Could bacteria buildup on your glasses cause COVID-19?

As published in The East County Californian, February 2021
by Michael A. Emerson

The best answer is: it’s possible.

Viruses are easily transferred to our hands from our surroundings, then to our glasses when we adjust or take them on and off. Those who use eyeglasses to read or drive are all too familiar with how often we touch our frames. Without washing our glasses in between touching them again, the virus could be transferred back to our hands, and then touched to our mouth, nose, or eyes.

According to Australia’s national science agency, researchers found that COVID-19 can survive for 28 days on smooth surfaces, such as glass found on mobile screen phones, when kept at 68F. Colder temperatures are even longer than this. As a comparison, this is double the time of the flu virus in the same environment.

The good news is that disinfecting your glasses is easy.

While it’s tempting to rush to the rubbing-alcohol or bleach, it’s important not to use these cleaners on your glasses. Special coating can be wiped away, or damage the material used. Your sleeve or sweater are also not effective, no matter how spot clean your lenses may appear.

The easiest way to clean is as easy as washing your hands: with regular, ivory soap. There are two tricks involved: making sure the soap is free of oils or lotion, and to make sure you get into the nooks and crannies. Using a soft bristle toothbrush where the lenses and frames meet, around the eye-wire and the nose-pad helps get rid of not only bacteria but also perspiration, makeup, etc. that builds up throughout the day.

How often should you clean your glasses? While washing your hands, you can give your glasses a quick rinse too. A face shield also protects your glasses better, limiting the exposure to bacteria and touching your glasses, nose, eyes, and face.

Taking your eyeglasses into your optometrist’s office is also an option when you’re in need of a deep clean. Their resources often include machines that clean your glasses with UV light cast from every angle, cleaning thoroughly.

As always, the best way to avoid the virus is wearing a mask and keeping your distance. Most infections are person to person, so while we wait for a large portion of the population to be vaccinated, continue to stay safe, wash your hands, and give your glasses a rinse, too!

About Michael A. Emerson

A Registered Ophthalmic Dispenser, Michael A. Emerson, RDO, FNAO, has served the community as a Grossmont Healthcare District board member since May 2008. He is also certified by the State Board of Medical Quality Assurance of the California Medical Board and has owned Hart Optical Company of La Mesa since 1987.