You Don’t Have to Cry: 5 Ways to Stop Onion-Cutting Misery

What is it about preparing onions that brings tears to our eyes?

It can hurt and sting so much when we’re chopping up onions to make Mom’s world-famous meatloaf, or making mirepoix for our favorite soup recipe.

And while we might shed a tear as we’re eating dinner – because it’s that heavenly of a comforting, made-from-scratch meal – we don’t want to deal with a huge cry-fest in the middle of getting prep work done quickly and efficiently.

Do you suffer from the same onion-cutting misery? This is finally your opportunity to stop the tearful madness!

Vertical image of a man crying while slicing vegetables while a woman comforts him while holding a wine glass, with text in the middle and bottom.

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If you are determined to know the reasons for this unfortunate occurrence, as well as how to combat them in your own kitchen, dry those tears and continue reading.

We’ll offer a quick explanation of the chemistry involved in the process, as well as our top five tips for prepping onions without crying.

Pretty soon, you won’t be bawling your eyes out like it’s the sloppy, gut-wrenching breakup scene in your favorite rom-com movie.

It’s not you… it’s the onion!

Crying over Chemistry

According to a 2021 article in Everyday Mysteries, an online compilation of fun science facts from the Library of Congress, a sulfuric irritant called syn-Propanethial S-oxide is the main reason why you start shedding tears as you cut, slice, and dice your go-to allium.

Horizontal image of a woman crying while preparing ingredients for a meal in the kitchen.

When you first cut into an onion and damage its cellular structure, many volatile molecules escape and are released into the air, including an enzyme called the lachrymatory-factor synthase.

This enzyme acts as a catalyst that converts sulfoxide amino acids into sulfenic acid. Because of how unstable and reactive these molecules are, they then chemically rearrange themselves into syn-Propanethial S-oxides as they continue to react to the molecules present in the surrounding air.

Once these sulfuric irritants come into contact with your face, the lachrymal glands in your eyes become stimulated by the burning sensation and start producing tears.

As you repeatedly cut into the onion, more enzymes continue to be released into the air – causing you to tear up more and more!

You’ll notice this reaction more often with red, white, and yellow onions as well as shallots, which all contain stronger sulfuric compounds compared to sweet onions or scallions.

How to Stop the Tears

There are ways to fight the crying, and the solutions are all quite simple. Take a look at our top five methods to steer clear of the tears:

1. Chill Out

You’ll notice a significantly reduced – or even completely eliminated – reaction when you cut a cold onion rather than one at room temperature.

Vertical image of a woman crying while preparing vegetables on a cutting board in the kitchen.

Placing your onion in the freezer or refrigerator prior to cutting it subdues and slows the irritating power of its volatile compounds, reducing their energy to launch into the air.

Place your produce in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes before you need to start prepping.

If you’re in a hurry, place it in the freezer for a quick 10 to 20 minutes prior to cutting. You don’t want to actually freeze it, but simply chill it.

Similarly, you can completely submerge it in a bowl of cold water with ice cubes for 30 to 60 minutes in order to fully chill it.

2. Turn On Your Stovetop Ventilation System

The ventilation system above your stovetop may help to quickly draw airborne irritants from the veggie into the vents, redirecting them away from your eyes.

But in order for this method to work successfully, you will need to set up your prep station directly under the ventilation system.

Without turning on your stovetop, and ensuring it is completely cool first to prevent any hazards or injuries, place your cutting board over your stovetop and turn on your ventilation system before you start slicing and dicing.

We suggest purchasing and assembling a stovetop cover for a safe, secure, and easy-to-clean base to place your cutting board. With a stovetop cover, you’ll be able to prep on the majority of both electric gas stovetop ranges.

Gashell Noodle Board Stovetop Cover

The Gashell Noodle Board Stovetop Cover is compatible with most stovetop ranges, providing a flat and sturdy surface for your prep needs while protecting one of your most cherished appliances.

It has two handles for easy maneuverability, and measures 29.5 inches in width and 22 inches in length.

