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What is Iodoform Gauze?

By S. Gonzales
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Iodoform gauze is a type of sterile, absorbent fabric used to pack wounds and facilitate blood clotting and general healing. In most cases it is materially identical to standard medical gauze except that it has been treated with or soaked in iodoform, an antiseptic. It usually comes in air-sealed packets and must generally be handled using gloves or specially cleaned equipment in order to keep it sterile. These sterile properties make it very popular for use in surgeries and anywhere else the gauze is likely to come into contact with highly sensitive bodily tissues.

General Properties

It’s usually true that gauze treated with iodoform works the same as more standard first aid gauze, at least from a functional standpoint. Gauze tends to be a lightweight yet highly absorbent material that helps soak up blood and other bodily fluids while still allowing skin cells access to oxygen. Most first aid kids and medical supply boxes come packed with gauze rolls that can be useful in a number of emergency situations. The main difference between these sorts of products and iodoform gauze is sterility.

Iodoform is an antiseptic chemical compound that acts as a mild disinfectant. Gauze that has been treated with it is often somewhat damp to the touch, but isn’t usually wet; depending on how the chemical was applied, it might not even be moist at all. Most iodoform comes prepared as a liquid, but it also widely available as a powder. No matter how it is treated, the gauze is usually packed in sterile plastic packets or bottles that keep outside air out. This prolongs the life of the iodoform and preserves its antiseptic properties.

When It’s Used

There are many different applications for this sort of gauze, and it can generally be used the same as any other gauze would be; the biggest difference is that it is able to preserve the sterility of the wound or incision site. For this reason it is often particularly popular in surgical situations. It can be used help to pack the wounds associated with the removal of abscesses, boils, and fistulas, as it allows them to drain while keeping them clean. Most of the time wounds that are being drained are packed and not stitched so that drainage can occur unimpeded.

This type of gauze can also be used to pack the sinus or nasal areas. These tissues in the face are often particularly susceptible to infection, which makes sterility very important. Any dust or debris that enters into the area can cause irritation, and germs and viral strains can cause serious complications.

How It’s Used

Medical professionals typically use a cotton-tipped applicator to gently ease this sort of gauze into a wound. The gauze is carefully folded rather than shoved or stuffed into the cavity in order to maximize both the absorption and the disinfection; it can also ensure that the wound is filled with an appropriate amount of material. The time it takes to get the procedure right is often a lot less than the time it would take to correct an error or injury.

After packing a wound, surgeons or others typically leave about 1 inch (2.54 cm) of gauze outside the cavity to make removing it later on simpler. While the material could be left in close proximity to the wound, it’s often less intrusive to get it out if a corner or edge remains on the outside. This remaining piece of gauze might be taped down against the skin or tucked into an external dressing. Those who need to remove the gauze can do so by simply pulling on the external piece until the rest slips out of the wound. Removal and repacking of gauze can take place as frequently as once a day, depending on the nature of the injury or incision.

Safety and Sterility Precautions

Iodoform gauze has to be handled really carefully in order to keep it sterile. Medical professionals who want to use it usually put on gloves, open the bottle or packet, reach inside with forceps to retrieve an end of the gauze, pull it out, and then cut it with sterile or surgical scissors. A bit of gauze can be left on the outside of the bottle to simplify future cuttings.

Should a wound need to be repacked with fresh gauze, a medical professional can simply pull more out of the package. It’s often okay for a non-sterile hand to pull fresh gauze out from the tail that’s been left behind; sterile scissors, however, will have to be used to cut the gauze free from the bottle, and anyone touching the sterile portions with bare hands may contaminate the entire length. In these cases another cut will be necessary on the end that the medical professional is holding to remove the part of the gauze strip that has been handled with a non-sterile hand.

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Discussion Comments
By anon979073 — On Nov 23, 2014

I've had to pack several wounds for my husband and the gauze is there to help the wound stay open so it can heal from the inside out. If you just stitch it closed, it wouldn't heal properly. It does take a while to completely heal, but it's not too horrible of a process.

By anon961821 — On Jul 20, 2014

Why does the bottle say sterile single use if doctors or nurses reuse the same bottle?

By anon314824 — On Jan 20, 2013

I am currently going through this procedure. After the first incision, the place on my abdomen grew, so I went to the ER, where they supposedly "numbed" the area (not enough) and drained it, then packed it with gauze and gave me plenty of pain pills and antibiotics.

I have to return in two days for them to remove, and then they say they may have to repack it. This is not a good procedure, I don't think.

They did no x ray, ultrasound or MRI to see if it was connected to my insides (intestines, liver, female parts) to find the cause. They're just treating the symptoms. I am not a happy patient.

By ceilingcat — On Apr 28, 2012

Iodoform gauze sounds interesting and all, but I'm pretty disgusted by the idea of having a large, gaping wound packed with gauze pads but not stitched up. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be, to have basically an open wound with gauze in it?

Also, the removal process sounds horrible. They just pull on the end of the gauze? What if it gets stuck to the inside of the wound or something?

Maybe I just have a really weak stomach, but I really hope to never experience this.

By JessicaLynn — On Apr 27, 2012

@Azuza - It does sound like a good idea, doesn't it? A friend of mine had a staph infection, and she ended up with some pretty serious boils on her legs. From what I remember, her doctor used iodoform gauze to help fight the infection. The process they used to pack the wounds was pretty meticulous, and they changed the dressings once a day.

Really, I associate regular gauze sponges with something you have around the house and use for minor first aid needs. I wasn't surprised to hear there was something a little more high tech for use by doctors in hospitals.

By Azuza — On Apr 26, 2012

Iodoform gauze sounds like a really good idea. I'm not a medical professional, so obviously I don't know about all of the different kinds of wound dressings. I know what gauze is, and I always thought it would be cool if there was some kind of antiseptic gauze! And there is.

It sounds like putting antiseptic gauze in place takes a bit more care than regular gauze though. You have to wear gloves and insert it a certain way. However, it seems like you would use iodoform gauze for more serious injuries.

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