BAND-AID Article Page | Incision Care

How to Care for Stitches and Staples

Stitches (AKA sutures) and staples are as much a part of the healing process as they are the surgery. They help keep your incision closed, clean, and free from infection, and therefore need to be carefully managed during recovery.

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Keep It Clean & Dry

It’s generally recommended to keep your wound dry for 24 hours after a procedure to minimize the risk of infection. After 24 hours, gently dab with a clean, moist cloth to clean away any leaking fluids if needed. Replace the bandage with a clean new one.

While a gentle clean is okay, too much water can degrade the stitches, so it’s best to keep them dry. Cover your wound with a waterproof bandage when showering, and replace that one once you’re dry.

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Don’t Scratch

Easier said than done, but resist the urge to scratch where your stitches or sutures are. This could make them pull at your skin, or even come out. It also increases the chance of infection.

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Limit Your Movement

Big movements, or even a lot of little ones, near a wound can potentially cause it to re-open. So it’s best to avoid putting too much movement or pressure on the stitches/staples.

Change Up! Replace your dressing daily.

Changing the dressing on your incision wound or stitches should be done every day. This shouldn’t take long, but it’s important to go slowly and follow each step. Your recovery will thank you!

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Prepare the Area

Set up a specific spot in your home to do your daily incision care. Try to keep it free from children or pets, which might bring dirt and germs to it. Lay down a large sterile pad to put your supplies on.

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Organize Your Supplies

Have these supplies open and ready to use:

  • Gauze and bandages

  • Tape

  • Ointments (if applicable)

  • Single-use medical gloves

If you need to make your own bandage with gauze and tape, now’s the time to prep it. Not sure how to do it? Take a look at these step-by-step instructions first.

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Wash Your Hands Thoroughly

Remove any jewelry and wash your hands with warm soap and water for 20-30 seconds. Scrub your wrists and under your fingernails, too. Rinse before drying well with a clean towel.

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Carefully Remove the Bandage

Slowly remove the tape from your dressing by pulling up, toward the wound.

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Inspect Your Wound for Infection

Infection in a surgical incision can mean serious business. Call your doctor if you have any of these signs:

  • An incision that is swollen, hot, or notably red

  • A wound that has green or yellow drainage

  • A wound that smells bad

  • Bleeding that does not stop with pressure

  • Pain that is not getting better

  • A feeling of hardness or fullness around the incision

  • An incision that has opened

  • A fever or 38.3°C or 101°F

Soak up any excess fluid with a gauze pad while you’re inspecting the incision.

 

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Cover Up Again

Unless you’re told to do so by your doctor, cleaning a wound at every dressing change can do more harm than good1. So if you’re clear of all signs of infection, apply an antibiotic ointment (if you’ve been directed to do so) and put on the new bandage. Make sure it’s aligned properly to fully cover your wound on all sides.

Dispose of your old dressing, the gloves, and any gauze you used in a plastic bag before throwing it in the trash. Finish it all off with another wash of your hands.

Doctor speaking to a patient.

To Clean or Not to Clean

While you’ll be checking your wound twice a day, you don’t need to clean it that often. Too much touching and fussing can irritate it. But it does still need to be kept clean. Your healthcare provider may give you specific instructions on how to clean your wound, but here’s a general rundown on what to do and what to avoid.

  • Wash your hands well with soap and water before starting.

  • Soak a cloth or gauze in warm water or a mix of sterile water and salt. If you’re using individually wrapped gauze, you can pour the saline solution directly into the package to limit contact and contamination.

  • Wring the cloth or gauze gently so it’s not dripping wet, then gently dab or wipe the skin around the incision.

  • Avoid skin cleansers, antibacterial soaps, alcohol, iodine, and peroxide. Also check with your doctor before putting any lotion, cream, or ointment on it once it’s starting to heal.2

  • Pat the area dry with a clean cloth or gauze before re-bandaging.

Doctor speaking to a patient.

You Might Be Asking…

What is the best type of bandage for me to use over my stitches or wound?

If you didn’t get bandage supplies from the hospital, nonstick pads and rolled gauze help keep your wound clean, dry, and protected.

How often should I change my bandage?

Generally, bandages should be changed once in the morning and again in the evening. If there is a lot of oozing fluid coming from your wound, your healthcare provider may recommend changing it more often.

Can I bathe or shower after surgery? Can I get my stitches wet?

Once your doctor gives you the okay, use a waterproof bandage to keep your wound dry. And change to a clean, dry bandage after. If you’re advised against bathing or showering, ask what you can do to keep the area around your wound clean.

Should I apply any kind of medicine to my incision?

You can use a topical antibiotic ointment once your healthcare provider has cleared you to do so.

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