Skip to content

FROM THE NEWSROOM: Don’t wash your eyes out with cola

. . . and other things we recently learned about covering conflict
eye iris stock

The tidbit of advice in the headline is not mine, but something I learned via a seminar last week for journalists on how to cover riots, protests and other civil unrest.

I couldn’t actually make it to the seminar. Not even virtually.

But Carol Martin was good enough to check out the video conference and she took a lot of notes, including a note on the safest way to wash tear gas and/or pepper spray from your eyes. 

Cola, we are told, is out. Milk is also not good because of its acidity, and neither is oil. Plain old water is the way to go, according to the learned and experienced folks at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

I mention the cola bit not to make light of riots and their coverage, but because I was surprised it needed saying (as I’m sure many of you are). While I have heard it can be used to clean the battery terminals on your car, I had not heard of anyone suggesting it as eye wash. 

Here's an interesting article from many years ago on the cola question when it comes to tear gas.

We in the SooToday newsroom (currently virtual) don’t really expect to find ourselves in the midst of a riot any time soon, but it has happened elsewhere recently, and it never hurts to learn new things.

Some of the advice on covering civil disobedience is obvious. Know how you can exit if you need to. Don’t get between protesters and police. Wear sturdy footwear. Definitely don’t stand where you’ll get hit by rubber bullets. Know who to call if you get in trouble and maybe even write it in water-safe ink on your arm so someone else can call for you.

Others were less obvious to me:

  • Gun-range-grade ear protectors are handy if you think police in your area are likely to use sound cannons
  • Tear gas and pepper spray can stick to vaseline, skin cream, makeup, and (apparently) suntan lotion, so don’t wear it to a riot
  • If you’re worried about tear gas and pepper spray getting on your skin, bring a half-and-half mix of water and milk of magnesia to help wash it off. But only from your skin. Don’t use it on your eyes.
  • Also, pepper spray doesn’t wash out easily, so be prepared to throw your clothes away (or wear disposable rain gear) if you think you’re going to get it on you.

If you want to read more, here’s a run-down of the Dart Center’s advice (although not quite as thorough as Carol’s version, it’s still pretty good).
Reader Feedback


Mike Purvis

About the Author: Mike Purvis

Michael Purvis is a writer, photographer and editor. He serves as managing editor of Village Media
Read more