Administer an Eye Wash

Canon Eye Cup

Canon Eye Cup

by Catherine Haug, Nov 24, 2015, (photo of Cannon Eye Cup, right, from Land Sea and Sky (3)). This article was originally published on The EssentiaList, for which I am the editor.

Having something foreign in your eye – liquid or solid – is very distracting, but can also lead to infection if it isn’t removed. My first experience with an eye wash happened in high school chemistry class. I had a nasty chemical on my fingers, then used them to rub my eye. Shortly after, the eye started to burn and our teacher escorted me to the bench for an eye wash.

When you are out in the wild hiking or camping, carry a dropper-bottle of sterilized saline eye wash in your backpack for emergencies. At home, you can use a bowl, or an eye cup/shot glass. However, an eye cup/shot glass should always be sterilized just before using, and should not be used to remove foreign objects. The wash solution should also be sterile.

The wash solution and delivery instrument

NOTE: I am not a doctor and am not qualified to advise you on your specific health situation.  My intent in writing this article is merely to raise awareness and express opinion.

The wash solution should be sterile. Use one of the following:

  • Sterilized water, preferably from a reverse osmosis system, then sterilized by boiling;
  • Commercial sterile saline or boric acid eye wash solution;
  • Homemade sterile saline or boric acid solution (see instructions below), or sterilized water, at a temperature between 60°F and 100°F, such as room temperature. Use filtered water, preferably from a reverse osmosis system, then sterilize it.
  • Homemade herbal eye wash solution with sterile water or saline.

See Eyewash Solutions below for instructions/recipes.

If using an herbal eye wash it can be a solution or suspension of the powdered herb in sterile water or saline, or a couple drops of herbal tincture added to sterile water or saline. See Herbal Wash, below, for more.

To deliver the wash to your eye(s), you can use a bowl or an eye cup. I prefer the eye cup, especially for herbal washes. Or you can use a dropper bottle, but the bowl/eye-cup is more efficient.

Administering the eye wash

If using a bowl:

  • Pour the wash into the bowl.
  • Hold your breath and tilt your head forward until your face is submerged; your eye(s) should be open.
  • Rotate your eye(s) in circles, to expose as much of the eye(s) to the wash as possible.
  • Lift your face from the bowl and blink several times.
  • Repeat several times.

If using an eye cup/shot glass:

This is especially useful when using an herbal eye wash but also works with just water (as described above), or boric acid eye wash. For this, you want a sterilized eye cup/shot-glass or bowl.

  • Clean eye-cup/glass well. If glass, the best way is to put it in boiling water for a few seconds. Otherwise use alcohol, then wipe dry.
  • Fill cup/glass with the solution.
  • With your head tilted forward, bring the cup/glass to your eye and position so that its rim is snug to your eye socket.
  • Tilt your head back (the cup/glass will be mostly upside down, held snug to your eye socket) with your eye open.
  • Rotate your eye and blink several times to cover eye with the wash.
  • Lower your head and remove the cup/glass.
  • Repeat several times

Another method is to use an eye dropper, but I don’t think it does as good a job at washing the entire eye.

Homemade Eyewash solutions

Sterile saline solution

This recipe is from About Kid’s Health (4) and Chemistry About (5). The ideal ratio of salt to water for a 0.9% saline solution is 9 grams salt per liter of water (5); the instructions below use more familiar measurements for Americans (4).

You will need:

  • 1 cup distilled water or reverse-osmosis-filtered water;
  • ½ tsp non-iodized table salt (iodized salt, rock salt and unrefined sea salt are NOT recommended);
  • saucepan with lid;
  • sterile jar or bottle with lid for storage.


  1. Sterilize the jar or bottle and its lid in boiling water, as you would for canning foods.
  2. Make the solution: Put one cup of filtered water and ½ teaspoon of the salt into the pot. Put the lid on.
  3. Boil for 15 minutes with the lid on (set a timer).
  4. Alternate method: Bring water to a boil in saucepan, then stir in the salt. Put lid on the pan and remove from heat.
  5. Cool and use/store: Set the pan aside, with the lid on, until cooled to a room temperature.
  6. Carefully pour the salt and water (normal saline) from the pan into the jar or bottle and put the lid on. Label the jar/bottle, and use solution within 24 hours. Pour any unused solution down the drain after the 24 hour period.

