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How to Dress a Wound: Everything You Need to Know About Bandages and Dressings

Whether you want to be a hardcore survivalist, a medical worker, or a responsible human being, knowing how to dress a wound should be at the top of your to-do list. Knowing how to dress a wound can provide first-aid and life-saving care to yourself and those close to you.

How to Dress a Wound

Contrary to what you might think, dressing wounds isn’t as hard as it looks in the movies. By following the tips and steps in this article, you’ll be dressing wounds and saving lives in no time.

However, it’s important to understand that we are not doctors, and these measures are meant for emergencies only. You should seek medical attention as quickly as possible if you’ve suffered a serious cut.

Best Materials for Dressing Wounds

Using the proper materials is extremely important when learning how to dress a wound. Using the wrong tools or bandages can result in infection or an improperly dressed wound.

It’s also important to know which materials to use in certain situations. For example, you don’t want to use butterfly band-aids to dress a small cut or abrasion.

At the same time, certain antiseptics and bandage materials can cause allergic reactions. At the same time, whether a wound is wet or dry will impact which type of dressing or bandage you should use.

If you’re in a rush, take a look at the quick summary of the best materials for dressing wounds. If you have more time, read on to learn more!

General First Aid

Specialized Bandages

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re learning how to dress a wound with the right bandages.

  • If the wound is dry, you should use a bandage that provides a bit of moisture, such as a hydrogel bandage.
  • Only use butterfly band-aids when attempting to hold a wide cut together. Think of them as a temporary substitute for stitches.
  • If a wound is wet, you should use a moisture-absorbing dressing to prevent seepage.
  • If there are signs of infection, you should use bandages infused with iodine, hydrogen peroxide, or other disinfectants.
Bandaging Materials
  • If you’re worried about an infection spreading or necrosis, use clear bandages to keep an eye on the area around the wound.
  • If the wound is creating an unpleasant odor, use charcoal dressings as a healthy way to disguise the smell.
  • When the cut is near a joint, use flexible bandages so that the person can still move and flex their joint. Stiffness is never a good thing near a wound.

If you want to learn how to dress a wound like a pro, you should invest in a quality first-aid kit.

How to Dress a Wound: 8 Steps

Now that you know how to choose the right bandages and materials let’s look at the eight steps of how to dress a wound properly.

Assess the Damage

The first thing you should do with any wound or injury is assess the damage. Determine how deep and wide the cut is and if it’s near any vital organs or arteries.

If, for example, there’s spurting blood from a cut on your arm or wrist, there’s a good chance you nicked an artery. You’ll have to tie off the area above the cut before addressing the cut itself.

If possible, you should seek immediate medical attention for a cut artery because the victim could die due to blood loss in a matter of minutes.

Wash Your Hands

Once you have assessed the degree of bleeding, you’re ready to get to work. However, you must wash your hands before handling any bandages, antiseptics, or wound dressing materials.

If you’re only going to take one thing away from learning how to dress a wound, it’s that sanitation is paramount. There’s a reason that medical workers scrub down before and after every patient.

Hand Sanitizer

It’s because treating a patient with unclean hands can lead to infection and serious illness. In extreme cases, an infection can even lead to death or amputation of the infected limb.

To wash your hands, use warm water and soap if you have any on hand. You should also ensure that your hands are completely dry before handling any items or touching the wound.

Stop the Bleeding

Next, it’s time to stop the bleeding. Putting a bandage on a cut or gash won’t do any good if it’s still bleeding underneath, and it will typically soak through.

While minor scrapes and tiny cuts will eventually stop on their own, deeper cuts will require your assistance. Here’s how to stop the bleeding on a wound.

  1. Use a sterile pad, washcloth, or towel that’s nearby.
  2. Press the pad or towel against the cut and press gently.
  3. Continue applying pressure until the wound has stopped bleeding.
  4. If it’s been five minutes and blood is still being produced, you will need medical attention. You may have nicked an artery or vein, which means the bleeding won’t stop until the artery or vein gets repaired.

