How to Clean a Wound

Equipment in cleaning wounds

Cuts, scrapes, or even more serious wounds can occur at any given moment. That's why it's so important to be prepared. Having the adequate materials to clean a wound is key, but it’s just as significant to be mentally prepared.

Equip yourself with the knowledge to effectively clean a wound, and the supplies you’ll need to do so.

How to Properly Stock Your First Aid Kit

A first aid kit always comes in handy in case of emergency. To be as prepared as possible, keep one in your home and in your car.

Be sure to include any items specific to you and your family such as medications or emergency contacts. It’s important to replace these items each time they have been used.

According to Red Cross recommendations, the following items should be included in a first aid kit:

  • Absorbent compress dressings
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • Adhesive cloth tape
  • Antibiotic ointment packets
  • Antiseptic wipe packets
  • Hydrocortisone ointment packets
  • Packets of aspirin
  • Antihistamines
  • Instant cold compress
  • Gauze roll
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Oral thermometer
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Latex gloves
  • Emergency first aid instructions

It’s recommended to have at least one of each item in your kit, but advisable to have multiple, just in case. Again, once an item has been used, be sure to replace it promptly.

If you have specific medical needs or conditions, ask your healthcare provider about any extra suggestions they may have for your kit.

Step by Step Instructions for at-Home Wound Cleaning

  1. The first step in cleaning wounds is to wash your hands thoroughly. Make sure they are completely dry. This helps to avoid infection.
  2. Do not try to remove anything from the wound.
  3. Rinse the wound with tap water for about five minutes.
  4. Soak a gauze in saline solution or use an alcohol-free wipe. Always dab the wound gently, but wipe the area surrounding the wound clean. Do not use antiseptic, it may damage the skin.
  5. Gently pat the area dry using a clean towel. Avoid using fluffy material (like a cotton ball) to ensure that strands don’t get stuck in the wound.
  6. Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly to keep the mound moist, free of bacteria, and to help prevent scarring.
  7. Apply a sterile dressing – non-adhesive pads or bandages are suitable options. Use a waterproof dressing if available.
  8. Change the dressings or bandages daily, but sooner if they become wet, dirty, or soaked with blood. Keep the wound moist and covered for about five days, only keeping the bandages on for longer if the cut reopens. After about five days, remove the bandages to let the wound breathe and scab.

Can You Use Hand Sanitizer on a Wound?

While it may seem like hand sanitizer might speed up the healing process in a wound, that’s not the case.

Hand sanitizer kills any germs it comes into contact with, even the “good” ones. Low levels of bacteria are beneficial to the healing process, and hand sanitizer would eliminate them.

This is due to the fact that the main ingredient in most hand sanitizers is alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) and isopropyl alcohol. Alcohol can also be damaging or irritating to the skin surrounding a wound and be painful upon application.

When to Seek Medical Care for a Wound

While most wounds are minor and can be properly taken care of at home, some wounds may become more serious.

Deep lacerations where you may be able to see fat, tendon, or muscle should definitely be seen by a medical professional. Most likely, a healthcare provider will need to properly clean and close the wound.

If a wound seemed minor at first, but doesn’t seem like it’s getting any better or is definitely getting worse, it may be infected. Signs of infection include:

  • Pain or redness
  • Excessive drainage or bleeding that doesn’t stop
  • Foul odor
  • Fever and/or chills

For those immunocompromised or diagnosed with diabetes, minor wounds can be more serious. These medical conditions often make a person more prone to infection. It may also be the case that their wounds don’t heal at a typical rate. In the case of diabetics, foot wounds should be given prompt medical attention.

Anytime a wound comes from an animal, seek medical attention. Treatment will depend on the animal, location and severity of the wound, and if the animal could have rabies.

For burns, seek emergency care under the following conditions:

  • If the burn is deep (involving multiple layers of skin)
  • If the skin appears dry and leathery
  • If patches of white, brown, or black have appeared
  • If the burn is larger than three inches
  • If the location of the burn is in a sensitive area or covers a large area (hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, joints)
  • If the burn is swelling

Where Can You Learn More About Wound Care?

If you’re concerned about a wound, you can speak to a board-certified doctor or nurse practitioner from the comfort of your home.

Head over to LifeMD to schedule an online appointment today.

Kimberli Hastings, CNP

Kimberli is a Family Nurse Practitioner, practicing in the areas of Family Medicine and Mental Health since 2019. She has worked in nursing homes, dialysis centers, and clinics. Kimberli’s goal as a healthcare provider is to improve her patients' lives.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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