Available from Amazon, the stovetop cover is available to purchase in the following wood materials: acacia, pine, and bamboo.

3. Always Cut with a Sharp Knife

One of the most important pieces of advice to prevent those tears from flowing down your face is to cut with a sharp knife.

Horizontal image of a sharp knife slicing through a red onion.

It’s worth investing in a good knife sharpener and honing steel to maintain a sharp edge on your blade. An absolute necessity in any kitchen, sharp knives make all of your prep work safer, quicker, and easier!

When you cut with a sharp, well-maintained knife, you can swiftly and neatly cut through the cellular structure of the vegetable, releasing as few volatile compounds as possible.

On the other hand, if you use a blunt blade, there is now a greater risk of mangling the cellular structure as you shoddily cut through the onion, which then causes more compounds to be released into the air.

4. Don’t Cut Off the Root End

And here is where we get to the “root” of the problem!

Horizontal image of slicing into fresh vegetables on a cutting board.

The National Onion Association, an organization representing growers, shippers, brokers, and commercial representatives of the United States onion industry, suggested in a 2015 article to leave the majority of the root end attached to the main bulb.

The Association explained that the root end of the onion has the highest concentration of sulfuric compounds.

Leaving the root end untouched not only reduces the tears, it also keeps the bulb’s layers intact as you are cutting it.

Review our guide on how to prep an onion, so you can get all the best tips to cut with skill and agility.

5. Wear Onion Goggles

Oh, yes. There is such a thing. And this isn’t a joke.

If all other suggestions have miserably failed you, onion goggles might ultimately be your final option!

These eye-saving gadgets prevent noxious fumes and gas from irritating you, with a comfortable foam seal around the interior rim of the glasses to protect your sensitive eyes.

Image of the RSVP International Goggles with a green and black trim.

RSVP International Onion Goggles, available from Sur La Table

We recommend these goggles from RSVP International, which you can purchase with a black/green trim from Sur La Table or Amazon. For other color options, Amazon also sells the same goggles with a pink/white trim, red/black trim, tortoise trim, and white/green trim.

Leave the embarrassment behind you, and purchase a pair soon.

Sure, your family and friends might poke fun at you – but you’ll at least be tear-free from the onions, if not from the malicious bullying.

And there’s now a pile of perfectly prepped produce awaiting to be used in your recipes.

Who’s laughing now?

Learn from Personal Experience

Sometimes the best cooking tips come from scientists, food media websites, and associations, while other times you’ll get some fine advice from your family, friends, neighbors, and even talkative acquaintances at your local bar.

But the real test of a tried-and-true method come from your own constant experimentation in the kitchen.

You won’t know until you try it – you’ll be able to eliminate the failures that didn’t work, and repeat the successes that did.

So go forth without the fear of tears, and try each of our methods we recommended here.

Man's hand cutting a white onion 
 bulb on a cutting board.

We hope you’ll be able to prep your produce without any teary-eyed side effects, so you can fully enjoy the experience of cooking, from the very first cut to the very last bite.

We can’t wait to hear all about your very own unique cutting tips, and if you tried one of our suggested pieces of advice. Be sure to share in the comments below.

Browned and caramelized, battered and fried, stuffed, baked into pastries… how will you enjoy your onions, now that you prepped them? Review all of our big and bold onion recipes, or try these three first:

About Nikki Cervone

Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

60 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Cry: 5 Ways to Stop Onion-Cutting Misery”

  1. Hi Marla thank you for taking the time to do this!
    I always just wear old ski goggles (kind of like the kid up in that photo) and my wife doesn’t miss this opportunity to make fun of me!
    I turn on the kitchen fan and it helps a bit. I have also tried the running under cold water, it seems to only help a little.
    I notice when I cut them after they have been in the fridge they don’t make me cry. I figured it was because they had already been cut and the stuff inside of them was all gone. Little did I know the COLD is actually helping!
    Also you reminded me that the wife asked me to get the knives sharpened, like a month ago so I better get on that.
    Here’s to no more goggles and no more tears!

