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Why Care About Lens Care

By Barry Santini ABOM

Release Date: December 2010

Expiration Date: January 31, 2013

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this program, the participant should be able to:

  1. Understand the basic materials science behind how surfaces are kept clean.
  2. Understand the surface chemistry difference between coatings that keep lenses clean, and the cleansers that are required to clean them.
  3. Learn how to present, discuss and sell through with premium lens care products.

Faculty/Editorial Board:


Barry Santini graduated from New York Technical College in 1975 with an AAS in Ophthalmic Dispensing. He is a New York State licensed optician with contact lens certification, is ABO certified and was awarded an ABO Master in 1994. As sales manager for Tele Vue Optics from 1987 to 2003, Santini developed his knowledge of precision optics and has been an owner of Long Island Opticians in Seaford N.Y. from 1996 to present. In addition, Santini is an amatuer astronomer and lecturer and plays bass trombone in the Brooklyn Symphony.

Credit Statement:

This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). Course STWJM409-2

This course is supported by an educational grant from Nanofilm

Ever notice when you reach for a patient’s glasses to adjust them, they’re a bit embarrassed and invariably say, “Oh, sorry they’re pretty dirty”.

Who amongst us hasn’t heard that? We mutter under our breath, “How can they wear them like that” or “they just don’t understand how to clean them properly.” (Photo dirty lenses in eyewear). Puzzled, we smile and say, “Be right back.”And so we miss yet another opportunity to educate our clients on how and what to use to clean their lenses properly.

But the real culprit in poor lens care may be staring back at us in the mirror: Do we, as eyecare professionals, really understand how to clean lenses and best teach our patients that very same skill? Do we stress that clean, clear vision through glasses as important the prescription itself?

The solution (no pun intended) is found in the underlying science and technology imbedded in the latest and greatest AR lenses and today’s lens care products. To understand that, we must master what’s going on in the interaction of cleaner, coating and lens cloth. Most importantly, we must always communicate the importance of proper lens care to our clients. Your efforts here will help reduce their jaded view of eyewear as an essential hassle.

A good lens care plan will not only help your clients to ensure the best possible vision; it also enables you to derive a new and profitable revenue stream from the sales of a family of lens care products. Don’t be timid or uncomfortable with the idea of actively selling cleaner, cloths and wipes. You’ll be surprised at how much more frequently clients will enter your office. Rather than just at exam time, or when they’ve sat on their eyewear, they’ll be in to say “hi” while purchasing refill cleaner kits, wipes and a new cloth. You must, however, approach the entire job in the right way.

Why Spend Time Educating Patients About Good Lens Care?

Educating patients about proper lens care finishes a personalized dispensing process.

The financial impact on product sales and reduced remakes is your objective. In fact, a variety of professional lens care products can accessorize the sale of eyewear. Just think about your new leather bag that you’ve wanted for years. What can you do after it gets scratched, or the leather dries out? How can you keep it looking as good as the day you bought it? It’s more about knowing what you should do from the start to prevent scratches and drying out, and to extend its pristine newness. And the same is true any good lens cleaner, it can’t repair damage after it’s been done.

To protect that eyewear investment, take the time to really let your patients know how to care for their new eyewear at delivery time. Be sure to demonstrate and offer a variety of solid lens care products. Eyewear is not any different than your new car, furniture and stove-top or granite countertop. People are most interested in care products and techniques that are designed to prevent damage

"Dang these lenses are smeary and scratch easily!"

Consumers typically reach for the bad stuff to clean their lenses. Dish soap, Windex, hand soap and dirty kitchen towel are, in a word, awful choices for today’s sophisticated lenses and coatings. Try asking this question: “Would you go out and wipe your car’s finish with a dry kitchen towel?” Yet they get frustrated about scratches, smudges, and refer to their damaged lens coatings as anyone’s responsibility but their own. This leads to remakes and overuse of scratch warranties. And all this is going on in a value-focused economy.

Delivering the Best in Lens Care Today

Even with recognition of the increased investment for anti-reflective lenses, both ECPs and their clients continue to remain unaware today’s carefully-engineered lens care products, all of which are designed to protect both parties’ investments!

Today’s coated lenses make it hard for plain water to spread out and wet the lens surface. With their super-hydro and oleo-phobic (oil-repelling) characteristics, smudges, fingerprints, dirt, water and oil droplets have a harder time sticking to these super-slippery surfaces. If you do your own edging, you already know that these super oleophobic lenses require special blocking pads to prevent rotation or “slippage” during edging. The latest of these pads are specially formulated to have Low Surface Energy (LSE). These help prevent slippage by being attracted to the high energy of super hydrophobic lens surface. We easily accept that different products are required for today’s advanced AR coatings during manufacture. Why shouldn’t we accept that they may also require specially formulated cleaners to do the right cleaning job?

