Cleaning and Bandaging a Wound - Topic Overview
Large, deep, or dirty wounds
You may need to see a doctor for a
large, deep, or very dirty wound to determine whether you need stitches or
antibiotics. Most wounds that need stitches should be treated within 6 to 8
hours after the injury to reduce the risk of infection. Very dirty wounds may
not be stitched to avoid the risk of infection.
If you are going
to see a doctor immediately, the wound can be cleaned and treated
at the medical facility.
Bandage the wound
- Thoroughly clean the wound before
- 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.
- Apply a clean bandage
when it gets wet or soiled to further 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 dressing.
- If needed,
use an adhesive strip called a
butterfly bandage to hold the edges of the wound
together. You can make one at home or buy them already made. Always put the
butterfly bandage across a cut, not lengthwise, to hold the edges together.
- Take the dressing off and leave it off whenever you are sure the
wound will not become irritated or dirty.
A quick test to determine
whether you need stitches is to wash the wound well and stop the bleeding, then
pinch the sides of the wound together. If the edges of the wound come together
and it looks better, you may want to consider getting stitches. If stitches may
be needed, avoid using an antiseptic or antibiotic ointment until after a
doctor has examined the wound.
- Most cuts that require treatment should be
stitched, stapled, or closed with skin adhesives within 6 to 8 hours after the
injury. Some cuts that require treatment can be closed as long as 24 hours
after the injury. Your risk of infection increases the longer the cut remains
open. Occasionally a wound that is at high risk of infection will not be
stitched until after 24 hours, or may not be stitched at all, so that adequate
cleaning and antibiotic treatment can be done initially to prevent infection.
- A cut with a clean object, such as clean kitchen knife, may be
stitched from 12 to 24 hours after the injury depending on the location of the
- A clean facial wound in a healthy person is at low risk of
infection and can be stitched up to 24 hours after the injury. Stitching may be
done for cosmetic appearance to reduce scarring.