How to Flush Eyes for Removing Foreign Objects

We get things in our eyes all the time: chemicals, sand, bugs, radioactive isotopes, whatever. The most important thing is not to leave whatever it is in your eyes for very long. Get it out in a hurry and be safe. If you are not the patient, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available. If you don't have special gear, then just be smart. You don't want to be contaminated by the same substance as the patient.


Act Fast

A young woman with something in her eye

Gawrav / Getty Images

Flushing the eyes immediately is the preferred treatment to remove foreign objects or chemical contamination. With few exceptions, a copious amount of water is the preferred way to flush eyes. In rare cases, there are other, specific solutions or you might be able to get away with less water.


Professional Eyewash Station

If an eyewash station is available, use it. Industrial eyewash stations are designed to best flush contaminants from your eyes. They are designed to keep your face down so that the contaminants are washed away from your nose and mouth. And eyewash stations flush both eyes at the same time, reducing the chance that one eye could become contaminated by the other.

Use the eyewash station as designed. Most stations have instructions clearly printed nearby. If you're working around chemicals and have an eyewash station available to you, take a look at how the thing works before you need it. Remember that you might not be able to see all that well when it's time to use the station. Make sure you are familiar enough to use it blindly.

Make sure no matter how you wash your eyes that you keep the water flowing for at least 20 minutes.


Use a Garden Hose

If no professional eyewash station is available, a garden hose held so that the water is flowing upwards is the next best option. You want to make sure the patient (if it's not you) is looking down so the water can flow away from his face. Most importantly, don't be afraid of using lots of water.

It might not take very long to get rid of sand or dirt in the eyes, but for chemical contamination, continue to wash with constantly flowing water for at least 20 minutes.


Face Down Is Best

Keep your face down, looking at the floor so that water can flow away from your mouth and nose if possible. Get both eyes into the flow if possible to avoid simply moving the problem from one eye to the other.

For chemicals, the best option is to keep your head low so the water doesn't simply spread the chemical all over the rest of your body.


Use What You Have

It's certainly not always possible to have an industrial eyewash station with you at all times. No matter what, it's important to get contaminants out of your eyes as quickly as possible. often, the longer you let foreign objects stay against your eyes, the more chance you have of causing an injury or a scratch to your cornea or sclera.

The simpler the contaminant (a grain of sand, for example, instead of a complex toxic substance) the easier it is to remove it. Squirting a water bottle into your eye to remove a piece of dirt might be enough to do the trick. Be very careful not to accidentally send the offending speck over to the other eye.


If Water Doesn't Work, Get Help

There are certain contaminants — alkali substances, for example — that probably won't respond to water. Once you've tried to flush the contaminants out of your eye or eyes for at least 20 minutes and it didn't work, it's time to go see a doctor. Depending on the contaminant, you should get someone to drive you or call 911. Never drive yourself if you have something in your eyes.

Also, seek help if the patient has any trouble seeing after you've completed 20 minutes of flushing, even if the patient feels like the contaminant is gone.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Stevens S. How to irrigate the eye. Community Eye Health. 2016;29(95):56. PMID: 28289322.

  2. Fogt JS, Jones-Jordan LA, Barr JT. Eye wash water flow direction study: an evaluation of the effectiveness of eye wash devices with opposite directional water flow. OPTH. 2018;12:669-676. doi: 10.2147/OPTH.S157005

  3. Al-Saleh GS, Alfawaz AM. Management of traumatic corneal abrasion by a sample of practicing ophthalmologists in Saudi Arabia. Saudi J Ophthalmol. 2018;32(2):105-109. doi:

Additional Reading
  • Rihawi S, Frentz M, Schrage NF. Emergency treatment of eye burns: which rinsing solution should we choose? Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2006 Jul;244(7):845-54.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.