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What is Eyewash? What is it used for?

What is Eyewash? What is it used for?

Harsh chemicals, extreme heat, moving mechanical parts, sharp tools. Hazards that could lead to an eye injury in the workplace are many. When the eye is contaminated with a harmful chemical or foreign object, it must be washed out as quickly as possible in order to reduce irritation and the likelihood of injury or infection.

Eyewash is used to safely clean the eye membrane and prevent irritation or injury from occurring or getting worse until medical attention can be given. In this article, we’ll cover an eyewash definition, exactly what eyewash solution is, and what it is used for.

Eyewash Meaning:
The definition of eyewash is a liquid or solution used to clean the eyes. In this article, we’ll look at the different types of eyewash that can be used.

There are several different substances that can be used to perform an eyewash. Find out about them in our blog post What to Use When Performing an Eyewash. Eyewash solution can also be used to disinfect wounds.

What does eyewash do?

The eyes are naturally protected by the eyelid, eyelashes, and eyebrows. The eye will innately respond to contamination by the production of tears. This is the eye’s natural eyewash which rinses the eye of whatever contamination it came into contact with. 
But sometimes the eye’s natural eyewash is not enough, for example, if a foreign object such as a splinter gets into the eye, or if the eye is splashed with bleach. In instances like this, the eye needs thorough and immediate flushing to remove the harmful material before it has a chance to injure the eye by moving around or irritating the delicate membranes. This is what eyewash is used for.

What is an eyewash station?

An eyewash station is an instalment where the eyes can be flushed with water or a sterile solution to rinse them if they have become contaminated.

What is an eyewash station used for?

An eyewash station is used to quickly and safely rinse the eyes. It can be in a fixed permanent location, or portable. It can be linked up to a water supply or it can be wall-mounted with a replaceable supply of sterile solution. An eyewash station should use specially distilled water or sterile water solution to hygienically clean the eyes.

Eyewash stations are designed to be easy for anyone to use, even if they’ve never used one before or have impaired sight at the time. They should be installed in a sensible, intuitive place that is easy to reach from all areas of eye injury risk.

The addition of an eyecare kit means that eye injuries can be effectively treated no matter where they occur on the business premises. An eyecare kit is similar to a first aid kit but its contents are concerned only with cleaning and dressing eye wounds.

Find out how to wash your eyes or help someone else wash their eyes at an eyewash station in our blog How to Wash Eyes at an Eyewash Station.

Where should eyewash and eyewash stations be used?

An eyewash station is required anywhere the potential for eye injury is present in the workplace. If you are the owner or operator of the business or the competent person assigned to health and safety, or first aid, it is your responsibility to confirm whether an eyewash station is needed and that one is installed correctly.

Types of Eyewash Stations

There are two different types of eyewash stations: plumbed and portable. 

Plumbed Eyewash Stations

These are stations that are plumbed directly into the water supply of the building. A plumbed eyewash station is often attached to a regular sink in the form of a faucet adaption. Plumbed eyewash stations are capable of delivering large amounts of water in a constant stream. 

However, plumbed eyewash stations are not the preferred type used by many businesses due to their expensiveness to install and maintain and their impracticality. Plumbed eyewash stations are difficult to move, involving professional intervention to re-establish the stream of water elsewhere. This presents a problem if the injured person can’t make it to the eyewash station location. 

Plumbed eyewash stations also require weekly maintenance to ensure the stream of water is hygienic and won’t end up contaminating the eye further with bacteria or germs. 

Another setback of the plumbed eyewash station is the fact that it uses tap water. The temperature of tap water cannot be guaranteed before turning on the tap. The water stream may be too hot or too cold for the eye to withstand.

Too cold water can result in an involuntary reaction of squinting the eyes, decreasing the effectiveness of the eyewash. Too hot water can irritate the eye or even cause a burn. Waiting for the temperature of the water to adjust means prolonging the wait time before decontaminating the eye. The pH of tap water also does not match the pH of the eye and can cause irritation and discomfort on contact, making an eyewash more difficult. 

Portable Eyewash Stations

A portable eyewash station is a station or wall plaque that can be installed in the desired place. It does not need to be connected to the water supply because it includes its own supply of eyewash solution (either distilled water or saline solution). 

Portable eyewash stations are often the first choice for workplaces because of their flexibility and benefits. Portable stations can be easily moved or their eyewash bottles removed for relocation, this means someone can be treated if they cannot move to the location of the station as it can be brought to them.

Detachable eyewash bottles also make eye washing more accessible for disabled people, or washing cleaning cuts and wounds hygienically. They can also be taken in an ambulance or other vehicle on a journey to the hospital. Eyewash pods contain a small amount of eyewash solution that can be easily squirted into the eye or even used to clean a wound elsewhere on the body.

