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How Do I Treat a Steam Burn?

By Melanie Smeltzer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Steam burns can be very serious, and in most cases the best treatment is a professional one — calling a doctor or other health provider for advice specific to your situation is usually the best course of action. Burns caused by steam don’t often seem like they’d be as serious as those caused by flames or even scalding water, but initial impressions can be deceiving. If the skin feels hot to the touch for an hour or more after exposure or if blisters appear, expert medical care is often the best way to minimize the damage. In the case of more superficial burns, though, there are a few home remedies that will work, including cool compresses, aloe vera gel, and “masks” of things like honey and mashed banana. It’s really important that you keep an eye on the burn and make note of whether treatments are working. If there’s no change after a day or so or if things seem to be getting worse, it may be time to turn things over to a professional.

Assess Severity

A steam burn occurs when rising steam makes contact with the skin, causing the skin to become red and irritated. The first thing you should usually do when thinking about treatment options is to assess the severity of your situation. Burns that appear pale red and white but are not very painful may require medical attention. These burns are often much deeper than they look, and damage may have been done to the nerve endings. Perplexingly to many, simple red patches that are hot and painful to the touch are more likely superficial. The pain in these cases is the body’s reaction to the immediate contact, but extensive damage isn’t as likely.

It’s also important to notice how much skin has been impacted. Burns one just one small patch of skin are usually easier to monitor than those that cover the entire face or both legs, for instance, and they’re also likely to be less severe. In general, the shorter the contact time the less severe the burn, though a lot of this is dependent on the temperature and density of the steam.

Basics of Cooling

One of the first things most burn victims complain of is heat at the site of contact, and your initial instinct is probably going to be to try to cool your skin off. This is generally a good idea, but there are certain precautions you’ll need to take. For instance, you should never use ice directly on your skin since this can do further damage to the area. Running cool water over the burn is usually a better option. A cold compress may also help reduce the warmth of the burn, but if the compress is frozen, putting a towel or light cloth between it and your skin can help the cold from shocking the site of the injury. In general the compress should be held against the skin for intervals of about three to five minutes.

Treating Blisters

Blisters are usually a sign of a serious skin injury. They don’t typically appear immediately, but may begin surfacing shortly after a cold compress is applied, or otherwise within an hour or so of exposure. You may want to seek medical attention if you notice these, since these blisters can become infected pretty easily. If you aren’t able to get help, simple first aid techniques may also be used. The affected area should be thoroughly cleansed with a gentle antiseptic and covered with bandages. Bandages should be changed a few times a day to prevent infection from forming. Although it can take a while for the skin to recover, blisters should be allowed to heal on their own and should never be popped or touched.

Common Home Remedies

Burns that don’t seem serious after a bit of time may also benefit from the use of certain home remedies. For example, aloe vera gel may be coated over the affected area to soothe the burn and help speed up the healing process. Honey is another common treatment. Layering a thick coating of raw or unfiltered honey to the affected area can help seal in moisture and can protect the site from infection. Most people will tightly cover the site with plastic wrap or a waterproof bandage for up to 48 hours, at which point the skin should be thoroughly washed and patted dry.

A mixture of mashed over-ripe bananas and rosewater might also help reduce inflammation, and some home remedy experts make a paste of sandalwood, turmeric, and olive oil. This is only recommended for minor burns, however, as oily products are frequently thought to keep heat in rather than get rid of it.

Importance of Watching

Most minor steam burns will go away on their own as the skin begins its healing process. If your condition seems to be getting worse, though, or if you don’t see any improvement after a few days, it’s usually a good idea to get a professional opinion. The burn may be more serious than you think, and if this is the case home remedies may be doing more harm than good.

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Discussion Comments
By amysamp — On Nov 22, 2011

It seems like when I have been small burn, rushing to the sink and running cold tap water over the burn seems to help relieve some of the pain. There are quite a few other ways to help relieve the burn pain, as mentioned in this article, and other ones not mentioned here.

For example, the first thing you want to do after a steam burn, according to most doctors, is run the burn under cold water or soak in a cold bath for five minutes. Next, you can apply gauze over the burn, to help protect and heal it faster. Then, when the burn cools, you should put a skin lotion on it, with soothing ingredients, like aloe vera and/or honey.

