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Care for a Skin Wound - Topic Overview

Clean the wound

If you are not going to see your doctor immediately, rinse the wound for at least 5 to 10 minutes. Let the injured person clean his or her own wound, if possible.

  • Wash your hands well with soap and water, if available.
  • Put on medical gloves before cleaning the wound, if available.
  • 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 under running tap water (the more the better) to remove all the dirt, debris, and bacteria from the wound. Lukewarm water and mild soap, such as Ivory dishwashing soap, are the best. (Note: If you are cleaning a wound near the eye, don't get soap in the eye.)
    • Scrub gently with 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.

Bandage the wound

Consider bandaging the wound if you need to protect it from getting dirty or irritated. Choose the bandage carefully. There are many products available. Before you buy or use one, be sure to read the label carefully and follow the label's instructions when you apply the bandage.

  • Be sure you have thoroughly cleaned the wound.
  • Put on the bandage.
  • When your bandage gets wet or soiled, put on a new, clean bandage to help prevent infection. If a bandage is stuck to a scab, soak it in warm water to soften the scab and make the bandage easier to remove. If available, use a nonstick bandage.
  • If needed, use an adhesive strip called a butterfly bandage to hold the edges of the wound together. You can make one at home camera.gif or buy them already made. Always put the butterfly bandage across a cut, not lengthwise, to hold the edges together.
  • Watch for signs of infection. If an infection develops under a bandage, you may need to see your doctor.

  • Take the bandage off and leave it off whenever you are sure the wound will not become irritated or dirty.

Use of an antibiotic ointment has not been shown to affect healing. If you choose to use an antibiotic ointment, such as polymyxin B sulfate (for example, Polysporin) or bacitracin, apply the ointment lightly. The ointment will keep the bandage from sticking to the wound. Be sure to read the product label about skin sensitivity. If a skin rash or itching develops under the bandage, stop using the ointment.

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