a mother cleaning a wound (minor knee scrape) for her child

Your Guide to Basic Wound Care and Cleaning

A Basic Guide on How to Clean a Wound

At some point, almost every person will have an accident that results in an open wound. Whether it’s a scrape on the knee, a cut with a knife, or a burn from a fire — injuries happen. It’s essential to know about the difference between types of wounds and how to tend to them when the time comes.

Wound Types

How to care for a wound, including how to clean a wound, depends on its size, depth, amount of bleeding and type of injury. Not all wounds are created equal. Some require much more involved approaches than others. The following are the most common types of wounds that may occur accidentally.


A good example of an abrasion would be a scraped knee after a fall on the sidewalk. The skin scrapes against something with a rough texture or hard surface, removing some of the top layer of skin. In an abrasion, the bleeding is minimal. However, the area still requires cleaning to remove particles and prevent an infection.


An avulsion is similar to an abrasion but is much more severe. In an avulsion, the skin completely tears away, revealing tissue or bone underneath. These types of wounds typically occur as a result of a violent accident or explosion. Very unlike abrasions, avulsion wounds tend to bleed quickly and heavily. Avulsion wounds need immediate care and require the help of a healthcare professional.


A laceration frequently occurs in accidents involving knives, machinery or power tools. Lacerations are deep cuts or a slicing of thick skin. In these cases, bleeding can be fast and profuse.


A puncture is a small hole in the skin made by an object with a point. Sometimes, puncture wounds are minor — like with a needle or a thumbtack. Other times, a puncture wound can be severe — like a bullet wound. Puncture wounds which still have the object stuck in the skin don’t tend to bleed much. However, if the object damages internal organs, puncture wounds can be critical.


Burn wounds are skin damage that is caused by the exposure to heat (like a stove) open fire or even sunlight. Burns can vary depending on the cause and extent of the injury. Severe burns can result in complications like infection, dehydration or death.

First Aid for Wounds: How to Clean a Wound

Abrasions and Minor Puncture Wounds

According to Merck Manuals, a leader in medical education, applying pressure, preferably with a clean cloth if available, for two to five minutes can decrease or stop the bleeding. If the wound is bleeding rapidly and the area can be lifted above the heart, do so.

Next, flush the injury with mild soap and lukewarm tap water to remove debris and dirt. Gently clean the area and remove rocks or dirt particles. Antibiotic ointment and a bandage can then be applied.

Rinsing with harsh chemicals like hydrogen peroxide or alcohol is not necessary. These chemicals may be painful to the injured person and damage the wounded tissue, slowing the healing process.

Very Small Puncture Wounds (Splinters)

Find a pair of clean tweezers and attempt to carefully remove the small piece caught in the skin. When removed, follow the process above. If the splinter can’t be removed, call a medical professional to inquire about further actions.

Large or Deep Puncture Wounds

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, removing objects from a large or deep puncture wound is not advised. Doing so could increase bleeding and the chances for infection. In these cases, call emergency or go to a healthcare professional.

Avulsion or Large/Deep Lacerations

Avulsion or deep lacerations require immediate medical attention because of possible blood loss and infection. In these cases, stemming blood loss is the priority until assistance is obtained. Apply direct pressure with a clean cloth until emergency medical care arrives. In these cases, call emergency or go to a healthcare professional.

First Degree Minor Burn

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most first degree burns are minor and respond well to home treatments. First degree burns may result from household events like touching a hot stove, a hair straightener or hot iron. In some cases, even sunburns can cause a first-degree burn. Although first degree burns are minor, they can be very painful. If not adequately treated, first degree burns can leave scars.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following interventions for first degree burns:

  • Cool the area by immersing the burn in cool (not cold) tap water and placing a wet compress for 10 minutes, or until the area is no longer painful. Inspect the area for dirt or debris.
  • Apply petroleum jelly and cover the burn with a non-stick, sterile bandage.
  • Re-apply petroleum jelly and change the dressing two to three times a day.
  • If a blister forms, do not pop the blister. Simply let the blister take its course and watch for infections.
  • Do not use toothpaste, butter, coconut oils, or topical antibiotics on the area. These can cause infection or prevent the skin from healing well.
  • Protect the area from the sun to prevent scarring once the burn heals, and a bandage is no longer necessary. Using a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher may help to lessen scar tissue.
  • Severe burns, large burn areas (even if the burn is superficial), and deep burns require medical attention immediately. Burns are serious because they can affect the body’s electrolytes and cause extreme pain. Also, they are prone to infection, and scarring can impair future mobility. In these cases, call emergency or go to a healthcare professional.

Planning for Emergencies

Every home and vehicle should be equipped with a First Aid kit and bottled water. Bring a First Aid kit and water when camping or hiking. Not only does the bottled water come in handy for hydration, but it also serves as a source of clean water to cleanse wounds in emergency situations. Ensure that the First Aid kit is equipped with the necessary sterile bandages, ointments and medications. Replace any used items.

Accidents can, and do, happen. It’s best to be prepared for the unpredictable and know the basics of wound care and how to clean a wound. Keeping up with vaccination schedules (especially for tetanus), keeping medical information close by, and having a First Aid kit available can make all the difference when accidents do occur.

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