Unitasker Wednesday: Onion goggles

Say goodbye to the dreaded vapors (syn-propanethial-S-oxide) that make your eyes water when you are cutting onions. The first time I encountered this phenomenon was as a small child watching my grandmother work in her kitchen. She was tearing up and I asked her why she was crying. She explained the reason behind her onion tears and I learned a valuable lesson. That lesson? Always wear protective goggles while cutting onions.

Yes, my grandmother could have avoided the toll onions took on her tear ducts by investing in some Onion Goggles, but I’m pretty sure these are fairly new, so she never had a chance to use them. Poor grammy. Fortunately for you, now you have the chance to overcome this obstacle in onion slicing. Don’t let your eyes tear up uncontrollably again! Take control of the situation and slip on some Onion Goggles.

Thanks to reader Katy for bringing this unitasker to our attention. 

**Each week, the Unitasker Wednesday column humorously pokes fun at the unnecessary, single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

60 Comments for “Unitasker Wednesday: Onion goggles”

  1. posted by maxie on

    I don’t understand how these can work since they don’t prevent you from breathing in the fumes. Isn’t that what makes you cry? Anyone?

    If I have a really potent onion, I hold my breath and don’t have a reaction. I do, however, have to leave the room to take another breath, so it’s not very efficient if I’m chopping lots of onion.

  2. posted by Fit Bottomed Girls on

    Oh my! Those are funny…too bad they didn’t make the glasses look more like real onions. lol.

    I’ve never had a problem with my eyes watering when I slice onions. I consider myself lucky for that, but I’d still never wear those things.

  3. posted by Eden on

    If you put a piece of bread in your mouth, it can help with the watering — like have a slice hanging out. I believe what happens is the bread absorbs the vising vapors. If you eat the slice of bread, you’ll notice a slight onion taste 😉

  4. posted by anon on

    My mom and I both keep a set of old chemistry goggles in the kitchen for when we cut onions. It really does help… even if it looks silly!

  5. posted by Katy Newton on

    It just goes to show that one person’s useless clutter is another person’s crucial kitchen tool, really. If I don’t protect my eyes when I’m slicing an onion, I literally can’t see what I’m doing for quite a long time afterwards. Although having said that I’d just use my swimming goggles (crazy though that looks).

  6. posted by Elizabeth on

    I admit, I would like these because I have such a horrible reaction to onions. I can’t even slice green onions, and for me it’s not just crying, it’s stinging and pain. I’ve tried a couple home remedies but haven’t found anything successful so far.

    If I still had any goggles from other things (swimming, safety goggles) I’d use those but I’ve long since gotten rid of those.

    I can see how most people wouldn’t find them that vital though. I am a bit of a weirdo. I tend to just use onion salt instead of dealing with it ; )

  7. posted by Leanne on

    As someone who actually owns (and uses!) a pair of these glasses, I can say they do actually work. I found out about them from my mother, and avid cook, who bought them first. We both love these glasses and use them every time we cut onions. While I agree that it is a bit silly to own something that serves only one purpose, these glasses hold a permanent place in my kitchen and I am more than happy to make room for them. =)

  8. posted by Sarah on

    I may have to get a pair. I actually suffer serious pain from onion fumes, really. Any other remedies or ideas out there? Maybe this is a topic for cooking blogs.

  9. posted by Al on

    Actually, these are less of a unitasker than you might think. Onions cause stinging and tearing when the vapors get in your eyes, not when you breathe them in. And for those who are very sensitive, no amount of bread-holding, candle-burning or other old wives tales will do the trick. But these goggles can also be used to protect your eyes from stinging vapors while cleaning the bathtub or oven, from smoke while grilling, and from any number of other irritants. They do look stupid, and they aren’t a necessity in the minimalist’s kitchen, but they have their uses!

  10. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    How about using swimming goggles? You can also wear them when you go swimming. No more unitaskers!

  11. posted by Karoleen on

    Why not just wash the onions, in hot water, after pealing before chopping?

  12. posted by Sarah on

    Burning a candle where you are cutting onions absorbs the odor, ergo, no tears.

