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What is Petrolatum Gauze?

By Lucinda Reynolds
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Petrolatum gauze is a lightweight cotton bandage that is coated with a translucent substance made from petroleum. This type of bandage is used in hospitals and other health care settings. It is a non-adherent dressing that is widely used for various types of wounds.

A skin graft is one type of wound on which petrolatum gauze is used. When a skin graft is performed, a section of healthy skin is removed from one part of the body and applied to a wound or burn on another part of the body. The skin graft will usually adhere to the cells surrounding the wound to promote faster healing. Petrolatum gauze is used to cover the skin graft to keep it moist and to promote attachment.

Some individuals will have wounds from injury or immobility. On occasion the doctor may order petrolatum gauze dressings to be used on these types of wounds. This dressing will protect the open area from bacteria. It will not stick to the healthy tissue surrounding the wound.

When an individual suffers from an injury or infection that causes air or fluid to accumulate in the space between the chest wall and the lung then the lung may collapse. This can cause severe breathing difficulties. In these cases, a small flexible tube must be inserted into the side of the chest to drain the fluid or release the air so the lung can expand. A chest tube is usually inserted as an emergency intervention by a doctor or surgeon. The tube is then connected to a drainage container that stays below the level of the chest.

The end of the chest tube lies in the space between the inner lining and outer lining of the lung. This is called the pleural space. It is important the chest tube insertion site remains sealed to prevent air leaks from occurring and rendering the chest tube useless. Petrolatum gauze may be used around the chest tube because it can seal off any leaks that may occur. When the chest tube is removed, a petrolatum gauze dressing is usually applied to the wound to prevent air and bacteria from entering.

There are very few reported side effects from the use of petrolatum gauze dressings. In rare cases, skin irritation may occur. The petrolatum in this dressing can be an eye irritant. No other side effects from the use of this type of dressing have been reported.

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Discussion Comments

By Madeley — On Feb 24, 2014

I need some guidance for what not to do with xeroform.

By anon264534 — On Apr 28, 2012

I witnessed a patient who had a deep cut in his hand and the doctor instructed the nurse to use the Xeroform Petrolatum Dressing because of its non-adherent properties.

However, the next day when it was necessary to change it, the gauze was completely dry glued to the wound. It took me 20 minutes using sterile fluid irrigating it to attempt to remove it and, still causing severe pain to my patient.

I'm very disappointed and from now on will use only the Curad non-adherent pad brand and just apply a little bit of antiseptic cream.

By anon238517 — On Jan 03, 2012

I just had Xeroform applied to a wound last week. Petrolatum is another word for white petroleum or soft paraffin, but the important aspect of the Xeroform is that it is imbibed with zinc oxide. Zinc, silver, and copper are all natural antimicrobials, so the zinc oxide in the Xeroform gauze created a moist and microbe free zone for my partial amputation to heal.

In a large or deep wound, if it has the opportunity to dry out, it can slow the healing process by not allowing new skin fluid to be introduced into the area. Also, when you are exposing a wound/piercing to air, you run the distinct possibility of exposing your innards to whatever is in the air, be it streptococcus, arcobacter, or even meningitis, none of which it would be good to deliberately expose a possible blood stream to.

I am still in the process of healing, so we will have to see how these things go, but I am back to using a triple antibiotic and changing my bandage every day. Hurrah for hydrocodone.

By jennythelib — On Jun 13, 2011

@MrsWinslow - Xeroform dressing and the like are, indeed, pretty similar to Vaseline. I think that petroleum jelly and petrolatum are two different names for the same thing, or at least they're very similar.

My understanding is that some kinds of wounds need to be kept from air, like a sucking chest wound. Petrolatum gauze is appropriate for those kinds of wounds.

By MrsWinslow — On Jun 10, 2011

Is petrolatum gauze, like xeroform, basically made with Vaseline, or is it different stuff? It seems like covering a wound with basically Vaseline would keep a wound from breathing, and I thought that you usually did want a wound to be able to get air.

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