For optimal cleaning and long term care, sophisticatedly coated lenses require lens care products that INCLUDE:

  1. Surfactants – Lens coatings that remain cleaner longer require lens cleaners formulated with special agents called surfactants, or Surface Active Agents. Specific surfactants in a special combination allow a lens cleaner to spread and wet the lens surface AND dissolve dirt and grime. The surface wetting and the dissolving of the skin oils and grime make it easier to remove the dirt while wiping with a micro-fiber cloth. Be aware that most lens cleaners on the market have not been formulated to perform in this manner.
  2. Alcohol – Incorrectly, ECPs often think that the alcohol found in lens cleaner or pre- moistened towelettes is a primary cleaning agent. The minor amounts of alcohol used in a professional lens cleaner act as a drying agent so that the solution does not leave spots due to uneven drying or wiping. CAUTION: Long-term use of alcohol as a primary cleaning agent can and will damage the surface quality of coatings, and may lead to premature delamination.
  3. Microfiber – Used with lens cleaner, micro-fiber cloths are a wonder of textile technology. Made from premium microfibers, these cloths absorb and wipe up oils and the lens cleaner, while simultaneously holding dirt and particulate deeper within the fibers – away from sensitive lens surfaces.

For best care, AVOID the following:

  1. Cotton – although absorbent, cotton fibers are large and uneven, resulting in diminished effectiveness during wiping and wicking.
  2. Paper – whether newspaper or paper towel, dry paper products can grind dust and paper fibers into a lens, leaving scratches. Used with water, paper products can’t remove oils, hair products, or fingerprints.
  3. Glass Cleaners - Glass cleaners are highly corrosive and can damage your lens coatings quickly. They are not made for the non-glass lens materials used in your “glasses”.
  4. Dish Soap - While a few mild dish soaps don’t harm lenses, today’s “extra strength” dish soaps are powerful enough to slowly disintegrate lens coatings. Anything designed to “remove grime” will remove a lens coating over time.
  5. Clothing - Clothing and the particles of dirt caught in it can leave fine scratches on a lens. Research shows 52% of people use “clothing” as their most frequent cleaning method, and the majority of lens damage comes from it.

A Bit of Cleaning Science…

Mother Nature – The Ultimate Maid

The lotus flower (Fig. 2), an aquatic water lily, is perhaps the supreme example of how nature has engineered a surface that literally cleans itself. By enabling water to bead up and easily roll off, dirt and debris are picked up and carried off, i.e., they don’t stick to the leaf’s surface. Voila! When it rains, the lotus leaf cleans itself! I only wish cleaning my home was this easy!

The latest anti-glare and scratch resistant coatings are similarly designed to offer a comparable stay-clean benefit.

Fig. 2

With their super-hydrophobic and oleophobic characteristics, smudges, fingerprints, dirt, water and oil droplets stick far less to their slippery surfaces. But because lenses are also in contact with fingers, food, perspiration and grime, even these coatings’ reduced stickiness is insufficient to keep your lenses completely clean.

And, that’s where the trouble begins. As our lenses get dirty, we wipe and clean with whatever is conveniently at hand – no matter how inappropriate – even if it means using our shirt tail or blouse. We’ll also try to help clean them by adding plain water or moist breath. But these non- sticky, super-hydrophobic AR coatings have been designed to repel water. The problem is: How do we facilitate making a cleanser spread out and wet a super-hydrophobic AR-coated lens? The answer is by understanding that making coated lenses stay clean requires a different chemical strategy than being cleaned.

Clean and Be Clean

When uncoated glass and plastic lenses ruled our industry, cleaning with plain water appeared effective because the surface tension of water was easily overcome by the high surface energy of the lens surface. (S in figure 3) But an uncoated lens surface draws both water and dirt to itself.

Fig. 3 - Surface Tension –
A=super hydrophobic, B=some hydrophobic qualities,
C= almost none, S=not hydrophobic

Super Hydrophobic coatings attempt to repel water by lowering the surface energy of the lens, which decreases the attraction of water molecules. This is called increasing the surface wetting angle (A in figure 3). The lens surface becomes less sticky to fingerprints and food. But when we want to clean a lens, we need to get lens cleaner to behave in just the opposite fashion: we want it spread out across the lens surface to help dissolve and remove grime.