  13. posted by Lynn on

    My solution: hold a match in my mouth, with the “business end” sticking out. Not a single tear when I slice/chop onions.

  14. posted by Rue on

    Why not use these by night to save yourself from the onion, and by day, give them to your kids to play with! No longer a unitasker ;D

  15. posted by Simple Sapien on

    What a ridiculous invention! I would love to see an entire kitchen staff adorned with these. A kitchen staff that is in plain view of the customers, haha.

    – Jack Rugile
    Simple Sapien

  16. posted by Mac on

    I have found that placing the onion in the freezer for 20 minutes before you slice it significantly reduces the vapors. I’m not an old wife, but it works for me.

  17. posted by supersocco on

    I seriously use my ski goggles. Only thing that works.

  18. posted by WillisWasabi on

    Just use the chef’s method: Walk it off. Eventually you get used to it and you no longer tear up. You can get used to just about anything. It’s not going to work if you chop onions once a month though.

  19. posted by Mikey on

    My husband would make fun of these, or at least he would have until he saw how badly I react to even green onions. I literally am blinded for about 45 minutes — it feels just like pepper spray. I’ve been known to jump in a cold shower (clothes on) and rinse my poor eyeballs. I’ve tried sharp knives, chilling the onion, cold water, holding my breath, the rather silly scented candle idea. What works best for me is to have someone else cut the onions!

  20. posted by Katelynn on

    Try frozen onions. $1 in the grocery freezer, and they taste just as good in most dishes. (Except fajitas.)

  21. posted by Bex! on

    I’ve always wanted to get a pair of these (probably the pink ones) to incorporate into a superhero halloween costume.

  22. posted by Dream Mom DBA www.dreamorganizers.com on

    I second burning a candle. Martha Stewart mentioned years ago that burning a candle would absorb the odors from the onions. I tried it and it works great! I have been doing it for years. Just light a candle and keep it close to the onion when cutting.

  23. posted by Alicia on

    i use my swimming goggles too. we buy these yellow onions that are so yummy but so potent. it is making my eyes water right now just to think about them. while i completely agree with no buying goggles solely for the cutting of onions, i have countless pairs of swim goggles around that do the trick. then again that begs the unclutterer question, why do i need more than one pair of swim goggles? 🙂

  24. posted by Megan on

    Call me crazy, but I think my contacts help prevent my eyes from becoming irritated.

  25. posted by Shiran on

    I might get their companion garlic goggles. Not sure if they have shallot goggles or chive goggles.

  26. posted by verily on

    You’re not crazy, Megan. They seem to help me too.

    I usually pop my onions in the fridge for a bit before slicing them. That seems to help.

  27. posted by Peter (a different one) on

    I had always heard you should cut the onion under water. I tried it and it worked, the hard part was holding my breath and keeping the onion from floating away.

  28. posted by DaveW on

    @lynn – seems like a formula for singeing my nose hairs.

    My scuba mask works great, plus it covers my nose so the fumes don’t get into my sinuses. Really helps, and my family laughs at me.

    Chopping store-bought onions is painful, but we grew onions in the garden this year, and even though they’re much smaller, they are WAAAY more potent than commercially grown ones. Worse than pepper spray (and yes, I’ve been hit with pepper spray).

  29. posted by Hands-Free Heart on

    I will be trying my swimming goggles for this! I’m one of those affected by onions. My eyes sting and burn for the rest of the day after cutting onions. Whenever possible I get someone else to do it.

  30. posted by C on

    OMG they come in pink! *clicks purchse!* (j/k)

  31. posted by C on

    I actually have a severe reaction to the onion effect, but I also can’t stand onions, so problem solved! (unless I’m at a restaurant)

  32. posted by Fred on

    I find that if I cut the north and south poles off the onion (perpendicular to the axis of the skins) that I have no trouble at all. I have been doing it for years and it was only a couple years ago I saw the suggestion that by doing that, it would obviate the need for any protective eyewear.

    It is certainly a less cluttering solution.