Be careful not to pick or poke at a blister or burn, as this can cause more pain and potentially further injury.

Mostly with any kind of burn, blister, scab, etc. it is best to leave it alone at let your body heal itself. Do not mess with anything, unless a doctor tells you otherwise.

By runner101 — On Nov 21, 2011

I stay out of the kitchen at most costs, so there is little chance that I will get a steam burn, but I will tell this to the majority of friends who love to cook and prepare food.

I figured aloe vera would work on a minor steam burn, as it helps on minor sun burn, as I have had way too many times.

I did not know honey was so useful and helpful, especially when it comes to superficial steam burns. Most people seem to have honey somewhere in their pantry, so this seems like a very fitting anecdote to the problem. I think it seems like a good idea to keep as many of these burn relieving ingredients in a place that is likely for someone to burn themselves.

It seems wise to keep honey, and other burn-relieving items in the within easy grabbing distance, in case of a minor burn. Of course if you have children you should put all unsafe products out of their reach.

By cloudel — On Nov 21, 2011

@StarJo - Butter is at the top of the list of what not to put on a steam burn. Butter can actually cause the area to become infected. I’m sure your grandmother had probably heard the old wives’ tale that has been around forever about butter being good to treat a burn with, but like many old tales, it is a myth.

If you ever suffer another steam burn, you should try the honey wrap mentioned in this article. If you would rather go the aloe vera route, that would be so much better than butter.

Also, I would like to mention that if a burn covers more than three inches of your skin, you should see a doctor, because this is considered a major burn. I had a steam burn that stretched out across four inches of my arm, and my doctor told me that anything over three requires medical help.

By StarJo — On Nov 21, 2011

I had no idea before reading this article that there was anything you could do to draw heat out from a burn. Who would have thought that bananas and roses could accomplish this?

I sure wish I had known this when I got a steam burn earlier this year. The spot stayed hot for days, like it had a high fever. I did what you’re supposed to and applied cool water to it, but that didn’t do much for the heat way down in the burn.

My grandmother told me to put butter on it, but I wasn’t sure about that. Does anyone know if butter is supposed to help a burn heal?

By OeKc05 — On Nov 20, 2011

@lighth0se33 - My doctor told me that blisters help the skin underneath to heal. The protect the sensitive, damaged skin with their bubble of flesh, and once the pop on their own, it means that they have done their job and are no longer necessary.

I say this because, in my experience, blisters form so fast that there is no way to prevent them, and also because doing so would be counterproductive. Once they form, then using aloe vera on them will definitely help them heal faster, and it will make you feel better as you recover.

By lighth0se33 — On Nov 20, 2011

I have used aloe vera gel on sunburns before, and it has been able to prevent my skin from peeling off. Does anyone know if it can prevent blisters from forming after a steam burn if you apply it immediately?

I have never gotten burned by steam, but I do have several pots with holes in the lids to release steam, and I worry that I will one day get burned by one of them. I’d like to know if there is a way to prevent blisters before they form.

By bagley79 — On Nov 19, 2011

Most steam burns happen in the kitchen, so if anyone in my family gets one, I have them immediately run cold water over it.

Since the sink is right there, that is the quickest and easiest thing to provide steam burn relief.

My experience has been that these heal pretty quickly when left alone. The only thing I have ever put on one is a little bit of aloe vera gel.

If I don't have any of this on hand, I just don't worry about it. The burn will heal on its own without any kind of special lotion, butter or oil.

Fortunately our steam burns have all been minor, so this has always worked well for me. If it was a major burn, I am sure there would be things that would help with the healing and itching of the burn.

By andee — On Nov 19, 2011

Steam burns happen so fast, and yet they can remain red and painful for days. I have had steam burns on my fingers from opening up a bag of microwave popcorn.

One of the best treatments I use for steam burns is lavender essential oil. I keep a small bottle of this is a drawer by the stove. Whenever I get any kind of burn, I apply some of this oil and it has never blistered when I do this.

I usually make sure to apply this 2-3 times for a couple days and it is amazing how quickly the burn will heal.

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