Clean the Wound

Once the bleeding has subsided, you’re ready to learn step four of how to dress a wound. Cleaning the wound is important to prevent infection from setting in and causing serious damage.

  1. Start by rinsing the wound with cool water to clear the area.
  2. If there’s sticky blood around the cut, use soap and a sterile washcloth to clean the area. However, be careful not to get soap into the wound as it will sting like crazy and could cause infection depending on the soap.
  3. If you have it handy, use hydrogen peroxide to wipe the cut. You can use either squirt peroxide directly onto the sound or peroxide wipes to soak and wipe the cut.
  4. If there is visible dirt or debris in the wound, you’ll have to remove it with sterile, stainless steel tweezers.
  5. Use rubbing alcohol to clean the materials you use and the wound if you don’t have hydrogen peroxide.

Dry Completely

Once the wound is clean, dry it thoroughly before continuing. Do this by gently dabbing the area with a sanitary towel, being careful not to rub back and forth and irritate the wound.

Apply Antibiotics if Available

Applying antibiotics isn’t just necessary to keep the wound from getting infected. It’s also a good way to reduce scarring.

Applying Neosporin to a Wound

The best option for antibiotics is Neosporin or a similar material. You can also use petroleum jelly if Neosporin and other antibiotic creams aren’t available.

Be sure to cover every part of the cut with antibiotics to prevent infection. However, don’t be so liberal that you’re going to keep the bandage from adhering to the skin.

Dress the Wound

Finally, you’re ready to learn how to dress a wound by applying the necessary dressing. Be sure to use a sterile gauze dressing or bandage that’s an appropriate size for the cut.

Take caution not to touch the part of the bandage that will come in contact with the wound, as it could cause infection.

You should also avoid completely sealing the wound on all four sides so it can breathe.

For bigger or wider cuts, you may need to utilize rolled gauze and hold it in place with tape or band-aids. The main thing to remember is that you don’t want to get any part of the adhesive or tape on the wound because it could cause bleeding to resume once you remove it.

To Cover or Not to Cover

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not necessary or good to cover every type of wound. The only time it’s essential to dress it with a bandage is if you’re worried about infection or the wound coming in contact with clothing or another surface.

So, it’s ok to leave the wound uncovered for smaller cuts and abrasions that won’t come into contact with anything. For all other cuts or serious injuries, however, you should cover the wound to give it time to heal.

Change the Dressing as Needed

The final step in learning how to dress a wound is to change the dressing. You should do this at least once daily or more if you’re concerned about infection.

Changing a Bandage

Changing the dressing gives you a chance to evaluate the wound, gives it a chance to breathe, and allows you to place fresh antibiotics and dressings on the wound.

You should continue re-dressing the wound until a solid scab forms on the surface. Scabbing is a good sign and means that the body has healed properly.

Danger Signs to Watch Out For

The biggest thing to watch out for is an infection around the wound area. Infection stems from improperly dressing the wound, allowing it to come into contact with a foreign object, or touching the wound with unsterilized materials.

Here are some of the surefire signs of infection.

  • Pus is coming from the wound.
  • Redness or swelling around the cut.
  • A red line or streak is going toward the heart, indicating the infection is spreading.
  • A pimple or bump on the wound instead of scabbing.
  • Pain and stiffness around the cut.

Complications of Not Learning How to Dress a Wound Properly

If infection results because you didn’t learn how to dress a wound properly, the consequences could be dire. Infection can lead to illness, limb amputation, or surgery to remove infected components and properly dress the wound.

Infected Wound

Aside from signs of infection, it’s important to seek medical attention for a wound if:

  • There’s numbness or tenderness around the wound
  • Pain increases rather than go away
  • The area around the cut is warm
  • The wound starts to stink

Final Thoughts About How to Dress a Wound

As you can see, learning how to dress a wound isn’t overly difficult, but it’s important to be meticulous and cautious. The last thing you want to do is make a mistake that leads to infection and increases the damage.

Once again, we are not doctors and these measures are meant for emergencies only. You should seek medical attention as quickly as possible if you’ve suffered a serious cut.

For more information about safety, first-aid, and survival in general, check out our Safety section.