  33. posted by Richard on

    Ski goggles work beautifully

  34. posted by timgray on

    When you slice through an onion, you break open a number of onion cells. Some of these cells have enzymes inside of them, and when they are sliced open, the enzymes escape. The enzymes then decompose some of the other substances that have escaped from sliced cells. Some of these substances, amino acid sulfoxides, form sulfenic acids, which then quickly rearrange themselves into a volatile gas.

    The gas reaches your eyes and reacts with the water that keeps them moist. This changes the chemical’s form again, producing, among other things, a mild sulfuric acid, which irritates the eyes. The nerve endings in your eyes are very sensitive and so they pick up on this irritation (this is why our eyes sting when we slice onions). The brain reacts by telling your tear ducts to produce more water, to dilute the irritating acid so the eyes are protected.

    the only thing you can do is cut onions in a well ventilated spot. On the stove with the vent fan running on high works very well. If you have a low end vent fan that simply runs through a filter and back into the room, this will not help you.

    It’s simple chemistry and macro-biology.

  35. posted by Tiffany on

    Like others, my eyes hurt so badly when I cut onions that by the time I’m near the end of dicing a half of one, my eyes are involuntarily closing, which is not exactly safe when I’ve got a big ol’ chef’s knife in my hands. Usually I end up dabbing at my face with a cold wet paper towel to clear it up, but I’ll try this candle trick. Otherwise, this is a unitasker I actually might make room for. (I dice onions at least several times a week, and if anything, the sting has gotten worse, not better, so this “walk it off” stuff is not a workable solution for me.)

  36. posted by Laura on

    At work we need to cut and slice onions on a daily basis. I have found, with contacts, that I have no problem. Some of my employees wear their sunglasses while using the slicer, which seems to help (plus, they look really cool!) We cut off the ends of the onion, peel off the top layer, then rinse and put into a steel slicer. We always, always wear latex gloves while working with food. Some of the kids have found that if they rub the cut ends of the onion before setting it into the slicer, it produces less “fumes”.

    Good luck!

  37. posted by Kuri on

    My mom always used swimming googles. Worked just fine and still could be used again for swimming later.

  38. posted by Another Deb on

    Sometimes I get the same tearing-up reaction when I cut jalapeno peppers, which I think might be from small bits of juice splashing up at me as I seed them. Any kind of goggle will help prevent this as well as the onion tears.

  39. posted by Mary Kay on

    I use ski goggles too. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that I occasionally use my onion goggles for skiing.

  40. posted by Anne on

    I never realized that there was a group of people so affected or is it effected by onions being cut.
    I feel so shallow.
    I cut onions pretty much daily basis, and have never felt the pain, smelt the fumes…but figured it was an old wives tale about the pain…
    I am an old wife.

  41. posted by Eats Asia - Asian Food Blog on

    You dont need Onion Goggles, cutting onions in your sink filled with water does the trick.

  42. posted by Rosie Redfield on

    Just store the onions in the fridge. That way they’re cold when you slice them, which slows down the irritant-generating biochemical reactions.

  43. posted by Cynthia Friedlob, The Thoughtful Consumer on

    Has anyone ever successfully diced onions under water? Please accept my applause if you have! I’ve tried every other trick mentioned, too, and not one of them works for me — except having someone else chop the onions or buying the frozen ones.

    I am a devoted unclutterer, but if these fit over eye glasses, I’d buy ’em in pink in a minute! Instead, I’ll rely on the much clunkier ski goggles.

  44. posted by John of Indiana on

    I read that if you slice the ends off the onion and then smack one of the cut ends with the flat of your knife, that this takes away the “tears”. From what I read here, it would seem that the smacking of the cut end is not needed. I’ll have to try not smacking it…
    But since I’m a single guy, I usually just reconstitute dried onions when I’m making Tuna salad.

