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Taking Care of Cuts and Scrapes

Cuts and scrapes are everyday occurrences, and most can be safely treated at home. Knowing how to clean and care for a cut yourself and when to seek a healthcare provider's care can help reduce infection and speed healing.

Home care for minor cuts

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, minor cuts can be safely treated at home.

Here are a few ways to tell if a cut needs medical attention:

  • It's deep enough that you can see fat, muscle, or bone.

  • The wound has jagged edges or edges that are far apart.

  • The wound is long, or blood is gushing or spurting from it.

Here's what to do for a minor cut:

  • Stop bleeding by putting pressure on the area with a tissue, gauze pad, or clean cloth. The bleeding should stop after a few minutes. If the blood soaks through the gauze or cloth, add more gauze or another cloth and apply more pressure. Don’t remove the gauze or cloth to check to see if it's still bleeding until you have kept the pressure for several minutes. (Removing the cloth too often will cause the clot that is forming to be broken.) If blood spurts from the wound, or it does not stop bleeding after 10 to 15 minutes of pressure, seek medical help. You may need stitches.

  • After bleeding stops, rinse the cut thoroughly with cool water. You can either hold the wound under running water or pour water from a cup over the wound. This may cause the bleeding to return. If so, hold pressure as you did before.

  • Use soap and a soft washcloth to clean the skin around the wound. Try to keep soap out of the wound itself because it can cause irritation. Hydrogen peroxide and iodine will harm living cells and should not be used directly on a wound.

  • Use tweezers cleaned in rubbing alcohol to remove dirt, glass, gravel, or other foreign matter remaining in the wound.

  • Apply a butterfly bandage to a deeper cut after bleeding has stopped or slowed.

  • Apply a small amount of antibiotic ointment, unless a butterfly bandage was used. Ointment will loosen a butterfly bandage. These ointments may help prevent infection and keep the wound moist to help the healing process. Some people are sensitive to these products and may develop a rash.

If a wound is in an area where it won’t get dirty or be rubbed by clothing, it can be left uncovered except for the antibiotic ointment or butterfly bandage. If it’s in an area that will get soiled (like your hand), or an area that will be irritated by clothing (like your knee), cover it with an adhesive bandage. Change the bandage each day—or sooner, if it becomes dirty or wet—to keep the bandage clean and dry.

Some wounds, such as scrapes that cover a large area, should be kept moist to help reduce scarring. Sealed bandages work best for this purpose.

When a cut needs more than home care

You should see your healthcare provider about these cuts if:

  • The wound is deep and jagged.

  • The wound is on the face.

  • The wound is on the wrist, hand, or finger, and any of the joints don't work.

  • The wound is on the foot, ankle, or toes, and any of the joints don't work.

  • The edges of the cut gape open.

  • You can't get dirt out of the cut.

  • The cut becomes tender or inflamed.

  • The cut drains a thick, creamy, grayish fluid.

  • You run a fever of more than 100.4°F (38°C)

  • The area around the cut feels numb, or an area farther down from the cut is numb.

  • Red streaks form near the cut.

  • It’s a puncture wound or deep cut and you haven't had a tetanus shot in the last 5 years.

  • The cut bleeds in spurts, blood soaks through the bandage, or the bleeding doesn’t stop after 10 minutes of firm, direct pressure.

  • The wound is from a human or animal bite.

Taking care of cuts and wounds right away speeds healing and reduces the chance of permanent scarring.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
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