Thursday, April 15, 2021

Eye Washing

We've mentioned eye washing a few times over the years; the most recent one I found in a quick search (use the search box in the upper left corner) was almost 5 years ago. Bottles of commercially available eyewash aren't very expensive, and in my opinion should be part of every first aid kit. As always, seek professional medical assistance as soon as you can.

Eye washing is simply rinsing foreign matter out of your eyes. Our normal production of tears does a fair job of this on a daily basis, but sometimes we get into stuff that is too much for tears alone to handle.

The ideal eye wash is going to be, in order of importance:

  • Sterile: You don't want to introduce bacteria into irritated eyes.
  • pH Neutral: This is to prevent further irritation.
  • Comfortable Temperature: Eyes are sensitive, 60-100° F is the range you'll be using.
  • Isotonic: This means it has a salt content similar to your normal tears.
  • Large enough: Depending on what you're washing out, you may need quite a bit.

If you have access to sterile saline solution from a medical supply this is an ideal eye wash, but we often don't have what we want, so we have to improvise.

  • Clean tap water will work and is the most commonly found form of eyewash. Dozens of faucet attachments are on the market that will convert a common sink into an emergency eyewash station, most of the time without affecting the normal use of the faucet.
  • Bottled water is a good choice and there are several replacement caps that make a water bottle more efficient for washing eyes.
  • For kitchen emergencies (pepper in the eyes is extremely uncomfortable), milk or weak tea will work. Milk must be checked for freshness to prevent infection, and straight out of the icebox it will be a bit cold, but it works.
  • Homemade saline solution is simply distilled water with a little table salt (non-iodized) added. About ½ teaspoon per cup or 8 teaspoons per gallon will make an isotonic solution.

Once you have your liquid, you need to figure out how to use it.

  • Eye cups fit over the eye and hold the liquid close to the eye, reducing the amount of liquid required. Most of the bottled eye wash kits will have some form of cup attached.
  • Immersion: Simply sticking your face in a bowl of water works. If you don't have a bowl handy, cupping your hands and sticking your face into them works. Open your eyes and slowly rotate them to get the water into the folds of your eyelids. Swimming pools and other sources of open water will work in an emergency, but you start to lose some of the things like sterility and pH that we want.
  • Flowing water: Commercial eye wash stations will be connected to a water supply that provides plenty of water. Open your eyes and let the flowing water rinse them. Not pleasant, but effective.
  • Pouring: If you have a container without an eye cup, you'll have to tilt your head back and pour the liquid into your eyes. Your natural instinct will be to close your eyes when something hits them, so you may have to use one hand to keep the eyelids open while pouring with the other.

Now that you have started to wash your eyes, how do you know when to stop? The general recommended time for generic chemical is 15 minutes, and you'll see that on a lot of labels. Something is always better than nothing, so rinse as long as you can with what you have available. As long as you're using clean, pH-neutral solutions, you can't wash too much, so err on the side of caution and keep rinsing. 

One of the guidelines I found suggests the following times:

  • Minor irritants: 5 minutes
  • Mild to moderate irritants: 20 minutes
  • Non-corrosive chemicals: 20 minutes
  • Corrosive chemicals: 60 minutes

I work in dusty environments a lot, so I wash my face and eyes quite often, Dirt and normal dust are inconvenient, salts are irritating, and some of the industrial chemical are just plain dangerous. My eyes are important, so I keep water on hand to wash them out when needed.


  1. This is the first time I have ever seen a post about this very important issue. I worked in a foundry for 35 years, and we had combination eye wash, shower stations. You stepped on a foot pedal, and the shower would come on, rinsing you of any chemical spills, or other irritants, or also it would put out any possible fire if you were burned.
    Another pedal next to the first one, was for the eye wash station, located right under the shower, and first you had to remove a cover from the basin, which kept the area somewhat clean, due to so much dirt and dust that was everywhere in a foundry environment. There were two nozzles, one from each side, at 180 degrees, that streamed pure water to a central point, and you could spray either one or both eyes, with the way it was set up. I never used either one of these systems, but we also had eyewash bottles, with disposable cups, that I used on several occasions to get something out of my eye, like a particle of dirt or grit.
    This is a really good post, if for no other reason than as a reminder that you should pay attention to your face, and if you get dirt or dust on it, wash it off, to avoid getting it into your eyes. A scratched cornea is not necessarily permanent, but for certain it is painful, as I can attest to. Another great post, thanks Chaplain Tim, and Erin.

  2. You mean the mirrors in my toolboxes aren't just for self-admiration?

  3. Eyewash is critical, and I suggest a powerful magnet as well, for those who work with ferrous metals.


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