  45. posted by Krakerz on

    Another option

    Hold 2 matches with your mouth while cutting the onions. The sulfur neutralizes the effect. I was skeptical before trying it but since its really easy to test, it was worth a shot. Very effective although probably not the most convenient (holding the matches in your mouth all the time)

  46. posted by Elizabeth on

    Cut onions sting because the fumes react with the eyes’ moisture. (Timgray has explained this much better above.) Try this: after chopping off the ends of the onions, cut them in half. Before further chopping, rinse the knife, the onion halves and your hands in cold water. Don’t dry. In theory, the fumes will then react with the moisture on the knife etc before they can reach your eyes. In practice, it works – no gadgets required! (For really pungent onions however I also have to splash my eyes with cold water after I’ve cut the onions in half – maybe people have different levels of sensitivity and onions different levels of fumes?)

  47. posted by Andamom on

    I’ve always been told that a piece of rye bread between the teeth helps out. Personally, I love onions though and used to lovingly bite into them like apples — although I prefer chunks with cheese now.

    As for the glasses, I think that safety goggles are a good thing to have around the house… and swimming goggles are good protection too. So, I won’t be buying these… but I can see buying other goggles… and who knows maybe swimming goggles can have multiple uses.

  48. posted by Jane on

    If you have an exhaust fan over your stove, turn the fan on, place your chopping board on top of your stove (stove off) and chop away. No fumes!

  49. posted by Ellis Godard on

    I second Lynn’s suggestion, but use a whole matchbook, not just one match.

  50. posted by SueZ on

    Onion goggles are also very useful for certain people who have dry eye syndrome due to reduced or faulty tear production . The goggles help hold humidity around the eye so the tear film does not evaporate as quickly. The goggles may look a little strange, but the increased comfort is well worth it.

  51. posted by Pati on

    Along with SueZ I also have severe dry eye syndrome and Onion goggles help me get through the day. I wear them while driving or commuting on the train as well as at work. These goggles serve as a moisture chamber and make my day a little more bearable.

    So, while the goggles can be unitaskers for some, for others they are an essential part of everyday life.

  52. posted by Carolyn on

    I too have this problem, to the point that even when DH chops onions I have to leave the room. Never had it until I quit wearing contacts after daily use for 20 years. My eyes must just be really sensitive after being shielded all this time.

    Seems that the suggestions for regular goggles are a more economical solution than these might be, though.

  53. posted by threehams on

    Any goggles will work, of course – I have a pair of $10 army surplus WWII goggles that were bought for a completely different purpose (good old subculture fashion), but work just the same.

    Any other remedies are either ineffective or more work than they’re worth. Putting on a random pair of goggles takes five seconds; moving a cutting board to the sink for running water, or taking the time to light a candle every time you cut an onion is kind of ridiculous in comparison.

    $20 for neon color ONION GOGGLES is pretty funny, though.

  54. posted by Piper on

    I use an old pair of safety goggles that I had to buy for my Chemistry class. They keep me from crying, and they’re useful for other projects I do.

  55. posted by mur on

    Earlier today I cut onions and thought my eyes were burning out of my sockets! Cutting onions over the stove vent is a great idea – will try that next time. The candle thing never worked for me.

    For some people, using a sweet onion (Vidalia, 1015, Maui, etc.) will ease some of the reaction.

  56. posted by Crystal on

    I always had a horrible time when chopping onions until I read that you should rinse the onion in cold water (after peeling, before chopping). I tried it and it worked perfectly. I’ve passed the tip along to other friends and everyone has said it works for them as well.

  57. posted by Ken on

    I just saw these on Castle (tv show) and thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever. Glasses just to cut unions? Our hunter-gatherer ancestors are rolling over in their graves.

  58. posted by Chelsea on

    This is what chemistry goggles were made for, keeping chemicals out of your eyes! Also they’re cheaper and they can fit over your glasses. After I’m done with all my chem classes, I’ll still keep them. I’ve already used them more for things outside of class than I have in class.

  59. posted by Amy on

    Wow! Do the Unitasker staff ever have a bet on which items will have a reader backlash?

  60. posted by KP on

    You hold UNLIT matches in your mouth people! I’m laughing at the thought of someone holding two – or even a whole book – of matches in their mouth trying to chop onions! 😀

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