    • Hi there! So glad you shared your fun kitchen “ski goggle” story with us. I always enjoy hearing about personal cooking experiences. And yes, the cold does help. Happy chopping.

  2. Okay, whenever I take an onion out of my pantry to use, I peel it and then put it in a bowl of cold water for at least 10 minutes. After I take it out of the water, I am able to slice and dice it up without any tears. I don’t know where I got the idea from, but it has been working for me.

    Also, I’ve noticed that whenever I needed to chop any leftover bits that was stored in the frig, that I wouldn’t cry, so there is something behind putting all of mine in the frig for a bit before cutting it. I might just start using this method more often.

    • Thanks for your tip. Ice water may be another good way to chill them. Especially helpful if refrigerator or freezer space is tight.

  3. Wow, you went the extra mile here, chopping ten pounds of them! I don’t think I could hack it.

    I didn’t know about protective eye wear for onions, ha ha. That’s great!

    Number three is a great tip as well. I didn’t know that, but you can bet that I’ll be adhering to it from now on. Thanks for the good read. I love stuff that makes my life a little easier, especially in the kitchen.

    • I’m happy to be given a good reason to play with my food anytime! Besides, all of my neighbors received a good supply of sliced onions.

  4. Woah… I never would’ve thought that an onion goggles would seriously be invented -although it is useful, it seems… awkward? Anyway, about the freezer/refrigerator method. while effective, I don’t really recommend it. It usually leaves an odor in the refrigerator and sometimes it even affects the taste of the food in the refrigerator (or do I just leave it there for too long?) That’s all ^^ Thanks for the other tips! (Seriously helpful, I can’t cut them without crying for an hour after <<This is why I'd rather let my food taste lacking than put onions in it. lol)

    • Wearing a set of goggles does sound funny, but if you think about it the idea is sound. They do protect your eyes and prevent tears. Who knows? It could become a new fashion trend, ha-ha. Try only keeping your onion in the refrigerator or freezer just long enough to chill. That shouldn’t create any odor challenge.

  5. Hi, Marla! Thank you for doing this research and sharing your findings. Often times I buy pre-cut onions at the store to avoid the tears. I am looking forward to trying these methods and will be picking up a pare of the goggles (I didn’t know there was such a thing!), I also want to try putting one in the freezer. Thanks again for sharing!

  6. I needed this yesterday! I only chopped half of a very small specimen and I barely got through it. I am SO sensitive to the smells and I love cooking with them. I think goggles must be what I need, I’ve tried several other techniques without luck. I haven’t tried the freezer/refrigerator trick though, I will have to try that while I wait for my onion goggles!

  7. Love the tips here! I used to always joke with my mom that I needed protective gear to cut onions. How funny that there are actually goggles purposely made for the job! I think I’ll be trying a few of these other ideas before investing in a pair, though. I’ll be putting mine in the fridge from now on.

    • It’s so nice to hear that you are ready to start trying some of these tips. I’m sure that with a little experimentation, you’ll find the tear relief you’re looking for. If you opt for the goggles, just think of the fashion statement you’ll be making, ha-ha.

  8. I’ve only heard about those goggles but not about the other things. Apparently you learn something new every day, haha! That refrigerator tip sounds something that could work in my case – my eyes are really sensitive and even when I’d try to look away from the onion my eyes start to water. Those goggles did work but I rarely even remember where mine are! The only downside with that handy fridge tip is that you easily can forget to put that onion in the fridge, which in the end doesn’t help at all.

    Thanks for the tips! They’re really useful for the future.

    • Yay! Someone who has tried the goggles successfully. As far as finding them goes, one idea may be to keep them near where you store your onions. Hope it helps.

  9. Best thing I ever found was to chew gum while I cut them, but for the most part I just cut ’em and get it over with. The bigger issue I have with onions is the smell it leaves on your hands for hours afterwards. I found if you rub your hand down with aluminum, it kills the smell. Turns out, they even sell aluminum bars shaped like soap just for that purpose.

