If you work in a lab that uses chemicals, your safety goggles are key to ensuring you come out of an accident with your eyes intact. Of the plethora of chemical splash goggles out there, Uvex Flex Seal goggles are your best bet. They meet all the standards for chemical splash goggles, and our testing panel thought they were the most comfortable. They fit over glasses, are readily available from several online vendors, including Amazon, and are reasonably priced at around $16.
Anyone who works in a wet chemical lab needs a good pair of safety goggles. Chemical splashes are something that can occur at any time, whether you’re the one working with chemicals or it’s your lab mate. “It’s what a stethoscope is to a physician,” says Ken Smith, executive director of environment, health, and safety for the University of California system. You’re going to live with that pair of goggles for a while, “until you wear them out and have to get new ones,” Smith says. So which goggles you choose is very important.
The point of wearing goggles is to protect your eyes against both splashes and projectiles, says Stephanie Tumidajski Hess, assistant director and chemical hygiene officer at the Division of Research Safety at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Safety glasses don’t seal to your face, leaving gaps between the glasses and your skin where chemicals could splash or drip. Goggles do fit snugly to your face, with no gaps between your skin and the eyewear.
The American Optometric Association has general guidelines for when to wear safety goggles or glasses to avoid eye injury. Your workplace health and safety department may have additional guidance.
Protective eyewear needs to meet certain safety standards. The particular standards for chemical splash goggles are regulated through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the administrator and coordinator of the US private-sector voluntary standardization system. ANSI has a defined set of tests that safety glasses and goggles have to pass in order to be labeled as meeting ANSI standards.
Not all goggles are the same—ones you might buy in a hardware store for woodworking, for example, are unlikely to meet standards for chemical splashes. For liquid splash goggles to wear in a wet chemistry lab, look for standard ANSI-Z87, which broadly covers eye protection. Goggles that have this stamp have gone through a multitude of safety tests. Then look for the certification that applies to chemical splash goggles: D3. The label might look like “Z87+D3” (shown). The ANSI standard should be marked on the literature the manufacturer includes with the goggles, or “it will actually have that marking somewhere on the goggle, either by the strap or on their side,” Smith says. The certification for dust is D4 or D5, so if you want both splash and dust protection, look for “Z87+D3D4” or “Z87+D3D5.”
Most people also want ventilated goggles. This means the goggles have vents to let out moisture, so they’re less likely to fog up. Foggy goggles are difficult to see through, which is a safety hazard. However, vents themselves can be a hazard, since they can potentially let liquids in as well as moisture out. There are two types of venting in safety goggles: direct vents and indirect vents. Directly vented goggles basically just have holes in them. While this is great for ventilation, it’s less great if you get a face full of sulfuric acid, as the liquid could drip through the vents and get into your eyes.
For splash goggles, the safer choice is indirect vents that don’t lead directly to the eye. For example, one type of indirect vent is an S-shaped vent, which has a channel shaped like a sideways S between the outside and inside of the goggle. Moist air can still pass through the vent, but liquids are less likely to get through since they would have to turn a corner against gravity. Indirectly vented goggles are not quite as fog resistant as directly vented goggles, but they are a better choice for wet chemical labs.
After you’re sure the goggles meet safety standards, make sure they fit you well. That means they conform to your face and make a good seal around your eyes, Hess says. You should have no gaps between the goggles and your temples, cheeks, and forehead. The goggles shouldn’t slip if you move your head around. At the same time, the goggles shouldn’t be so tight they’re uncomfortable or painful. You should also be able to see clearly, without distortion at the edges.
If the goggles you’re looking at fit you well, then there are three remaining things to consider, Smith says: “Comfort, comfort, and comfort.” You have to wear these goggles all the time you’re in a lab, and you have to keep them over your eyes. Safety goggles are not very effective at protecting your eyes if you have them on top of your head, Hess says.
There’s really no way to determine fit and comfort without trying on goggles. It’s great if you can do this in person, such as through your workplace’s stockroom or health and safety group. These departments can also be a great source for guidance on what goggles to choose, so ask for help, says Lori Seiler, director of environment, health, and safety for global R&D at Dow.
If you don’t have such resources, or they only have a few options to choose from, Seiler suggests ordering multiple pairs to try and returning the ones you don’t like. However, remember to check the seller’s return policy before you do this.
If you wear prescription eyeglasses, this complicates wearing goggles. One way around this is to wear contact lenses underneath your goggles. Despite what you may have heard in your undergraduate lab class, the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says wearing contacts around hazardous chemicals is OK.
