Safety alert: Don't rinse your contacts with water

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Who says I shouldn’t rinse my contact lenses with water?

  • The American Optometric Association: “Never use tap water to rinse your lenses as it has been shown to significantly increase the risk of severe ocular infections.”
  • The American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Do not rinse or store contacts in water (tap or sterile water).”
  • The Scleral Lens Education Society: “Even tap water can harbor pathogens including Acanthamoeba, the dangerous amoeba that can cause painful, vision threatening eye infections. It is recommended to rinse lenses with sterile saline.”
  • The FDA: “Do not expose your contact lenses to any water: tap, bottled, distilled, lake or ocean water. Never use non-sterile water (distilled water, tap water or any homemade saline solution). Tap and distilled water have been associated with Acanthamoeba keratitis, a corneal infection that is resistant to treatment and cure.”
  • The CDC: “Water and contact lenses don’t mix…. Keep all contact lenses away from water…. Throw away or disinfect contact lenses that touch water….”
  • The EPA: “Don’t use tap water, homemade solutions, and other non-sterile solutions to disinfect and store contacts.”

WHY is water unsafe for contact lenses?

It’s all about acanthamoeba, which, in the words of the CDC, is “a germ that can cause a rare but very severe type of eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK), which is often very painful and difficult to treat—sometimes requiring a year or more of treatment. Although rare, this type of infection can result in the need for a corneal transplant, or blindness.”

AK is a rare but devastating infection. It's difficult to treat, and very painful. And tap water has been specifically identified as a risk factor for it. That’s why avoiding use of tap water with contact lenses makes so much sense, and it’s why healthcare and eyecare authorities across the board are urging us to exercise a little simple prevention by not using tap water with our lenses.

But, but, BUT!

“But... my eye doctor says I can rinse with tap water!”

The consensus amongst medical experts is clear. We encourage you to read the links in this article, bring this information to your doctor’s attention, and engage in conversation about it.

“But... I can’t use saline to rinse my lenses. It’s just too expensive!”

It’s an awful lot cheaper than getting treated for an AK infection - including doctor visits, medications, and potential loss of work time, to say nothing of risk of vision loss. Like insurance, this is a matter of budgeting and price-shopping.

Ask your doctor for advice about your best options.

Price-shop, and purchase in bulk to keep your shipping costs low.

Familiarize yourself with the various preservative-free saline packaging and pricing options to find the most cost-effective approach. For example, some people use one brand for rinsing and another for filling. We have lots of videos and practical tips at to help you fully understand the options. Make sure your doctor is involved in your choices.

"But... I use purified or distilled water!"

But it still isn't sterile. That means it can contain live acanthamoeba.

“But... the instructions for the cleaning solution I use specifically say to rinse it off with tap water!”

Some product labels with these instructions are still in circulation because the companies are phasing them out over time. But the FDA guidance is clear, so don't let that stop you from adopting “best practice” now, based on today’s science and today’s safety standards. 

"But... I disinfect them afterwards."

We do not know whether your disinfection solutions will kill acanthamoeba. The FDA does not require the manufacturers to prove it. It's complicated. Science is still catching up.

“But... isn’t this just about pharmaceutical companies wanting us to buy more of their solutions?”

No. This is about decades of published science, and about medical specialists consistently speaking up about preventable cases of acanthamoeba keratitis infections resulting in sometimes devastating outcomes, and about the unique needs and risks of scleral lens users.

For further reading


Bronner, Aaron (2018, November) “A Disease in Disguise: Acanthamoeba keratitis may resemble other conditions, making it difficult to catch early enough to preserve visual function.” Review of Cornea & Contact Lens, November/December 2018 issue.


Zimmerman, A et al (2017, April 13) Water Exposure is a Common Risk Behavior Among Soft and Gas-Permeable Contact Lens Wearers. Cornea, 36(8): 995–1001

Excerpt: “CONCLUSION: Despite previously published evidence of Acanthamoeba keratitis' association with water exposure, most SCL, and nearly all GP lens wearers, regularly expose their lenses to water, with many unaware of the risk.”

Sticca, MP (2018, June): Acanthamoeba keratitis in patients wearing scleral contact lenses. Contact Lens & Anterior Eye, 41(3):307-310.

Juarez, MM (2018, June) Acanthamoeba in the eye, can the parasite hide even more? Latest developments on the disease. Contact Lens & Anterior Eye, 41(3):245-251.

Illingworth CD, Cook SD (1998). Acanthamoeba keratitis. Surv Ophthalmol. 1998;42(6): 493-508. 


Wikipedia Acanthamoeba Keratitis page


We encourage you to print this out and discuss it with your lens provider, along with all your other questions about the best and safest way to care for your specialty contact lenses.

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  • @ Michele – yes that’s what they’re saying! Well sealed swim goggles, they’re saying, are a must. Showering, the experts are definitely saying wait till you’re done before putting your lenses in. You might want to look at this blog post from the GSLS conference, there was a fair amount of discussion including “compromise” positions.

    Rebecca on
  • Ada, these are such very pertinent questions. I think some of these issues are definitely yet to be worked out thoroughly in practice for all of us. I have only just recently gone completely cold turkey on water myself and I sympathize with the issue of getting them clean. Personally, I have been rinsing with lots of Addipak and I am finding it effective. I think that some individuals in our Facebook group have reported needing to switch to different cleaning solutions to feel that they’re able to rinse them adequately with saline.

    Also reading your post I wondered why your lenses are getting foggy. Is the CDS making them more wettable? Are your lenses hydrapegged? Are you filling with buffered or unbuffered saline? Does it make a difference for you if you fill (partially for example) with Celluvisc?

    Just sharing thoughts :)

    Rebecca on
  • My Sclerals get foggy quickly unless I soak in Optimum CDS for several hours… if I don’t rinse under lots of water ( then soak again in either saline or clear care if I can wait the five hours), the solution remains in my contact. This is what my doctor told me anyway.. he was seeing remains of the cds when I would just use saline to rinse after cleaning with CDS. CDs foams like Dawn.. requires lots of water. I wonder what I could do… using just clear care or cleaning in CDS at bed time then soaking in clear care all night is not an option as my contacts will get foggy. Remains of CDs in my transplanted corneas is not good… risking infection from tap water not good either.. thanks for the info.

    Ada on
  • So it seems swimming in a lake or ocean, pool are also dangerous? Not that I keep my eyes open but I’m sure water gets in my eyes . Do I hav to take sclera lenses out before I swim? That would be a pain…..
    I know, not as much as the infection that is possible.

    Michele on

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