In effect, we seek to reduce the wetting angle of the lens surface to lens cleansers. This is done with the inclusion of surface active agents, or surfactants. Surfactants act to momentarily allow the lens cleaner to wet and spread out across the lens surface, thereby optimizing grime removal. They also break down the skin oils and dirt on the lens. A little alcohol is also mixed in to act as a drying agent. The result is a more uniform evaporation of the liquid from the lens surface, and a reduction of the smudginess our clients can be so vocal about.

Fig. 4 - The Clarity Clean It product sheets out
over super hydro and oleophobic lens surfaces

The Genius of Microfiber

Along with a properly-designed surfactant cleanser, lens care companies recommend and include cloths made from new, space-age microfiber technology. These are not only terrific for cleaning; they are superior at wicking-up grease and also channeling dirt to areas away from the interface of cloth and lens surface. Fact: microfiber textiles are capable of holding up to seven times their weight in water? (Figure 5).

Fig 5 -
The dirt channeling action of
Microfiber Vs. the push and drag action
of conventional cotton fiber

But not all microfibers are created equal. The best quality ones employ a high-quality microfiber along with the proper knitting process for ophthalmic lens use. In general, price may be used here as a guide to quality. Pouch-style microfiber frames cases are certainly convenient, but there is obviously no way to know what dirt or particulates their outside surfaces may pick up and retain in a pocket or purse. Using a separately enveloped cleaning cloth is best for proper lens care. (add in microfiber cloth sources names here)

Periodically advise clients to clean their microfiber cloths in warm water with a very mild detergent to remove the dirt particles that have been trapped within the cloth. Avoid the lure of throwing the cloths in with the family laundry, as the wrong type of detergents and fabric softeners that contain oils can clog up the fibers, interfering with their cleaning action.

Cleaning Eyeglasses with Shirttails and Dish Soap? Ouch!

As we said, today's lenses are made from high-technology polymers with advanced coatings. Household cleaners, even soaps, can cause haziness and peeling coatings in just a short time. Dirt in clothing and the rough fibers in paper products can scratch. I personally prefer the Nanofilm Lens Care brochure as it offers a simple story for your client in the form of a 1-2-3.


Anti-fog has always been a problem and it was made worse with AR lenses. The problem was that any permanent anti-fog treatment made lens surfaces softer and more scratch-able or significantly reduced or eliminated AR performance. In addition, most anti-fog treatments that were effective didn’t last long enough to be practical and were easily wiped off during cleaning.

Lens fogging is a nuisance that people put up with because they are not aware of effective products to prevent it. People shouldn’t have to put up with the hassle. At speed on skis, downhill on a bicycle, as an athlete in the humidity, as a police or firefighters in/out of their vehicles or the supermarket butcher or restaurant worker in and out of the freezer – lens fogging creates problems.

There are several anti-fog products on the market. Clarity Defog It is unique in that it has been designed for all optics, even those with anti-reflective or super-hydrophobic coatings. Clarity Defog It™, by Nanofilm is available as a liquid concentrate and as reusable dry cloths. They prevent fogging on sunwear, AR lenses with super-hydrophobic coatings, sports goggles, binoculars, spotting scopes, and motorcycle or, safety eyewear face shields. These dry cloths offer convenient application. The liquid concentrate provides all-in-one cleaning and advanced anti-fog protection.

To Confirm Performance Characteristics

  1. Test anti-fog treatments over constant
    steam. No fog should form for 60 full
  2. As many as 100 inside-outside trips should
    be possible with no fogging.
  3. At least 100 cycles of cooling and heating
    should remain fog-free

Positioning Lens Care for Profits: Give, Sell or Take Away?

In view of the average cost of a premium pair of eyewear, many ECPs remain sheepish about charging for proper lens care products. How many of us end up simply dumping a bottle of cleaner and a cloth into their client’s eyewear bag with nothing more than a “Here ya go!”? I’ve got news for you: until recently…mea culpa.

It all started when a woman entered my store, asking for an adjustment. I asked if someone had recommended her. “No,” she replied. After the adjustment, the woman reached into her purse and took out a 1 oz bottle of lens cleaner, just like the type I give away to every client with new lenses, printed with my business’s name, address and phone number.

“How’d you get that?” I asked. Her reply was mortifying, and pointed out the poor job I had been doing discussing proper lens care: “Oh, at a garage sale. The women there had entire table was filled with these bottles. A good deal at $0.25, don’t you think?”

You’d think any ECP worth their salt would know better. I do now. So what should you do?

The Plan

First, include a complete lens care kit with every complete eyewear purchase. A full kit should include a 1oz. bottle of premium surfactant lens cleaner, a microfiber cloth, and 3 lens towelettes. The bottle should be printed your store’s name, address and phone. Label it with a price to associate value.

