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How do I clean a wound?

Medically reviewed

It's important to clean a wound before applying a plaster or dressing. This will reduce the risk of infection and encourage the healing process.

A plaster or larger dressing is usually all that is needed to stop a wound bleeding. However, you might need to apply pressure to the area, and if an arm or leg is affected, you should raise it above heart level if possible.

Follow these steps:

  • wash and dry your hands thoroughly
  • wear disposable gloves if available
  • if treating someone else, tell them what you're doing and make sure they're sitting or lying down
  • don't try to remove anything embedded in the wound – seek medical advice (see below)
  • rinse the wound under running tap water for 5 to 10 minutes
  • soak a gauze pad or cloth in saline solution or tap water, or use an alcohol-free wipe, and gently dab or wipe the skin with it – don't use antiseptic as this may damage the skin
  • gently pat the area dry using a clean towel or pad of tissues, but nothing fluffy such as a cotton wool ball – strands of material can get stuck to the wound
  • apply a sterile dressing, such as non-adhesive pad with a bandage, or a plaster – use a waterproof dressing if available
  • if blood soaks through the dressing, leave it in place and add another dressing, and continue to apply pressure on the wound

When to seek medical advice

Visit your nearest minor injuries unit or walk-in centre:

  • does not stop bleeding
  • is very large or very deep
  • has something embedded in it
  • is too painful for you to successfully clean
  • is near to a major blood vessel or joint
  • becomes red and swollen or has pus coming out – it may be infected
  • was caused by a bite – all animal and human bites need medical attention.
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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