Contact Lens-Only Sink
April 23, 2010 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Dumb question - why was one sink in the bathroom dedicated for contact lens wearers?

I'm traveling for work, and at the contractor's facility the bathrooms all have one sink with a sign above it that says, "Please use this basin if you wear contact lenses". The bathrooms are large - maybe a dozen sinks in each one - and I couldn't see any difference between this sink and any of the other sinks. The drain traps, taps, and all the porcelain was exactly the same. Anyone have an explanation for this? Has anyone seen this anywhere else?
posted by backseatpilot to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Wild guess, but in my large government bathroom we have one sink out of twelve that is not equipped with timer faucets. Is that the difference?
posted by fixedgear at 2:52 PM on April 23, 2010

Maybe only one sink was hooked up to a water softener? Hard water increases the risk of contact lens infections.
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:05 PM on April 23, 2010

Maybe on the special sinks the traps are easier to take off so it's easier to recover a lost contact. Or all the others may lead to one big pipe before there is any trap.

But doesn't every on wear throw away contacts now, anyway?
posted by Some1 at 3:06 PM on April 23, 2010

I'd vote for extra filtering/softening of the water
posted by meta_eli at 3:22 PM on April 23, 2010

There's something about not using standard tap water in the UK for contact lenses, because it often comes from a header tank where it might have been standing about for a bit before coming out of the taps, increasing the risk of infection. But the advice generally is to use sterile solution however your water comes to you, as any tapwater can be contaminated (just a bit more likely if its been in a header tank).
posted by Coobeastie at 3:35 PM on April 23, 2010

Am I missing something? People use TAP water to fill their contact lens cases? I thought having a sterile, isotonic saline solution was a pretty integral thing to contact lenses.
posted by speedgraphic at 3:45 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never come across a special tap! Jealous. But, there are plenty of disgusting bacteria in tap water which can get into your eyes and lenses if you're a wearer, causing infections. I'm always told to take out my continuous wear lenses while I shower for just this reason - especially bad for me as I don't soak my lenses in nice sterile saline on a regular basis.

Perhaps your special sink has filters in the tap/water to remove these bacteria, so people washing their hands in order to put in/take out lenses have a better chance of not transferring this bacteria to their eyes?
posted by citands at 3:47 PM on April 23, 2010

But doesn't every on wear throw away contacts now, anyway?

Nope -- they don't even make my prescription in disposables.

I am dying to know the answer to this question -- OP, can you ask someone at the facility?

posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:17 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

speedgraphic, you're right I think- I think this is just for water for washing hands etc.
posted by MadamM at 4:51 PM on April 23, 2010

I'm baffled. Where is this facility located? I think that citands may be correct about it having some special feature of bacteria killing powers that were not visible in the sink itself. But other than that, no clue. Please let us know if you find out!
posted by amicamentis at 5:18 PM on April 23, 2010

Might it have something to do with pouring saline down the drain? (I have no idea what that might be.) As a contact lens wearer, I would only let tap water near my contacts in a desperate saline-less situation. But I pour my old saline into the sink.
posted by little e at 5:39 PM on April 23, 2010

I would guess it has to do with the contact lens wearers not wanting other people's disgusting hand splatter and toothpaste spittle and coffee dumpings in the sink they are using to clean their lenses.

Or, the soap dispenser has different soap in it. I don't know about anyone else, but the standard antibacterial soap makes my eyes go red instantly, no matter how much I rinse it off.
posted by gjc at 6:27 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, my thought was that maybe that one sink was cleaner than other sinks somehow, and thus better in case the contact-lens wearers were to drop a lens.
posted by limeonaire at 6:32 PM on April 23, 2010

Can you tell us the function of the facility (office building, construction, chemical plan, hospital, etc.)? Is it someplace which would require frequent hand washing or interaction with biological materials?

Could it be possible that a single sink is cleaned differently by the cleaning staff - perhaps without the use of harsher solvents / cleaners, etc.

Alternatively, can you see any difference in the lighting, mirror or flooring near the sink?