    • I’ve heard about chewing gum while cutting onions. I just can’t figure out how that protects my eyes. Stainless steel (not really aluminum) bars of all types are available on Amazon and yes, they do work. Use it while running your hands under water to get the best results, then just suds up and rinse off. You should be good to go.

  10. For real? Goggles!!! Hilarious! But has anyone noticed after those teary eyes, your eyes become clearer? The points above will be very useful when cutting a large quantity,

    Someone once told me to chew gum while cutting onions and I would not have watery eyes but I always forget. I will try all the points listed and see which one works for me. Great article though and very helpful.

  11. Wow, Marla. Thanks for sharing this! I always wondered about the science behind why an onion makes you cry because all of the little tips and tricks sound crazy when you don’t have any context; and I am a person that thrives on knowing the method to the madness. I also think that knowing the science behind things helps you to sift through the bogus tips. I am definitely not incredibly coordinated in the kitchen, but I’m beginning to learn, SLOWLY. ;p Thanks for the tips! I will definitely be trying out the freezing tip and the overhead fan tip, the next time I’m chopping onions!

    • I’m delighted to share the explanation of what makes us cry when we’re chopping up these beasts. I agree that it does help to know the “whys” behind cooking challenges before you start trying out new techniques. Enjoy experimenting!

  12. This is a great article. Reminds me of my days of cooking in the kitchen in THAT restaurant. There was a well seasoned salad lady. She was just remarkable, but loud! Anyway, one of her jobs was cutting and prepping veggies for the cooks to prepare. So she cut onions on a daily basis. Her trick? Put a small table fan on the counter before her as she peeled, shredded, chopped, sliced pounds and pounds of them. The downside? The poor unfortunate soul passing behind her…

    One real tip I find is to rub lemon juice over your knife. This doesnt work for some, but i’ve found that it worked for me.

    Cheers all.

    • Your story was so enjoyable. It brought back memories of the first kitchen I worked in. The exec. chef was this big Samoan who would cry like a baby as he cut up a batch. His solution–give them to me, yikes!

  13. This is GREAT!

    All the times I have started cutting an onion and started at the root end, now I feel completely silly. I was just mentioning this to my girlfriend and she started laughing at me because apparently she knew this.

    In our house we always have a small challenge going about who has to cut them up (seems like they are in every single meal we cook) and who is going to cry the most. She cuts faster than I do, so she always wins. Now I’m going to take a few of these secretly and see how it goes tonight. I’m going to put one in the freezer right now and see how that goes.

    • As I read your post, I had to laugh and wonder if your knife skills are selectively slower for onions. Just joking, but I’m happy to hear that you have a plan of attack.

  14. My trick I learned from my dad who had a restaurant is to cut the onion in half, and then rinse or soak the it in hot or warm water. It reduces any tears, and does work. You can cut off the root and then rinse under water to wash away the acid. Different ways work for others, but I find this is the quickest way.

  15. Those goggles seem a really cool idea. I always peel mine and place it in a bowl of cold water. I prepare my other meat or vegetables and pick the onion last. They never make me cry. Placing them for a while in cold water works wonders. Just try it out.

    I think the freezer trick would also work!

  16. My eyes are so sensitive. I doubt most tricks would work on me. I’ve even had my eyes burn up from cutting strong green onions and leeks that had been in the fridge, so I that tip is a bust. Cutting them under the stove while the vent is running might be a good one to try to mitigate the sting. Goggles are probably my best option to really protect my eyes, though.

    • We all have different levels of sensitivity and yours sounds pretty extreme, sorry. In this case, fully protecting your eyes with a pare of goggles should work well. Give it a try.

  17. Well, you’re a brave woman for trying this out and reporting on your findings! I don’t know if I could handle it!

    I hate cutting onions – it stings so bad that I sometimes start jumping around in pain. On a few occasions in the past when I had to cut a lot of them, I would put on a scuba diving mask… I was subjected to many laughs, but hey it worked! It’s not stupid if it works, right?!

    On another note, someone once told me to hold a big piece of bread with my mouth so it sort of filters and absorbs the gasses as I breathe through my nose. I haven’t tried it yet, but it might be just ridiculous enough to work. What do you think?

