Modern eyeglass lens coatings
December 27, 2021 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Are modern eyeglass lens coatings more oleophilic than they were in years past?

When I was a kid in the 90s, I could mostly get away with cleaning my glasses using my t-shirt and maybe a licked finger to scrub off any stubborn spots. Fast forward 30 years and I need to go through a multi-cloth cleaning ritual to get clean lenses, otherwise I just end up with a smeary haze on my lenses. Have modern UV/AR/PDQ/BBQ coatings improved their performance at the cost of being ridiculously good at holding onto body oils, or is this just a consequence of changing body oils in my middle age?

I mean, I accept that I'm using the ultra high index lenses now, and I haven't had any coatings flaking off in several years, so it's not a straight like-for-like comparison.

Even using spray cleaner is hit and miss since the cleaner ends up in the "well" between the lens and the frame, and as long as I am dragging it out with a cleaning cloth, I'm leaving a haze on the lens, and as long as the cloth is even remotely damp, I'm leaving a haze. It's annoying.
posted by Kyol to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My personal experiences match yours, Kyol. I've been wearing glasses for over 50 years, and the lenses I've had over the past ten years or so are crazy difficult to get clean with anything other than a ton of spray and two or three passes with a soft, clean cloth.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:34 AM on December 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

When I got my glasses, they cautioned me against using my shirt to clean the lenses, as residue from fabric softener and even some detergents would leave a smeary film on the lenses that would require even more effort to clean off. Stubborn fool that I am, I can confirm this. If I need an on-the-go cleaning, breathing on my lenses to fog them up and then polishing them with a clean (again, no laundry detergent or fabric softener) microfiber cloth works well enough. For a deep cleaning, I go to the sink, wash my hands first, and then apply a very small drop of liquid dish soap to each lens, wash the front and back, and rinse in hot water. They will usually air dry just fine, or I can dry them with a clean microfiber cloth.

I will notice that even though I put my hands all over my phone and iPad, it seems so much easier to buff their screens crystal clear with just a microfiber cloth, so perhaps it's a difference between glass vs plastic for ease of cleaning?
posted by xedrik at 8:44 AM on December 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've had great success using ZEISS Pre-Moistened Lens Cleaning Wipes. The liquid does an excellent job of cutting through the grease and the wipe itself seems to be slightly absorbent, so it picks up the dirt and oils instead of pushing it in to the crease between the lens and frame.
posted by arcolz at 8:48 AM on December 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Thanks for this question, I have the same problem and it drives me nuts. My glasses seem to be smudged all the time. I have found washing them with a bit of Dawn dishwashing soap and leaving to air dry, then wiping with the Zeiss wipes (or the Costco substitute) seems to keep them clean for a longer period than anything else does.
posted by rpfields at 8:54 AM on December 27, 2021

It’s definitely the coatings. Until four years ago, I always got my glasses with very few coatings to save money. So no extras.

But this last time I had the funds to splurge, and within a few days I noticed the difference.
I am seriously considering not getting coatings when I have to get a new pair.

People who make glasses seem not to understand that things you wear all the time shouldn’t get unusually gross in just an hour or two. Just like they don’t understand that having two hands free to be able to carefully remove/put on glasses each time is an absolute fantasy.
posted by nat at 9:37 AM on December 27, 2021

Response by poster: I should probably note that my current practice is to use a dry lens cleaning cloth (warby parker c.2019? Blue do's/don'ts) to get the worst of the smudges and dust and detritus off but that leaves the lenses uselessly hazy, then going over them with a second cleaning cloth (warby parker "100 words" c.2018?) that is the softest thing ever and that does a good job of leaving the lenses clear. I hand-wash the cleaning cloths every few months to try and knock down some of the accumulated oils.

When things get particularly bad, I'll wash my lenses under hot water with an old toothbrush to carefully work out the grime between the lens and the frame and the accumulated schmutz on the nosepads in the hopes that having less crud around the lenses means I have less risk of dragging stuff onto the lens while cleaning them and it's working out _mostly_ ok? But it's still a lot more care and attention than I ever used to need to give 'em.
posted by Kyol at 9:40 AM on December 27, 2021

I blast them under hot water every morning when I'm at the sink, then dry with a cloth. The hot water & friction gets everything off for me.
posted by bleep at 9:54 AM on December 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

When I clean my glasses well (which is admittedly infrequent) I use "plain" Ivory liquid soap as I was told by the that Dawn and other degreasing dishwasher soaps can affect the coatings. I didn't check with any other source, so I guess take it with a small grain of salt.
posted by TimHare at 10:57 AM on December 27, 2021

Interestingly, I've never experienced this in the 20+years I've been wearing glasses and I always add a glare/smudge coating. Places I've bought glasses from most recently are ZenniOpitcal, Costco and Warby Parker.

Xedrick may have hit on the root of the problem: laundry detergents / fabric softener. Residue/dye/fragrance free detergents sans fabric softener + vinegar in the rinse cycle has been my go to my entire adult life. I frequently use shirt hems or cotton handkerchiefs to clean smudges off my glasses; it's never been an issue.
posted by givennamesurname at 11:01 AM on December 27, 2021

I've had exactly this same thought in the past year. I've been wearing glasses for one thousand years, and I'm an archer who spends a lot of time staring intently at things. My current pair of glasses is by far the worst, both in terms of getting smeary and in how hard they are to clean.

My laundry detergent and clothing choices haven't changed that much recently; it isn't just that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:05 AM on December 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Don't use hot water! It shortens the life of the coatings, and when they have worn off, you then have glasses that seem to get dirty several times a day. Use warm water, instead.