If you don’t want to wear contacts, you can choose goggles that are made to fit over glasses, known as OTG. Both our top pick, Uvex Flex Seal, and the runner up, KleenGuard Monogoggle, can fit over glasses. Frames of larger glasses may still not fit under goggles, so you might have to switch to a smaller pair of glasses. Again, you may need to try multiple pairs to see what works for you, “because every pair of prescription glasses is going to be completely different in the size and how they fit with goggles,” Hess says.
You can get prescription lenses for goggles, although they’re a little harder to find. These are more expensive, and potentially losing a pair is more of a worry. You can buy prescription inserts for two of the pairs we tested, Uvex Stealth and Haber Liquidator (although we really don’t recommend the Liquidator).
Following the advice of the safety experts, we only tested goggles that meet the ANSI-Z87.1 D3 standard and are indirectly vented. This still leaves quite a few options, so we narrowed it down to goggles that were $25 or less (with one exception), were relatively easy to buy online, had good reviews from users, and had a flexible material to comfortably seal the goggles to the face. We also tested a mix of OTG goggles and ones for people without glasses. Unfortunately, goggles in different sizes weren’t readily available when we did our research, so we only tested “one size fits all” goggles.
We ended up with a list of 6 goggles to test:
▸ Haber Liquidator (OTG)
▸ HexArmor LT300 (OTG)
▸ Honeywell Uvex Stealth
▸ Honeywell Uvex Flex Seal (OTG)
▸ KleenGuard Monogoggle (OTG)
▸ Pyramex V2G-Plus
A panel of 11 C&EN employees tested the goggles for comfort and visibility. Each tester tried out 4–6 pairs of goggles over a period of 2 weeks: people who wear glasses tested the 4 OTG pairs, and people who don’t need glasses or wear contact lenses tested all 6 pairs. They wore each pair of goggles for 2 h at a time and tested each pair two separate times. While wearing the goggles, the testers did a mixture of activities. These included active tasks such as walking, weight lifting, cleaning, or washing dishes. They also did some less active tasks, such as watching movies or working at a computer.
After each 2 h trial, the testers filled out a questionnaire about comfort and fit. Each tester also chose which pair was their favorite, which was their second favorite, and whether they particularly disliked any. Testers were not allowed to discuss the goggles or view each other’s feedback until after the testing was over. We chose our top pick based on the tester feedback, as well as price and availability.
Our top choice, the Honeywell Uvex Flex Seal, will probably surprise no one who regularly shops for goggles. It’s been a favorite among chemists for years, with good reason. This goggle was rated the most comfortable by our testing panel: four testers chose it as their first-place pick, and two more chose it as their runner-up. Most notably, no one hated this goggle.
Several of our testers called the Flex Seal comfortable, noting good visibility and lack of eyestrain. One reviewer even forgot they were wearing the goggles. Reviewers attributed the comfort of the Flex Seal to the silicon lining around the inside of the goggles. Additionally, it has a stretchy cloth strap. “The seal part was very comfortable around my face and the strap was of a material that didn’t catch my hair,” one tester commented.
The Flex Seal consistently fit over our testers’ glasses, something that can not be said for all the goggles tested. One reviewer with a very high nose bridge said, “The Uvex Flex Seal is the only one that didn’t brutalize my nose, didn’t hurt my forehead, and actually did fit my glasses.”
At around $12 to $17, the Flex Seal is affordable, and you can even buy replacement lenses. Many online stores carry these goggles.
The Flex Seal is not without downsides. It doesn’t accommodate prescription goggle lenses, so you do have to wear glasses or contacts underneath. One reviewer had a problem with fogging, despite the venting.
The KleenGuard Monogoggle roared in at second place. Three of our testers chose this goggle as their top pick, although no one chose it as their runner-up, and one tester absolutely hated this pair.
The Monogoggle has a silicone seal around the lenses for comfort. Our testers who liked the Monogoggle noted its comfort and good visibility. “They remained comfortable throughout both testing periods, were easy to work in, and stayed put during activities,” one tester said. Another tester wore the Monogoggle while doing yard work. “I almost forgot I was wearing them! Kept the pollen out of my eyes,” that tester said. However, not everyone loved them. One tester noted that the neoprene strap was an issue. “Adjusting it is a pain and it feels like it would wear or break if you had to adjust it frequently.”
The Monogoggle is marked as OTG, but it didn’t fit well over all of our testers’ glasses. Even when testers’ glasses fit inside the goggles, the sides of the goggles were not flush with their faces. For one tester, the Monogoggle left large gaps between their face and the seal, even when they tightened the goggles to an uncomfortable level. I wear slightly oversized frames, and I couldn’t put these goggles directly on while I was wearing my glasses. I had to take off my glasses, put them in the goggles, then put goggles and glasses on together. It worked, but it was a bit of a pain.
