From dust and grit to pollen, smoke, household cleaners and even chemicals used in the garden, getting something in your eye isn’t just painful—it can lead to serious eye damage. But the good news is that rinsing out your eyes can flush away most things, especially if you do it right. The key is to use clean hands and not to rub your eye, which can scratch your cornea and spread bacteria throughout the eye. You can also use a soft washcloth or Q-tip to remove smaller particles.
Before you start rinsing, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water (you don’t want to infect your eye). You should also take out any contact lenses and rinse them with solution or saline eyewash if you have them. And don’t touch your eye with anything that has a sharp tip, like tweezers or cotton swabs. It’s always better to rinse your eyes with a large bowl of lukewarm water or a bottle of saline eyewash, if you have one available.
The best rinsing method depends on what you got in your eye, from mild irritants (like hand soap and shampoo) to more severe contaminants like peppers or mild household acids, to the most penetrating corrosives (like drain cleaner and bleach). But generally, you’ll need to wash for about five minutes. If you’re dealing with a more severe or toxic contaminant, have someone else call emergency services while you focus on rinsing.