I use lukewarm water and a squirt of diluted Dr. Bronner's castile soap to wash my glasses, rinse them under running water, then dry them with a dish towel.
posted by metonym at 1:09 PM on December 27, 2021

It may be bad for them, idk, but I clean my glasses in an ultrasonic cleaner with soap for 2 minutes every now and then. They come out amazingly clean
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:22 PM on December 27, 2021

The Crizal lens coating I started getting about five years ago has been better than anything I had before (I’ve always had super high-index lenses, so I’ve had a lot of AR/etc coatings). I follow their instructions for cleaning (rinse in not-hot water, apply drop of dish liquid with your rinsed fingers, rinse the whole thing, dry with soft cloth), with better results than any of the sprays I used to use, which would often leave a smeary sheen behind. I dry them with a microfiber cloth intended for glasses, and only hand-wash the cloth with a little Dawn, no washer or dryer. I’ll very carefully clean a smudge off a dry lens with the cloth if I must, but it’s far less frequent than it used to be.
posted by kite at 2:38 PM on December 27, 2021

Modern coatings are often hydrophobic and oleophobic - certainly not the opposite. However the hydrophobic and oleophobic coatings are often or usually optional. So your pair of glasses may or may not have them.

Here is an explanation of coatings from Zenni.

I've used hydrophobic and/or hydrophobic and oleophobic coatings for years and like them a lot. Last pair I could only get hydrophobic for some reason and they have been noticeably worse.

It may be that, though they repel oil pretty well - especially when they are very clean - once the oil overcomes this they do seem to hold onto it harder than other coatings. Usually it takes a bit of dishwashing soap or similar to really get it off.

However, I will Nth what others have said here, that for whatever reason just rubbing with the hem of your shirt or a random cloth is a disastrous way to clean them. It will make them worse, not better, every time - and they will gradually get worse every time you do this until they really can't be cleaned properly, because you have either degraded the coating with foreign substances or partially or completely rubbed it off.

With a good hydrophic coating, the water beads up on the lens. So to wash them, wet with warm water, wash fingers, a drop of dishwashing soap applied via finger tips and rub in carefully all around (this is the step where you actually get rid of fingerprints and oil smears, so inspect carefully and more soap and rubbing if they are not completely gone), rinse with warm water. Then (a very important step) for the name of all that is sacred DO NOT THEN RUB YOUR FRESHLY CLEANED GLASSES WITH ****ANY**** TYPE OF CLOTH OR RAG. That will just get them dirty and smeary again.

Instead, with a clean lens and hydrophobic coating, the water beads up nicely, you tap the glasses gently on something (I usually use a handy bath towel or similar) and the beaded-up water just slides off. Then let any few small droplets that may be left, dry. If there are large beads of water left for some reason, sometimes I will touch them (NOT RUB, just touch) with the corner of a tissue or similar, which wicks up the water.

Rub-rub-rubbing glasses with anything just loads up the coatings with stuff, making them useless, and over time puts micro-scratches into the coatings or rubs them away, making them worse than useless again.

Keep in mind these coatings are typically one molecule thick. It doesn't take much rubbing to start rubbing them away entirely.
posted by flug at 3:12 PM on December 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm a super fan of Crizal coatings too. One time, an optician dissuaded from getting Crizal and the first time I cleaned my glasses I regretted it.
posted by qsysopr at 7:41 AM on December 28, 2021

FWIW I've twice had lenses come back from the lab without the coating (or quality of coating) I paid for. The first time I only figured it out in retrospect, because when I got a new prescription a year later and paid for the same coating, the new lenses were far less reflective and the coating had a different residual color when viewed obliquely ("Depending on the AR coating formula, most lenses with anti-reflective coating have a very faint residual color, usually green or blue, that is characteristic of that particular brand of coating."). The second time it happened the (relatively mass market) optician insisted I was crazy and there was no way the lab had failed to apply the requested coating, but then one of my new lenses cracked spontaneously and the optician had to order replacements. The replacement lenses again had better anti-reflective properties and a different residual color. So it's possible you didn't actually get the coating you were supposed to get.

Also of note, the Crizal brand of coatings most opticians seem to push by name has multiple price points, and the more expensive coatings are, unsurprisingly, also shown as having enhanced protection against smudges (what does ✔️+ even mean, really?).

That said, it's also possible you've just abraded the coating away by wiping with a dry cloth. I wash my glasses every day with warm running water and a tiny bit of liquid soap on my fingertips, and I blot them dry with a towel I only use for that purpose. It's a minor inconvenience, but I do it right after I get out of the shower so I start the day with a clean me and a clean pair of glasses. After that I avoid wiping them with any sort of cloth. They don't smear, they don't get scratches, and the coatings generally don't accumulate oils except when I'm cooking and hot oil spatters and/or vaporizes.
posted by fedward at 10:04 AM on December 28, 2021

Response by poster: I finally went through my paperwork for my current glasses and my apparently optician's AR coating of choice is Crizal Alize, which is supposedly anti-smudge and water shedding, but in practice it's hit and miss. I mean, it doesn't wet like untreated glass, but my prescription is strong enough to provide a well for rinse water to cause problems, and wicking the water off leaves enough of a coating of whatever hardness is in my water that I can see it changing the AR color from purple to green and just enough of a smudge that it causes halos around lights. I mean, I suppose I could put that gallon of distilled water I keep in the cabinet to more use...

I started using the zeiss wipes, which seems to help reduce the amount of oil left over, but I still need a followup pass with a lens cloth to get them clean clean.

I just had my prescription refilled, and while they were upselling AR and UV coatings and asked if I wanted photochromic (or other tinting) lenses, there didn't appear to be any options for any other coatings. We'll see how 2022's chemistry works out, thanks!
posted by Kyol at 11:23 AM on January 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

« Older Life after Uggs (middle school edition)   |   What other exercises like the 7-minute workout can... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.