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Cleaning a wound

Most simple cuts, grazes and small wounds can be treated at home, with a plaster or dressing.

For more serious cuts and wounds, you may need to be treated by a medical professional.

Non-urgent advice: Go to an injury unit if the wound:

  • does not stop bleeding
  • is very large or very deep
  • has dirt or something lodged in it
  • is too painful for you to clean successfully
  • is near to a major blood vessel or joint
  • becomes painful, tender, red, swollen or warm, or has pus coming out - it may be infected
  • was caused by a bite - all bites need medical attention

Cleaning a wound

It's important to clean a wound before applying a plaster or dressing. This will help stop it getting infected and encourage the healing process.

To clean a wound:

  • Wash and dry your hands.
  • Wear disposable gloves if you have them.
  • If you are treating someone else, tell them what you're doing and make sure they're sitting or lying down.
  • You may need to apply pressure to the area to stop the bleeding. If an arm or leg is affected, raise it above the level of the heart if possible.
  • Do not try to remove anything lodged in the wound - seek medical advice.
  • Hold the wound under running tap water for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Soak a gauze dressing or clean cloth in tap water or saline solution (salt water). Dab or wipe the area gently with it. You can also use an alcohol-free wipe. Do not use antiseptic as this may damage the skin.
  • Gently pat the area dry using a clean towel or tissues. Do not use anything fluffy, such as cotton wool – fluff can get stuck to the wound.
  • Apply a sterile non-stick pad to the wound and cover it with a bandage or waterproof plaster.
  • If blood soaks through the dressing, leave it in place, apply pressure to the wound for a few minutes, and add another dressing.

A plaster or larger dressing is usually all that you need to stop a wound bleeding.

Applying plasters and other dressings

Page last reviewed: 15 August 2023
Next review due: 15 August 2026