Eyewash in portable stations is kept at room temperature meaning there’s less chance of a hot or cold water aversion reaction. If a saline solution is used, the natural pH of the eye won’t be affected and little to no irritation will occur during the wash. Sealed bottles of eyewash solution have a longer shelf life and are guaranteed to not be open to contamination until the seal is broken, meaning as long as the solution is in date it does not need to be maintained. If you partner with Steroplast to supply your eyewash and eyecare supplies, we’ll notify you when your eyewash is close to its use-by date so you never find yourself with out of date eyewash solution.

A Comparison of features of Plumbed and Portable Eyewash Stations


  Plumbed Eyewash Station

  Portable Eyewash Station

Can attend to other areas of the workplace

Constant supply of eyewash

Flexible installation location options

Eyewash supply can be removed

Eyewash solution is a good temperature for contact with the eye 

Eyewash solution is a good pH for contact with the eye

Requires regular maintenance

Is cost-effective

As a business owner or the assigned competent person of the business you must ensure staff have access to an eyewash station if your risk assessment says you need one. Find out what to do in an eye injury emergency, common eye emergency situations, and your legal responsibilities to provide an eyewash station in our blog.  

Types of Eyewash Solution

The HSE requires that “If mains tap water is not readily available for eye irrigation, at least one litre of sterile water or sterile normal saline (0.9% w/v) in sealed, disposable containers should be provided.”

Eyewash solution that portable eyewash stations are equipped with can either be distilled, sterile water or sterile saline solution. Here are some commonly asked questions about what can be used to irrigate the eyes.

Can you wash eyes with saline solution?

Can I use saline solution as eyewash? If you’re wondering what solution to use for eyewash, saline solution is usually the best thing and most common choice for workplaces, first aiders, and healthcare professionals.

So, what is in eyewash solution? Saline eyewash solution in plain terms is made up of distilled water and a small quantity of sodium chloride. Sterile saline used in eyewash solution is commonly at a concentration of 0.9%. It is an isotonic solution that does not take away or add fluid to the cells it comes into contact with by the power of osmosis. This means it is optimal for cleaning an irritated or injured eye as it does not irritate or damage tissue, affect normal healing processes, cause allergy, or affect the normal bacterial flora of the eye tissue and skin.

How long does eyewash solution last?

You should consult the manufacturer’s guidance for the shelf life of your eyewash solution. Sterowash eyewash solution in 500ml bottles has a shelf life of four years, and Sterowash eyewash 20ml pods have a shelf life of two years. 

If you partner with Steroplast we’ll notify you when your eyewash is about to go out of date so you have time to replace it and don’t find yourself with out of date eyewash in a crisis.

Woman washing eyes with tap water

Can you wash your eyes with tap water?

Plumbed eyewash stations use tap water from municipal water sources. The tap water should be potable (safe for human consumption) and the eyewash station should be regularly flushed and cleaned to remove any build-up of bacteria or stagnant water.

Tap water can be used to wash out eyes but it’s not necessarily the best option. The chlorine and other chemicals that may be present in the water can cause irritation to the eye, as well as the water temperature, both of which can make eye washing more difficult, uncomfortable, and less effective. 

There is also less of a guarantee that tap water is hygienic. Whereas sealed eyewash solution in bottles is sterile until the seal is broken, taps on a plumbed eyewash station present more risk of contamination if not maintained or cleaned properly or regularly.

Can you wash your eyes with salt water?

Saline solution is in fact a type of saltwater as it is made with sodium chloride (salt). In a pinch, homemade saltwater could be used in eye irrigation. But making your own saltwater is ultimately not very convenient for eye washing due to several factors:

  • A fine balance is required to ensure the water is not too salty. Water that is too salty can draw moisture out of the eye and even make the experience painful.
  • Making saltwater irrigate the eye takes time that cannot be wasted when someone’s eye is contaminated.
  • Once made, saltwater should be sealed and stored in a sterile bottle. Great care must be taken to keep saltwater sterile which is difficult when it is not made professionally.

Is eyewash the same as contact solution?

Can you use contact lens solution as eyewash? Contact lens solution should not be used as an eyewash. Contact lens solution and saline solution are made for different means and have different ingredients. 

Contact lens solution is designed to disinfect contact lenses and clean them. It contains saline solution along with cleaning agents. The cleaning agents are designed to break down and remove organic material on contact lenses so they are hygienic for their next use. If you wash your eyes with contact lens solution it can damage their delicate membrane layers. 

The tear film of the eye is made up of three layers: the outer oil layer, the middle watery layer and the inner mucus layer. The two inner layers keep the eye moist and hydrated while the outer layer protects the inner ones by preventing evaporation of moisture. 

Contact lens solution can break down the outer oil layer of the eye making the middle and inner layers dry out and prone to irritation, infection, and injury.

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