    • Hey, a scuba diving mask that works beats doing the kitchen onion dance any time. I’ve heard of the bread idea, but hesitate because it is not what your breathing that causes pain, it is what your eyes are exposed to. Besides, I don’t think I could keep myself from just eating the bread, uh oh.

  18. I’m definitely going to put mine in the freezer for awhile before I start chopping it for dinner tonight. I hate when my eyes start streaming while I’m putting dinner together…by the time everything is prepped my mascara has run halfway down my face! 😉 I’ve tried wearing my glasses while dicing them before but it’s never really made much difference so I kind of just resigned myself to tearing up the whole time…it’s cool to know some of the science behind what makes that happen and how to mitigate it 🙂

    • Let me know how chilling trick worked out for you. I think the problem with regular glasses is that they don’t seal around your eyes and allow exposure, therefore tears. You might want to try goggles.

  19. Thank you Marla! – This article is really helpful, as I always end up with mascara half way down my face when I chop some. I have just tried putting them in the freezer before I slice them and it works, I will definitely be telling my friends this tip. I might also buy my mum a set of those goggles for mother’s day as it will make her laugh! Thank you for the useful tips.

    • How great that you found a helpful tip and that you can now keep your mascara where it belongs too. Don’t forget you can share the entire article with your friends if you’d like.

      • I use the fan vent over the stove and also put the cutting board (on the counter) abutting the stove and turn the flame on low to medium— the fire definitely helps burn off the tear-gas! Only problem is when the stove is full of other things, a flame with a pot on it doesn’t seem to do the trick. Rinsing under cold water helps a little but I find makes it a little slipperier to work with, so not a great idea. I’m excited to try the freezer trick and add that to my bag! I think my glasses help a little but I’ll try goggles over them too! I always tear so badly that I can barely see what i’m cutting, which is why I use an onion slice holder to go faster without catching a finger 🙂

  20. This is so helpful!!
    Personally, I love onions. Most of my friends think I’m crazy.
    The problem is I REALLY hate cutting them. I’m definitely going to try those goggles, I didn’t know they existed
    Now you should post a lot of recipes using the ton of onions you bought to try all these methods.
    Also “here is where we get to the root of the problem”. I’ll have to admit that I laughed a lot louder than I should.

  21. Being passionate about food is something I can definitely relate to. I encourage you to try various methods to make your prep. easier. And thanks for your enjoyable message!

  22. I also have a few tips. After searching the web a lot and asking friends and family I recommend either chewing gum (something in the spearmint helps I presume), or keeping a bit of bread in your mouth, halfway out. I guess it acts like some sort of sponge and traps anything that’s trying to get into your eye and make you cry. You could also try cutting them underwater, if you have like a huge sink or something of the sorts. In the end I guess onion goggles are the best choice, but you could also try my tips for a cheaper alternative.

  23. I HAVE A WINNER!!! Just breathe through your mouth and not your nose when you cut those little things 😉 trust me on this one. Your nose has alot to do with the eyes. Thanks for the article, it was very fun to read.

  24. Thanks for all the suggestions!. One weird one that I heard as well was to hold a piece of bread in your mouth as you cut, but I prefer the freezer option better. Great tips!

  25. I love onions (especially raw) however sometimes eating them causes a nasty headache.
    About cutting&crying: I didn’t know there’s sulphuric acid involved! :O I never cut the root part but throw it away and use the outer layers only. No need to use those silly swimming goggles.

  26. My flatmate has contact lenses and says the chopping onions does nothing to her.
    It’s nice because she doesn’t mind preparing them and I am not gonna cry for an hour after it 🙂

    So, maybe ask you friends and family with contact lenses.

    • Yes, I find that when I’m wearing my contact lenses, cutting onions or shallots doesn’t bother me. Unfortunately, I don’t always wear them and I cry my eyes out!

  27. This is a good science lesson 🙂

    When I chop up a batch, I keep some water in my mouth and it does the trick. But now, since I’ve read what causes the crying, I am wondering why does it work. Well, it’s similar to the gum chewing tip and maybe it has something to do with keeping out taste buds “busy”.