Boric Acid solution for Dry Eye and other eye issues

(info moved from Notes on Health Topics).

I was diagnosed during a pre-cataract surgery exam in 2018, and was advised to use eye drops. I’ve tried Refresh Tear and Refresh Optimal; unfortunately, the wetting of my eyes only lasts a few minutes. Then I remembered my Mom used boric acid for many eye issues (for humans and pets), so I decided to look into its use for dry eyes. Here are some links:

  • Boric Acid Eye Wash: Benefits, Uses and Side Effects ofTreatment: see very Well Health (7) below for link to article.
  • How to make and use the eye wash from medicinal (pharmaceutical-grade) boric acid crystals (buy at pharmacy). You can repeat the application up to 3-times daily.
    • Prepare a 1.5% solution: 1 tsp crystals in 1 quart sterilized water (or ¼ tsp crystals in 1 cup sterilized water); see article (8) for link;
    • Or ⅛ tsp crystals per cup sterilized water; see healthfully article (9) for link.
  • Use a sterile eye cup: either heat an eye cup in boiled water, or buy individual, single-use, sterilized eye cups. See Amazon ASIN B07TVLK246 for sterilized cups (plastic), or Amazon B00475MYGM for glass eye cup (to sterilize in boiling water before use). If you use a plastic eye wash cup, clean with alcohol before using.

Herbal eye wash solutions

These are recommended by 7Song, and demonstrated in his 16 minute video, below (2):

  • For irritated eye, mix slippery elm into saline solution or sterile water.
  • For inflamed eye, add 2 drops eyebright tincture to saline solution or sterile water;
  • For infected eye – (bacteria or virus) – a.k.a, conjunctivitis, add 2 drops goldenseal tincture to saline solution or sterile water.

Herbal First Aid Video

from Learning Herbs, Herbal First Aid, on You Tube (6)

Commercial Eye Wash and Dry-Eye Products

My intent is not to endorse any commercial product – I prefer to make my own. If you want to use a commercial product for your eyes, avoid any containing preservatives.  I also suggest using one that contains boric acid (or a borate), as it is very healing for the eyes. NOTE: The most common preservative in boric acid products is benzalkonium chloride, but not all contain a preservative.

For an eye wash solution:

  • The one I have used when traveling is Irrigation Solution – a sterile eye wash solution (in a small dropper bottle) with boric acid and no preservatives (see Amazon ASIN B078PBKNVT.

For dry eye:

  • I’ve tried two different Refresh brand products recommended by my eye doc; both contain boric acid or borate, but neither have helped for more than a minute:
    • Refresh Tears: active ingredient is sodium carboxymethylcellulose; inactive ingredients: Boric Acid; Calcium Chloride; Magnesium Chloride; Potassium Chloride; Purified Water; Purite® (Stabilized Oxychloro Complex); Sodium Borate; and Sodium Chloride. May also contain Hydrochloric Acid and/or Sodium Hydroxide to adjust pH.
    • Refresh Optive: active ingredients are carboxymethylcellulose and glycerin; inactive ingredients: Boric Acid; Calcium Chloride Dihydrate; Erythritol; Levocarnitine; Magnesium Chloride Hexahydrate; Potassium Chloride; Purified Water; Sodium Borate Decahydrate; and Sodium Citrate Dihydrate.
  • TheraTears (Amazon ASIN B0013IRBGE); ordered 12/14/19, and will update after I’ve tried it. Ingredients:
    • Active: Sodium Carboxymethylcellulose (0.25%). Purpose: Eye Lubricant.
    • Inactive: Borate Buffers, Calcium Chloride, Dequest*, Magnesium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Purified Water, Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Perborate, and Sodium Phosphate

*Cat’s note: “Dequest” contains forms of “phosphonic acid” (also called phosphoric acid).

The most helpful thing I’ve discovered for relieving dry eye, is to blink frequently.


  1. Wiki-How:
  2. Learning Herbs with 7Song, on eye cups:
  3. Eye cup photo: Land Sea Sky (
  4. About Kids Health:
  5. Chemistry about:
  6. Herbal First Aid: Eye Cup and Eye Wash video, youtube .com/watch?v=93W0UmZRBUI (remove space between youtube and .com to view video on You Tube)
  7. Very Well Health:

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