, no other lens care products are needed.
Hydrogen peroxide solutions can be used to clean, disinfect, rinse and store your contact lenses. This type of cleaning system has no preservatives, and is a good choice for people who are sensitive to multipurpose solutions. Hydrogen peroxide can sting, burn, and damage your eyes, so you must always use a neutralizer with peroxide disinfection. The neutralizer makes the peroxide safe. There are 2 ways to use hydrogen peroxide to clean your lenses. The One Step process neutralizes your lenses during the disinfecting stage, while the Two Step process neutralizes your lenses after the disinfecting stage.
When is cleaning done?
Contacts must be cleaned and disinfected every night. If you have daily-wear or extended-wear soft contacts, clean and disinfect them every night. (Eye care providers recommend that all contacts be taken out before sleeping, even those called extended wear contacts.) Disposable daily wear contacts should be thrown away. Do not try to clean and reuse disposable lenses.
How is cleaning done?
To clean and disinfect lenses properly, follow the instructions of your cleaning system carefully. Always handle your lenses gently (soft contacts can tear). Be sure to keep track of which is your right lens and which is the left. It helps if you always handle the right lens first.
Make sure that your solutions are clearly marked so that you do not confuse the different bottles. Some solutions can be irritating or harmful if they are put directly in the eye.
In general, you will be instructed to follow these steps:
Always wash your hands with soap and water before you handle your lenses.
Remove the right lens and put it in the palm of your hand so that it curves up (like a bowl). Pour a few drops of daily cleaner over the lens. Using one finger, rub the lens back and forth for about 30 seconds. The daily cleaner helps dissolve dirt and oils.
Either hold your lens in your fingertips or leave it in your palm, and rinse it thoroughly using the sterile saline rinsing solution.
If you have GP lenses, put them in a clean, dry case with a few drops of soaking solution. Never store your lenses in tap water or a homemade solution.
If you have soft contact lenses, you also need to disinfect them.
To do this, fill the lens case with disinfecting solution. Put the lens in the correct side of the case. Repeat these steps with the left lens. With most disinfection solutions, the lenses must soak for several hours. It is best to let them soak overnight, but they must soak for at least the minimum time given in the product instructions.
If you are using One Step peroxide disinfection, fill the vial to the line with the peroxide solution and put the lens basket in the vial. Let your lenses soak for the recommended time (usually at least 6 hours) or overnight. If you are using Two Step peroxide disinfection, fill the vial to the line with peroxide solution and put the lens basket in the vial. Let your lenses soak in this solution for the recommended time (usually 10 to 15 minutes). After soaking, remove the lens basket from the vial and rinse the lenses with the sterile saline rinsing solution. Pour the hydrogen peroxide solution out of the vial. Then refill the vial to the line with the rinsing solution. Remember that the basket must have a catalyst disc attached. Soak the lenses in the neutralizing solution with the catalyst disc for the recommended time (usually 6 hours) or overnight.
Wash your hands with plain soap before you put your lenses in your eyes. Remove one lens from the case, rinse it thoroughly with the sterile saline rinsing solution, and then put it in. Repeat with the other lens. Rinse the case with tap water every day, and either dry it with a lint-free cloth or let it air dry. Make sure your case is completely dry before you use it again.
What is enzyme cleaning of soft contact lenses?
Enzyme cleaning is the use of a special cleaning product to remove protein build up from soft contact lenses. Proteins can build up and damage your lenses and irritate your eyes. Enzyme cleaning can remove these proteins, but does not remove dirt and oils, and it does not kill germs. You also need to clean and disinfect your lenses with other products.
Usually you should do enzyme cleaning once a week, unless your eye care provider gives you different instructions. Use the enzyme cleaner on the same day each week to help you remember when to do it.
You need an enzyme cleaner approved by your eye care provider, two small plastic vials (which usually come packaged with the enzyme cleaner), and a sterile saline rinsing solution. It is not safe to use tap water with your enzyme cleaner. Tap water can be contaminated. Do not use distilled water instead of saline solution. Saline solution is safer for your lenses.
To use your enzyme cleaner properly, follow these steps:
Wash your hands with plain soap and dry them.
Put one enzyme tablet in each plastic vial and fill the vials with sterile saline solution. Shake the vials until the enzyme tablets dissolve. They will fizz a little.
Put your right lens in the vial marked with an R and your left lens in the vial marked with an L. Let the lenses soak for the recommended time, usually at least 2 hours.
After the lenses have soaked, wash and rinse your hands. Pour one lens into your palm, and use one finger to rub it back and forth for about 30 seconds. This helps remove loosened protein deposits.
Rinse the lens thoroughly with your saline rinsing solution. Then do your daily cleaning and disinfecting.
Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the other lens.
What solutions should I use?
Many contact lens care products are sold today. Solutions can contain different preservatives. If some lenses come in contact with more than one preservative, it can cause a chemical reaction. This can irritate your eye or discolor your contacts. Some contacts can get discolored if you switch to a product that uses hydrogen peroxide to clean the lenses. Even switching from one brand of hydrogen peroxide cleaner to another can damage your lenses. Using the wrong enzyme cleaner could damage or discolor your lenses.
Soft contact lenses are the most likely to have problems. But problems can also happen with GP contacts. For example, certain wetting or soaking solutions can make gas permeable lenses gummy.
Your eye care provider will advise certain products based on what is best for your contacts and safest for your eyes. Always check with your eye care provider before you switch contact lens solutions. Always read the labels on your contact lens solutions. Follow the instructions carefully.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2013-12-05 Last reviewed: 2014-10-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Contact Lens Cleaning: Teen Version: References
American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2013-2014 Basic and Clinical Science Course. San Francisco: American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2013; v.1-13.
Krachmer JH, Mannis MJ and Holland EJ, eds. Cornea, 3rd edition. Philadelphia: Mosby, 2010;v.1-2.
Yanoff M and Duker JS. Ophthalmology, 4th edition. Philadelphia: Mosby, 2013.