    Did you also tried chewing gum while chopping that big amount of onions?

  28. This is exactly what i was looking for! I’ve shed so many tears over this vegetable and it can get messy because I wear prescription glasses and I have to stop several times during the cutting process to clean them. This post is a lifesaver, I’ve tried to wash them with cold water or putting them in a bowl with water but it doesn’t work for me. I will make sure to follow your suggestions, I will try out all the different methods to find out which one works best for me. Thank you!

  29. I hate cutting onions. I have always been more than sensitive to them. It gets downright painful for me. Anything to mitigate this has my attention. Thanks for the article. I think it’s going to make my life a bit easier.

  30. Oh my gosh, I didn’t know they created sulfuric acid! No wonder it burns so bad, definitely not a normal cry. I think I need a sharper knife to cut with, I can’t believe I was making it worse just by having to press down harder with my somewhat dull knife to cut. I enjoy cooking a lot so I cut onions all the time and I dread every second of it, I can’t wait to try putting them in the freezer.

  31. When I was a kid there used to be a tip in a children’s book to use goggles. Never had I ever thought they would actually make onion cutting glasses, haha! 7-year-old me would be amazed by the fact. I never knew that it was a real deal until now – but the other tips are way better than buying expensive classes just to cut onion. Yes, the pain is real, but it hurts you even more to pay a such price for a pair of goggles!

  32. I’ve heard of most of these tips and tried them but they did not work for me at all. I’ve even heard that you should breathe through your mouth and not your nose, tried and failed. I’m certainly trying the freezing tip, and the not cutting into the root tip, the goggles one….I’m just giggling imagining hubby’s face when he walks into the kitchen with me wearing those goggles! He uses similar ones for work, and I don’t think he’ll get why I’m using them. So that one’s out for me as well. 🙂

  33. My method is easy. What I do is ´hand dice´ onions. Take an onion in your left hand. Cut a bunch of horizontal lines in the onion. Then spin the onion 90 degrees and cut another bunch of horizontal lines.. so you are basically making tiny squares with the cuts. Then you move the onion over the bowl and slice it longways, which removes the diced onions. on layer at a time.

    How this helps to prevent tearing? because you can do the first two parts under your kitchen faucet. I can actually dice an onion faster in my hand than I can using a cutting board.

    The other tip if you can do it.. dice your onions last ( same with jalapeño peppers). It makes it a bit less miserable to not have to dice or cut other things afterwards.. you can dice the onions last, start the cooking, and then take a few minutes to wash your face and hands.

    • My husband dices this way too. He taught me this trick. I have seen people cut their hands doing it though, so you do have to be careful.

      I never thought of doing it under the faucet, but that might help. I did notice a difference when cutting cold instead of at room temperature, so thanks, Marla.

      Nothing seems to completely get rid of the effects, but every little bit does help!

  34. This is one of the main reasons why I hate cutting onions, I never really learned how and my eyes ended up all teary after it, so the only method that I know is to kind of close your eyes and pray for the best. But I think that I might want to try the freezer method, it seems such a simple solutions for a deadly torture, lol!
    Surprisingly, I also have heard about the onion glasses before, it seemed kind of exaggerated for me to be honest, but I can’t really imagine how chefs are suffering because of the power of onions, those glasses should be available as a regular cooking artifact.
    Thanks for sharing these tips with us! 🙂

  35. I didn’t know that about putting the onions in the freezer. Thanks for this article. I can already foresee a lot less tears in my future. I thought the one tip about goggles was a bit funny though. I just tried to picture my husband in the kitchen trying to make himself a sandwich wearing those goggles…

  36. Keep your mouth shut. No talking and don’t lick your lips. Mouth must be totally closed. Try it before you think it won’t work.

    • Turning on a fan, opening a window, and only cutting chilled onions with a sharp knife are tactics that will help others in the kitchen as well. Otherwise, leaving the room for a moment while others are cutting onions may be your best option.


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