This story has been updated. It was first published on November 18, 2020.
There’s no question that glasses are amazing. They’re simple pieces of engineering that allow faulty-eyed wearers to take in the beauty of the natural world. But glasses can also be annoying—especially when the lenses fog up while you’re wearing a mask.
Lens fog can quickly go from mildly bothersome to downright dangerous, and it has been an issue throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for many of the more than 164 million US adults who wear specs. And things get worse in the second half of the year when lower temperatures lead to more misty lenses.
As a glasses-noob suffering from the dreadful fog myself, I turned to the internet for answers. There is a wide range of tips and tricks out there, and I tried the most popular ones so I could definitively say which work, and which ones are just fogged up.
Why, oh why do my glasses keep fogging up when I’m wearing a mask?
One word: condensation. Water changes states depending on temperature—it evaporates when it’s hot, goes back to its liquid state when it cools, and, of course, you’ve heard of ice.
When you exhale while wearing a mask, the water molecules in your breath hit your face covering. Depending on how porous the material is, some molecules will go through. But the rest will be redirected and escape out the nearest exit, which is often upward, slipping between your mask and your cheeks.
Your glasses will always be colder than the air inside your mask, which your breath keeps warm at all times. When your moisture-laden exhales hit your lenses, the sudden change in temperature causes condensation, resulting in annoying and momentarily blinding fog.
Fit is everything
The best solution for your fogging problem is to prevent warm air from escaping past the top of your mask. To accomplish this, a tight-fitting mask can make a world of difference. But as any tailor would tell you, finding a good fit off the rack is not easy, as we (and our faces) are all different.
The following tips mostly aim to make your mask more snug, but you may find they just don’t work for you. If that’s the case, trying two methods (or more) in tandem could be the right approach.
Method No. 1: Wear a mask with adjustable nosebands
When it comes to masks, a good fit provided by an adjustable band is not only safer against COVID-19, it also helps combat fogging. Most surgical masks have one, and you can easily attach bands to cloth face coverings—either homemade or store-bought. Just take some twist ties or pipe cleaners and secure them between the fabric layers on the top edge of the mask.
When you put your mask on, adjust the noseband accordingly and let your glasses sit over it so their weight further helps prevent air from escaping.
Result: 1 out of 5 🤓
The main problem with this method is that adjustable nosebands generally have some resistance to them, and as much as you try to get them to fit perfectly over your nose, they’ll always slightly bounce back to their original shape. This will always leave some space for air to get through and fog up your glasses. If these types of masks work well for you, consider yourself lucky—they’re not consistently effective.
Method No. 2: Use soap and water
Fogged lenses are a problem many people discovered only recently, but health care workers have been struggling with the odd pairing of masks and lenses for a while. And that’s not just those who wear glasses in their day-to-day, but also those who perform intricate surgeries and wear loupes when doing so.
Their secret for preventing fogged eyewear—and potentially an incorrect incision—is washing the lenses with soapy water. That’s it. When you wash your hands (as you should do regularly), give your lenses a little lather, rinse, shake off the excess water, and let them air dry.
Several studies back up this method, and it works because the soap leaves a film over your glasses that prevents them from fogging up. Start by using mild hand soap, but if that doesn’t work, you can try dishwasher soap. Don’t worry, this won’t damage the coating of your lenses or the hinges of your frames.
But don’t try replacing hand or dish soap with hand sanitizer. As much as it may sound like a reasonable swap in a pinch, these two products work in different ways. While soaps use surfactants to create cleaning suds, hand sanitizers rely on the often abrasive power of alcohol to kill viruses and bacteria, which can also damage the coating of your lenses.
Result: 2 out of 5 🤓
As this trick was recommended by health care workers, I really thought it would make a considerable difference, but my glasses kept fogging up as normal. Plus, the suds left stains on my lenses from the water I couldn’t shake off.
I first tried mild hand soap, but that did nothing to prevent fogging. Next, I tried using dishwasher soap and got the same result. Some sites said bar soap could have better results, and I found that more oily soaps, like Castille soap, for example, work better. Still, this is definitely not an end-all solution, and big exhales ended up fogging up my lenses anyway. It’s possible that whatever health care workers use to wash their hands at hospitals is different from what I have at home, but the bottom line is that this method depends solely on the kind of soap you use. It may not work for you, but you won’t lose anything by trying.
Method No. 3: Use a mask extender
Wearing a mask extender that links the ear loops around the back of your head will create a tighter fit against your face without you wanting to rip your ears off. If you’re a knitter, you can make one yourself, and if you’re not, you can buy one online or even improvise one with a couple of paper clips.
Whatever kind you get, an extender will narrow the space between your skin and the top of your mask. For better results, combine this with Method No. 1 and use an extender with a mask that has an adjustable noseband.
Result: 2 out of 5 🤓
There was only some fogging when I exhaled heavily, so I’d call this a good method. It’s slightly better than just wearing a mask with an adjustable noseband, but the fit is way more comfortable. Having your frames sit over the mask also helps get a tighter fit.
Method No. 4: Use tissues as a buffer
Similar to Nos. 1 and 3, this trick aims to block the top opening of your mask to prevent air from escaping through it, while at the same time absorbing some of the moisture before it hits your glasses.
First, get a tissue, fold it in half, and place it on the inside of your mask, along the top edge, so it sits right over the bridge of your nose and lays against your cheeks. Adjust the mask and place your glasses over it for better results.
Result: 3 out of 5 🤓
It works, but it can be terribly uncomfortable. Make sure the tissue is folded so that it sits entirely against your nose. When I folded it in half, leaving some tissue hanging loose inside the mask, fogging was minimal, but taking a big gulp of air made the tissue cover my nostrils and prevented me from breathing comfortably.
If you want to try this method, I’d suggest you carry a pack of tissues with you so you can replace the one inside your mask as necessary, as moisture can accumulate and dampen it.
Method No. 5: Literally tape the mask to your nose
If nosebands just won’t work for you, you can force that mask to stay in place by taping it down. Don’t just use regular transparent tape, though, as the oils on your skin will prevent it from sticking properly. And you really don’t want anything not made especially for your face to touch it anyway, as it might damage your skin or cause an allergic reaction.
You can use an adhesive bandage in a pinch, but if you want to go all-out, you can opt for surgical tape, which is not only safe to use on sensitive skin, but also highly resistant. Take whatever you’re using and place it over your nose, making sure you cover equal parts of your mask and skin. Using a longer piece of tape will allow you to take things to the next level and cover some of the space above your cheeks. Another option is to go for dedicated products like Masktite, a double-sided tape that clings to your mask and your skin. In that case, peel one side of the band and paste it on the inside of the top edge of your mask. Then, peel the other side, place the mask over your nose, and press to fix it in place.
Result: 4 out of 5 🤓
The bandage did a great job, but be careful to position it well the first time—when you remove it, fuzz from the cloth will stick to it. The Masktite bands are definitely great, but you need to remember you’re wearing one and take off the mask gently, or else the skin over your nose will definitely feel it. Securing your mask to your face prevents your breath from getting out through the top, so the warm air hitting your lenses is minimal.
Combining this method with others such as using a mask extender or a folded tissue may very well end your fogging problems for good.