Why and how to clean contact lenses, especially the storage case

How to clean contact lenses: A person uses solution to clean a contact lens balanced on their finger
(Image credit: Getty)

Not all contacts require the same kind of maintenance and cleaning. For example, you don't need to clean lenses that have been designed to be thrown away after a day, such as disposables. However, many of the best contact lenses online do need to be cleaned regularly, especially ones you wear for long periods of time.

That's because your eye is incredibly delicate, and your lens is worn right up against it all day, so any bacteria on the lens can cause discomfort, irritation, or even lead to an eye infection. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep your contacts clean.

But as well as learning how to clean contact lenses properly, it's also essential to regularly clean your lens storage case. This is often overlooked, but bacteria can build up in your case too, which will then transfer to your lenses.

Before we get into how to clean your contacts, we’d also recommend checking out our guide to the best eyeglasses online to find yourself a backup pair of spectacles for when you want to give your eyes regular breaks from wearing lenses, as recommended by eye doctors.

How to clean contact lenses: A woman with dark brown hair puts a contact in her left eye

(Image credit: Getty)

Do all types of contacts need to be cleaned before use?

Before you use your contact lenses, you’ll need to check whether they need to be cleaned first. As a general rule, daily disposables, which you wear for one day and then throw out at night, do not need to be cleaned. 

However, most other contacts, including monthly and extended wear lenses, need to be cleaned before each use and stored in a clean case at night. That’s because bacteria build-up could lead to a severe eye infection. 

If you’re considering new lenses, check out our guide to the best vision insurance to see if a plan could help you with your overall eye health care costs.

How to clean contact lenses: Step by step

Each type of contact lens will come with its own set of instructions, including information about how best to store them, keep them clean and which kind of lens solution you can use. 

The steps you need to follow in cleaning your lenses will depend on which lens solution you’re using. If you’re using a multipurpose solution, these are some of the recommended steps from Lenstore:

  • Wash and dry your hands.
  • Remove your contact lens and put it in the palm of your hand. 
  • Put some multipurpose solution in your hand and rub the lens.
  • Rinse with more solution to get rid of any bacteria.
  • Put the lens in your case and fill it with a storage solution.

If you have rigid gas permeable lenses, the steps are similar, but you will need to find a rigid gas permeable solution that’s sold specially for your lenses.

If you’re using a hydrogen peroxide-based solution, the process is a little different. Instead of rubbing the lens in your hand, you need to put your lenses into your lens holder, pour in hydrogen peroxide solution with a neutralizing tablet and leave the lens to soak for six hours. 

ReNu Lens Solution | $13.97 (twin pack) at Amazon

ReNu Lens Solution | $13.97 (twin pack) at Amazon
A multi-purpose solution formulated to kill 99,9% of germs within four hours. This is ideal for cleansing your lenses overnight while you sleep. Plus it’s hydrating to provide relief from dry eyes.

Opti-Free Puremoist Lens Solution | From $2.13 at Amazon

Opti-Free Puremoist Lens Solution | From $2.13 at Amazon
This doctor-recommended eye solution works on silicone hydrogel and other soft contacts, and is designed to kill microorganisms that cause eye infections. Like the solution above, it’s hydrating too, so will boost moisture in dry eyes.

How to clean contact lenses without solution

If you’ve run out of contacts solution, or you’re on holiday and have forgotten to bring your regular cleaning solution, it might be tempting to clean your lenses with something like water and soap. However, eye doctors recommend you don’t use anything other than a proper solution specially formulated for lenses.

Washing your lenses with water or a disinfectant is not going to clean your lenses properly. If the water is not extremely clean, it could cause more problems. This is important because incorrectly cleaning your lenses could lead to serious eye-health problems.

A person removes a contact lens from a white case ready for cleaning

(Image credit: Getty)

How to clean a contact lens case and why you should

Keeping your contacts clean is essential, but so is keeping your contact lens case clean. Your lenses spend a lot of time in the case, and bacteria can thrive in the wet environment, which might then transfer germs from the case to your eye. 

Cleaning your lens case will be different depending on which case you have and which solution you’re using. However, there are some crucial steps you need to follow, which American Academy of Ophthalmology eye doctors discussed on NPR:

  • Remove your lenses and completely empty the case, making sure there’s no remaining contact lens solution.
  • Clean the case using fresh, multi-purpose solution, rubbing each section with your finger.
  • Rinse out the case and the lid with more multi-purpose solution.
  • Let the case air dry.

You should follow these steps anytime you take out your contact lenses from the case. But, over time, bacteria can still build up. This is why eye doctors recommend you change your contact lens case every month.

What are contact lens cleaning devices and are they safe to use?

Blumway Contact Lens Cleaning Machine in white

(Image credit: Blumway)

Contact lens cleaning devices use ultrasonic cleaning technology to clean your lenses. Most of them require you to put your lenses in a case, press a button, and the device then begins cleaning. 

These devices claim to be able to clean lenses better than you can with your hands and do less damage to your contacts in the long run, all within a matter of minutes.

All devices are different, but one study found that such devices are safe to clean contact lenses. However, we recommend reading reviews of a device before buying it and following the instructions that come with the device closely and checking that it’s able to clean the type of contacts that you have. 

If you’re concerned about whether lenses are right for you or whether you should stick with frames, read our feature asking, are contact lenses safe?

UpaClaire Ultrasonic Lens Cleaner | $34.99 at Amazon

UpaClaire Ultrasonic Lens Cleaner | $34.99 at Amazon
Suitable for soft and rigid gas-permeable contact lenses, UpaClaire's device is designed to move 90% of ‘protein deposition, calcium, lipid and crystallization’. If left to build up on the lens surface, these could lead to discomfort.

Blumway Ultrasonic | $35.99 at Amazon

Blumway Ultrasonic | $35.99 at Amazon
High-frequency ultrasonic wave tech works to eradicate germs and stains on your lenses without damaging them, while the dividers keep lenses separate to avoid cross-contamination.  

Looking for more vision content? We’d recommend our handy guides on understanding the difference between digital eye strain symptoms and the causes of dry eye syndrome.

Becca Caddy

Becca is an experienced tech, health and fitness journalist with bylines on many leading brands including TechRadar, New Scientist, Wired and others. For Top Ten Reviews, Becca loves writing about sleep and wellness, including why good sleep hygiene can help you snooze better than ever, and how to get more shut-eye (yes, it's possible). Becca is also the author of Screen Time, which looks at how we can all make peace with our devices and find our 'techquilibrium'.