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What are Butterfly Stitches?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 28, 2021

‌Butterfly stitches, also known as “Steri-Strips”, are adhesive bandages used to close small, shallow wounds. Butterfly stitches are an alternative to traditional needle and thread sutures, which are useful in cases that a wound is large, uneven, or bleeding heavily. Some traditional bandages have trouble sticking to parts of the body that move a lot or are moist or hairy. The butterfly stitch is a good alternative for areas of the body that are more difficult to bandage.

How to Assess a Wound

When using butterfly stitches, you first want to determine if the wound is suitable for this type of bandage. Take into consideration when assessing the wound that:

  • The size of the wound should be less than 1/2 inch long and not very deep.
  • You should stop the wound from bleeding before applying butterfly stitches. Apply pressure using a clean cloth and go to a medical center if the wound bleeds for more than 5 minutes. 
  • Butterfly stitches are designed to hold together straight edge wounds. If your wound is jagged, use an alternative bandage.

How to Apply Butterfly Stitches

Step 1. Wash your hands and clean the wound with cool water. Make sure to remove any dirt or debris from the wound. Then clean the skin around the wound with soap and water.

Step 2. Apply the butterfly stitches by holding the two sides of the wound together. Don’t apply the butterfly stitch lengthwise, and make sure the middle of the bandage goes across the wound. Place the butterfly stitches about 1/8 of an inch apart, and use as many as needed.

Step 3. This step is optional, but you may hold the butterfly stitches in place by adding additional bandages over the ends of the butterfly stitches. This will provide extra security.

How Long to Keep the Butterfly Stitches On

With proper care and maintenance, the butterfly stitches should stay in place for up to 12 days. During the first 48 hours, you must keep the stitches and wound dry. After 48 hours, the wound should be stable enough for you to shower. After washing, make sure to gently pat the area to remove all of the water. If the stitches become loose, don’t pull on them. You could reopen the wound by pulling on the stitches, so instead use scissors to trim the bandage edges.‌

Make sure to observe the wound each day. Contact your medical professional if you notice:

  • Redness around the wound 
  • Pus leaking from the wound.
  • The area around the wound becomes hot and more painful.
  • The wound swells or swelling doesn’t go down.

Proper Removal of Butterfly Stitches

After 12 days, the butterfly stitches can be safely removed. To prevent the risk of reopening the wound, don’t pull the stitches off. Instead, use a solution of 1/2 hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 water to soak the stitches. This solution will loosen the adhesive and make it easy to gently lift the stitches off. 

If a medical professional applied the butterfly stitches, they should provide you with information about when to remove them. You might be instructed to wait for the butterfly stitches to fall off on their own.

Wrap Up

You should always contact your doctor with any medical concerns you have. Seek immediate medical help if:

  • The wound was caused by something rusty, as you may need a tetanus shot.
  • The wound is very large and/or deep.
  • The wound was caused by an animal.
  • You lose feeling or movement in the limb.
  • Bleeding doesn’t stop after 5 to 10 minutes of applying pressure.

Butterfly stitches are a great alternative to traditional sutures and can be applied at home. Make sure to keep the wound clean and dry.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

Sources:

NHS: "How do I apply plasters and other dressings?" 

Cleveland Clinic: "Incision Care."

University of North Carolina Wilmington Abrons Student Health Center: "Instruction sheet: Steri-Strips."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Lacerations (Cuts) Without Stitches in Children."

Robert, J and Hedges, J. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine 5th edition, Saunders, 2010.

Brown Health Services Patient Education Series: "Suture and Steri-Strip Care Instructions." 

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