The Monogoggle is a little harder to find online than the Flex Seal. It was not listed from a reliable source on Amazon at the time of this writing, but you can generally find them at other sites that carry personal protective equipment. At around $14 to $18, they’re affordable as well.
We chose this pair to test because we wanted to compare a super high-end goggle with the ones with fewer bells and whistles. The Haber Liquidator comes with a detachable fan that fits inside the top of the goggle to help with fogging. The fan can be set to on, off, or auto-on when it detects a certain level of moisture inside the goggle. The Haber Liquidator with fan will set you back around $100. And as we found out, the price is not worth it.
This pair of goggles was the most disliked by our testing panel. Five people noted that the Liquidator was their least favorite pair. Most of our testers said the Liquidator was uncomfortable. The strap is very stiff neoprene, similar to what you’d find on a scuba mask. As a result, the straps were hard to adjust and not very stretchy. Most of the testers had problems leaving these on for the full 2 h. “I took them off after 15–20 min,” one reviewer noted. “If I had a job where I had to wear these for 2 h, I would resign.” Another made it the entire testing period, but said, “I am happy to never wear the Liquidator again.”
The Liquidator also did not fit over most of our tester’s glasses. For the few testers that could get them on over glasses, the Liquidator pressed the glasses painfully into the wearer’s face. “It’s jamming the glasses into my nose bridge, I couldn’t do it,” one tester said about ending their testing early.
But does the benefit of the fan outweigh the discomfort? According to our testers, no. The Liquidator comes in two pieces: the goggles themselves and the fan housing. To assemble, you need to put the included AAA battery inside a tiny compartment that closes with a screw. Haber includes a screwdriver with the goggles—a tiny, adorable, and almost useless screwdriver. You also have to insert the fan into the top of the goggles.
Multiple testers had problems putting these together. “The tiny screwdriver is ridiculous to use, even for someone with smaller fingers,” one tester said. Two testers broke the battery housing while trying to insert the battery, one thanks to a defective battery pack.
Then, those who were able to install the battery found that the fan was decidedly not worth the effort. “That mosquito-whine of a fan is so irritating,” said one tester. When I tested this pair, I had to turn them off after about 6 min, as that was all I could stand. On the automatic setting, the fan never turned on, even after I genuinely worked up a sweat. The battery that came with the goggles also died after my initial 6 min use.
You can buy the Liquidator without a fan for around $14, but we still don’t recommend these goggles given the discomfort our testers described.
Here are the other goggles we tested.
HexArmor LT300 (OTG) didn’t score well with a lot of our testers, although a few did like them. “The HexArmor LT300 was able to fit my glasses, but I felt the seal around the edge of my face wasn’t as good as the Uvex ones,” one reviewer said. Another noted that the downward visibility in the HexArmor was not great. Overall, our reviewers found the LT300 to be very uncomfortable, with comments such as “Pulled in odd places and gave me a headache”; “My choices were excruciating pain or basically no seal at all. I really did want to throw these out the window”; and “I couldn’t live with these.”
Honeywell Uvex Stealth (not OTG) is Honeywell’s most popular pair of goggles. Several testers listed this as their second favorite choice, noting that the design and visibility were good, but they did not rank as anyone’s first choice. Several people had issues with the fit and comfort. “Couldn’t get a good seal without discomfort. I would not be happy if I had to wear these daily,” one reviewer said. Others thought that the rubber seal is too firm. “This pair gave me a migraine, and it had a bit of a smell upon opening.” The Stealth does have good reviews online, so it might be a good pair to try if you don’t wear glasses and our pick or runner-up doesn’t work for you.
Pyramex V2G-Plus (not OTG) is also readily available online and has a lot of good reviews. This was the only option we tested that comes to a narrow point over the nose, giving that part of the face a little more room. The Pyramex was the first choice for two of our testers. “They were comfy, had good visibility, and no eyestrain,” one reviewer said. “I mostly didn’t notice them after a while.” Most others were neutral about them. One tester picked this pair as the worst, saying, “The Pyramex was super rigid and shaped in a way that directly pressed a tiny point in my forehead, giving me a near-instant headache.” Another tester noted visibility problems around the edges of the goggles.
That’s up to you and your organization’s procurement department. C&EN used these sites to research and purchase pairs for testing: Amazon, Global Industrial, Grainger, MSC Industrial Direct, PK Safety, Safety Glasses USA, and Zoro.