Perhaps the building owner really doesn't like people who where contact lenses and wants to force them to wait in line to wash their hands? :)
posted by NoDef at 6:41 PM on April 23, 2010

Was it a hand-written sign, or printed?
posted by amicamentis at 6:44 PM on April 23, 2010

I wouldn't ever wash or clean my contacts IN a sink or put tap water in the container or on the contacts unless I was absolutely desperate. I do lean over the sink so the saline doesn't make a mess. I can't imagine the meaning of the sign. If my contact went down a nasty sink, public or otherwise, ease of fishing it out wouldn't be an issue because I wouldn't want it back after that. This is strange.
posted by tamitang at 7:32 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Contact lens wearer: I agree with tamitang.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 8:19 PM on April 23, 2010

Response by poster: The facility didn't have any manufacturing in it. There were some labs on the first floor, but the second floor bathroom had the same sign. The signs were professionally made - plastic rectangles with embossed lettering.

Unfortunately I'm not there anymore and have no one to ask. I didn't notice anything different about the tap, the drain trap, soap, paper towels, shape of the basin, or anything else. The sinks were all manually operated - no automatic shutoff. I didn't notice anything under the sink to indicate there was extra water softening.

I guess I'm leaning towards cleanliness at this point, because I did notice a (handmade) sign in the second floor bathroom to ask people to use a different sink for dumping coffee. If this starts really bothering me, I'll e-mail one of the engineers that I visited there.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:02 PM on April 23, 2010

Were there mirrors above each sink? Maybe it was that contact lens wearers were hogging all the mirrors, thus preventing people from using the sinks. I've been wearing contact for years and I still have to watch myself put em in.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 10:41 PM on April 23, 2010

To clear some things up:

No, not everyone uses disposable contacts. I wear hard (gas-permeable) contacts, and so do many members of my family.

Every morning, I rinse each contact off under the tap, put a drop of saline solution on it, and then stick it my eye. My parents, at least, do the same. We've never had any problems with infection.

That said, I can't imagine any reason why I'd need a special sink.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:04 PM on April 23, 2010

If this bathroom sees periods of heavy use by multiple people (like in a dorm) maybe the sign is an attempt at reserving one sink for a certain purpose, so as not to hog a row of sinks with the same activity to the exclusion of other bathroom activities?
posted by werkzeuger at 6:40 AM on April 24, 2010

Maybe it comes with one of these?
posted by amicamentis at 6:49 AM on April 24, 2010

Best answer: I assumed that dropped lenses would be more easily recovered from that sink - a better trap, or a trap they empty more regularly, or something.
posted by timepiece at 8:27 AM on April 24, 2010

I'm really curious about this and I hope you do email one of the engineers for a definitive answer.
posted by kate blank at 9:52 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

There a couple of general cases:
-Specially designated sinks due to unusual usage patterns (OP mentioned laboratories)
-Water sanitation issues (having to do with cleaning your hands before handling lenses)

As a few hinted above, it *could* be a misinformed/overzealous administrator. But that would be too mundane.

However. Taking a step back, observe the big picture. Consider the wording of the signage itself: "Please use this basin if you wear contact lenses". It has no explanatory information—that is, no hint as to its purpose—which opens up room for confusion and misunderstanding. Just read over our own responses in this thread—all of us are proffering educated guesses, because the situation is so unusual and unfamiliar. And from a management perspective, it's certainly a lesson about good design and psychology—your employees and visitors are more likely to follow a protocol correctly when they have some insight as to the underlying reason. Look around when you travel next time; you will see other instances of people putting up user-unfriendly signs. With a different wording using the same 9-word budget, this thread might not even have to exist.

I've been wearing daily use contact lenses for a just few months; therefore I am curious to know the definitive answer, if the OP manages to get to the bottom of this!
posted by polymodus at 12:33 PM on April 24, 2010

Response by poster: Alright, I asked the engineers while we were out at dinner tonight!

The answer is: there is an extra screen in the trap to prevent your contacts from washing down the drain. I must have missed it when I was looking around. Thanks everyone!
posted by backseatpilot at 7:41 PM on April 27, 2010

Awesome! Thanks for letting us know!

But ew, I wouldn't want to put something in my eye that I just recovered from some gross trap in a sink.
posted by amicamentis at 6:11 AM on April 29, 2010

Well, I have friends that have hard (rigid gas permeable) contacts that cost several hundred dollars each, so I'm sure they'd be happy to fish them out of the drain.

Thanks so much for getting to the bottom of this!
posted by kate blank at 1:17 PM on April 30, 2010

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