How to Clean & Dress a Wound
Do you know how to clean a wound and apply a wound dressing? Do you know how often you should clean a wound? Understanding how to dress a wound can help you stay calm, control bleeding, clean the cut, and apply a wound dressing correctly. Knowing how to clean a cut may also help heal it quickly and perhaps even avoid developing an infection or a scar.
Step 1: Stay Relaxed
Staying calm can be extremely difficult when you or someone else has a health emergency, even if it is only a flesh wound.
To stay relaxed in emergencies:
- Focus on the task at hand – to clean and dress the wound
- Slow your breathing by counting to three as you inhale, holding your breath for three seconds, and exhaling as you count to three
- Reassure yourself and the injured person by saying, “Everything will be okay”
- Be prepared – keep a well-stocked first aid kit in an easily accessible location
Keep a child calm by taking a calm, confident approach. Reassure them that you know how to fix their injury. Explain each step as you go.
And if you or the person you’re helping are afraid of blood, try to clean any visible blood from the wound quickly.
Step 2: Wash your hands
Before cleaning or dressing a wound, wash your hands with soap and water. Washing your hands before dressing a wound may help reduce the risk of infection.1
First, wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap. Lather your hands by rubbing them together.
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds; if you don’t have a clock or watch to measure the time, hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Rubbing your hands creates friction that helps lift dirt, grease, bacteria, and other microbes from the surface of your skin. Rinse your hands well under clean running water.
Wet hands transfer germs more easily than do dry hands so be sure to dry your hands completely before cleaning or dressing the wound2. To further prevent the spread of germs, use disposable gloves when cleaning and dressing the injury.
Step 3: Stop the bleeding
Stop any bleeding by applying gentle pressure to the wound with a clean cloth. If the wound is on the arms or legs, elevate the injured area above the level of the heart. Continue applying pressure until the bleeding stops – you may have to apply pressure for 15 minutes to stop stubborn bleeding from small wounds3 .
Assess the wound to determine if it requires medical attention. Certain wounds always require immediate attention from a healthcare professional if the following happens4:
- The wound is jagged
- The cut has dirt in it which won’t come out
- Cuts that spurt blood
- It is a deep cut or puncture wound
- The cut becomes tender or inflamed (red)
Step 4: Clean the wound/cut
If you are not going to see a doctor immediately, rinse the injured area for 5 to 10 minutes or more1. Use tweezers to carefully remove any large pieces or dirt or other visible debris.
Rinse the wound under running tap water. Using mild soap and water, lightly scrub the wound with a face cloth.
Step 5: Use an over-the-counter antibiotic cream/ointment
Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic cream or ointment to reduce the risk of infection5 such as Polysporin® Original Antibiotic Ointment a combination of bacitracin and polymyxin B, which work together to kill bacteria by weakening the bacteria’s protective cover6.
Over-the-counter antibiotic creams and ointments are easily accessible and easy to use – just head to your local drugstore to purchase one and simply apply a small amount to the wound.
Step 6: Bandage the wound
Knowing how to dress a wound at home is important to healing. Below are some tips7:
- Bandage any wound that is likely to get dirty or be irritated by clothing.
- You may use gauze strips and paper tape or a commercially available bandage, such as BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages.
- If the cut is very minor such as a scratch or scrape, leave the area uncovered.
- Change the bandaging at least once a day or whenever the dressing becomes dirty or wet.
Taking care of a wound is easy once you know how to disinfect a wound and how to do a wound dressing: just stay calm, wash your hands, stop the bleeding, apply topical antibiotics and cover the wound. Clean the wound at least once a day – more often if it gets dirty.
Lastly, watch for signs of infection such a redness, drainage, increasing pain, drainage, swelling or warmth7. To reduce the risk for scarring or infection, avoid picking any scabs that may form.
Contact your doctor if the area around the wound becomes red, begins to swell, or if pus starts to drain from the wound. Consult with your physician right away if you experience pain or numbness near the wound.