Next, discuss how the use of a proper lens cleaner and cloth work with all lenses, not against them. Show each and every customer how to clean their lenses. Just because they might have spent for the best lenses doesn’t mean that they won’t want to care for them properly.

Place a variety of lens care products right at the front of your reception counter and at your dispensing tables. Be sure all of them are labeled with your store information, as well as a price (this establishes value).

Introduce products for the variety of cleaning and care situations a client will encounter with their eyewear. For example: Sports - sweat and general steaminess = anti-fog; on the go with little carrying space = premoistened towelettes; Best in value = larger size bottles for home use.

Not a just a give away? A giveaway over time can lessen the value or importance of the product. Keep the quantity that is given away limited. Provide sample towelettes, as they introduce the patient to convenient lens care and will develop into a great repeat business. Be sure to demonstrate their proper use. It should not be thrown into the bag, as in “here’s some cleaner for you”. That only downplays the importance of the product. Explain why you are recommending the cleaner. This also provides an opportunity to inform customers to return for additional products as spray and towelettes are expendable and microfiber cloths will get dirty.

What are the products that are necessary to keep lenses in perfect shape? Great programs encourage all patients to return routinely. Cleaning and demonstrating should all be part of it. Here’s a great question to ask – How do you care or clean for your glasses? Find out before you do the demo.

With a lens cleaning, you should regularly tune-up their frame and lens assembly. Frames change shape and that can affect lens position, edges and comfort. Eye wires, grooves and nose pads collect dirt and oils. The bane of the dispenser – dis and reassembly may be required. Offer this twice a year as part of the service that is provided when purchasing eyewear from your office. Then promote lens cleaners in either towelettes or liquid, whichever patients find most convenient.

There’s merit to introducing people to the essentials of proper lens care by including a kit with their purchase. But it’s all up to you to review the particulars of lens care. And don’t be embarrassed about selling premium lens care products.

Here is a list of opportunities I’ve missed. How many of these have you overlooked too?

When you reach to adjust someone’s eyewear, do they act embarrassed and say, “Oh, I know they’re dirty” or “I haven’t had a chance to clean them today?” Opportunity!

How you respond after you’ve finished explaining proper lens care is critical. How would you answer when your client follows with: “But I can still use soap and water, right?” Opportunity

When your client takes their eyewear from its case, you notice that the branded lens cloth is still sealed in its plastic wrapper. What would you do or say? Opportunity

Ask about their hobbies and passions. Yes, lifestyle questions are great for finding out what products suit them best. Try to tie the use to the need. Think about target shooting, the photographer, driving, a cyclist… telescopic sights, lenses, eyewear – they all need to be super clean for top performance. For night driving, both lenses and the windshield need to be kept clean. Their AR lenses are designed enhance night vision. They need to be streak and smudge free. Opportunity

For cell phones, iPads, laptops, etc., recommend premoistened towelettes. These surfaces are constantly in need of removing fingerprints and smudges, and convenience is paramount. For sunglasses and clip-ons - they’re on and off - and so easily fingerprinted. Opportunity

Always recommend towelette products for their portability and convenience. If they have a towelette at hand, they’re less likely to grab a shirttail or blouse. Include them as part of a starter kit and be sure your displays make boxes easily available for purchase. The most effective single place to display them is at the receptionist area. This is where all office visits begin and end. Towelettes drive the greatest number of people to return and purchase more lens care products. These additional, non-scheduled visits also give you the opportunity to show what’s new in eyecare and eyewear. Opportunity

Lastly, use videos that demonstrate lens care. I now use my iPad at the desk to walk clients through manufacturer’s sites enjoy videos that illustrate proper lens care techniques and… even a little of the science behind lens cleaning. By the way, using the iPad alone impresses them that we’re on the cutting edge.

There are more for sure. So always be attentive for opportunities to make the message clear about the importance of proper lens care.

A Sparkling Finish

Every day, people take care to make sure their footwear is sharp, teeth are brushed, and their hair properly quaffed. But you’re appear as fully dressed, i.e., “from head to toe”, without eyewear displaying sparkling-clean lenses…just as shiny as your polished shoes!

It’s time to forget the old wisdom of Windex. Make lasting impressions on your clients with the use of premium lens care products. Start by showing them how to keep their lenses clean. Finish with printed cloths and cleansers that associate your practice with the best standards in eyecare. If you just give it all away, the message you may be unintentionally sending is that it proper lens care is optional, or has little value. Garage sale anyone?