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How to Clean a Skin Wound

Skin wounds need thorough cleaning to reduce the risk of infection and scarring and to promote healing. Try to stop the bleeding before cleaning the wound. Mild to moderate bleeding during the cleaning usually occurs. After cleaning, stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure again and elevating the wound. If the bleeding continues, see how to stop bleeding camera.gif.

A visit to a doctor is needed if you are unable to clean the wound adequately because it:

  • Covers a large area.
  • Has injured many layers of tissue, creating a deep wound.
  • Is too painful to clean.
  • Has dirt, debris, or a foreign object you cannot remove.

Before cleaning the wound

  • Wash your hands well with soap and water, if available.
  • Put on medical gloves before cleaning the wound, if available.
  • Let the injured person clean his or her own wound, if possible.
  • Use your bare hands to clean the wound only as a last resort.

Rinse the wound

If you are not going to see your doctor immediately, rinse the wound for at least 5 to 10 minutes.

  • Use a large amount of water under moderate pressure (faucet at least halfway open). Cool water may feel better than warm water on a wound. Washing the wound will remove as much dirt, debris, and bacteria as possible which will reduce the risk for infection.
  • If you have a water sprayer in your kitchen sink, try using the sprayer to wash the wound. This usually removes most of the dirt and other objects from the wound. Avoid getting any spray from the wound into your eyes.

Large, deep, or very dirty wounds

Large, deep, or very dirty wounds may need to be evaluated by a doctor for a thorough cleaning and evaluation for stitches, or antibiotic treatment. If you think that treatment by a doctor may be needed, see Are Stitches, Staples, or Skin Adhesives Necessary?

If you are going to see a doctor immediately, the wound can be cleaned and treated at the medical facility.

Minor wounds can be cleaned at home

  • For mild bleeding, clean the wound first and then stop the bleeding.
  • Remove large pieces of dirt or other debris from the wound with cleaned tweezers. Do not push the tweezers deeply into the wound.
  • Wash the wound with a large amount of water to remove all the dirt, debris, and bacteria from the wound. A mild soap, such as Ivory dishwashing soap, is best. (Note: If you are cleaning a wound near the eye, do not get soap products in the eye.)
    • Hold the wound under clean, running tap water; the more water, the better.
    • Scrub gently with water, soap, and a washcloth. (Moderate scrubbing may be needed if the wound is very dirty.) Hard scrubbing may actually cause more damage to the tissue and increase the chance of infection. Scrubbing the wound will probably hurt and may increase bleeding, but it is necessary to clean the wound thoroughly.
    • If you have a water sprayer in your kitchen sink, try using the sprayer to wash the wound. This usually removes most of the dirt and other objects from the wound. Avoid getting any spray from the wound into your eyes.
    • Large minor dirty wounds may be easier to clean in the shower.
  • If some dirt or other debris remains in the wound, repeat the cleaning process:
    • Try to remove the debris with clean tweezers.
    • Scrub again with a washcloth. it.
  • If the wound starts to bleed, apply steady direct pressure to stop the bleeding.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last RevisedJune 6, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 06, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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