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What Are the Best Tips for Cleaning a Wound?

To effectively clean a wound, first wash your hands, then gently rinse the injury with clean water. Avoid harsh chemicals like hydrogen peroxide; mild soap is sufficient. Pat dry with a sterile cloth and apply an antibiotic ointment. Cover with a sterile bandage to protect it. Curious about the nuances of each step? Discover more in our comprehensive guide to wound care.
Rebecca Mecomber
Rebecca Mecomber

A wound is an opening of the skin from an impact, tear, cut or other trauma. When the skin is wounded, proper cleaning of the wound is important, because this helps protect the body from infections and diseases. The best tips for cleaning a wound include evaluating the wound, cleaning out and sanitizing the wound, preventing excessive bleeding, applying proper bandaging, and knowing when to seek help from a medical professional. A wound should always be cleaned before it is dressed, or covered with a sterile wrapping and bandage.

For most minor wounds, cool tap water flushes out most of the pathogens from the surface of the wound. Saline solution is gentler than tap water for cleaning a wound that is sensitive or tender. If the wound contains debris, such as wood splinters, gravel or other material, these objects must be removed with sterilized tweezers or a clean washcloth before cleaning a wound and dressing the injury with a bandage.

For cleaning minor wounds, tap water may be used to flush out pathogens from the surface of the wound.
For cleaning minor wounds, tap water may be used to flush out pathogens from the surface of the wound.

Cleaning a wound with water and removing debris may further instigate bleeding. This is the body's normal and natural response to an open wound and helps to further clean the wound. Minor bleeding is harmless and usually ceases in several minutes. Though if the bleeding does not stop or becomes very heavy, the wound must be covered with sterile dressing, such as gauze, and direct pressure must be applied to the wound. The patient should consult a medical professional as soon as possible.

Applying antibiotic ointment to a clean wound helps prevent infection.
Applying antibiotic ointment to a clean wound helps prevent infection.

Once the wound has been rinsed, it can be washed with an antiseptic solution, such as iodine, antibiotic rinse or antibiotic ointment. These solutions destroy certain residual pathogens left behind from rinsing with tap water. Antibiotic ointment is helpful because it also moistens the wound, encouraging new skin cells to adhere to one another. Besides promoting healing, antibiotic ointment reduces the likelihood of an unsightly scar.

Wounds should be covered with sterile dressing, such as gauze.
Wounds should be covered with sterile dressing, such as gauze.

Sometimes a wound may require stitches or a suture glue-like adhesive. A deep cut that exposes the yellow-colored fatty tissue of the skin needs stitches. Long cuts that do not close easily needs stitches, as do areas of the skin that stretch with movement. Wound care for injuries requiring stitches is the same as for other wounds. In such a case, keep the area clean and sanitized, stop the blood flow, and dress the wound until it can be closed by a medical professional.

Cool tap water can be used to clean out a minor wound.
Cool tap water can be used to clean out a minor wound.

Clean wounds should be covered with sterile dressing, such as gauze or an occlusive or semi-occlusive adhesive strip. The dressing protects the wound from further contaminants and seals in moisture, which promotes healing. Wound dressings must be changed daily or even more frequently, depending on the severity of the wound and if the dressing becomes wet or soiled.

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Discussion Comments

Scrbblchick

My mom is a retired nurse and passed on a fair bit of first aid type knowledge to us, so I know a little about wound care.

It came in handy when the guy who lived in the apartment next to me and my husband knocked on the door and asked if I had a band aid. He'd been rollerblading with no kneepads, had fallen and really skinned his knee. It was ugly.

Fortunately, I'm not too squeamish, so I brought him inside, cleaned the knee off with a gauze pad soaked in water, got a cotton swab and dabbed plenty of antibiotic ointment on it. I bandaged it and then sent him home. He didn't even have band-aids in his house, and I had a stocked first aid kit. Bachelors.

Lostnfound

My dad was a believer in hydrogen peroxide for cleaning a wound. That's not the prevailing wisdom nowadays, but it's how he did it and none of us ever died of scepticemia or had to have a limb amputated from gangrene!

I still use peroxide to clean the wound and use antibiotic ointment to put on the wound before putting on an adhesive bandage. So far, peroxide hasn't failed me. I've always had wounds heal up well. Of course if I had something serious, I'd see a doctor, in case I needed stitches. But I'd still probably at least rinse it with cool water before I went to the ER.

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    • For cleaning minor wounds, tap water may be used to flush out pathogens from the surface of the wound.
      By: F.C.G.
      For cleaning minor wounds, tap water may be used to flush out pathogens from the surface of the wound.
    • Applying antibiotic ointment to a clean wound helps prevent infection.
      By: salpics32
      Applying antibiotic ointment to a clean wound helps prevent infection.
    • Wounds should be covered with sterile dressing, such as gauze.
      By: Kelpfish
      Wounds should be covered with sterile dressing, such as gauze.
    • Cool tap water can be used to clean out a minor wound.
      By: silberkorn73
      Cool tap water can be used to clean out a minor wound.
    • Sterile gauze should be used to cover the wound to prevent further infection before receiving professional medical assistance.
      By: Vivian Seefeld
      Sterile gauze should be used to cover the wound to prevent further infection before receiving professional medical assistance.
    • Applying proper bandaging will help keep wounds clean.
      By: rikaphoto
      Applying proper bandaging will help keep wounds clean.
    • A wound is an opening of the skin from an impact, tear, cut or other trauma.
      By: roblan
      A wound is an opening of the skin from an impact, tear, cut or other trauma.
    • Plastic bandages can offer protection from water and dirt.
      By: Gang
      Plastic bandages can offer protection from water and dirt.
    • In some cases, it may be necessary to have a doctor clean and dress a wound.
      By: casanowe
      In some cases, it may be necessary to have a doctor clean and dress a wound.