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How to Clean a Surgical Wound

What is a Surgical Wound?

Simply put, surgical wounds are incisions in the skin made during a medical procedure. All wound care needs are specific to each individual patient, as all surgical wounds are different. They can differ in size, and healing time depending on a variety of factors including age, health, and the type of surgery performed.

Why do Wounds Need to be Cleaned?

Skin is very sensitive during the wound healing process. Because of this, it can sometimes lead to surgical wound incisions reopening. If this happens, make sure to reassure the patient that they should not worry, as this is very common. Breaks can happen in a couple different ways, and can range in severity. However, no matter if a wound opens completely, or just a small part of it, contact a healthcare practitioner for advice. They will decide if further professional action is needed. They also may decide against closing it again, and instead ask the patient and caregiver to clean the wound at home. While open wound care may seem intimidating, it is a completely common, and requires just 6 simple steps.

Did you know? 31% of infections occur post-surgery each year?* With most patients ending up back in the hospital.

*Surgical site infection (SSI) event among healthcare associated infections in hospitalized patients (and then add reference to CDC article attached)

Before getting started, make sure to keep wound care products like gauze sponges & antibiotic ointment(link is external) on hand for future wound maintenance. Follow these six steps for cleaning a wound to aid in the healing process and protect against infection.

How to Clean a Wound in 6 Steps

  • Step 1: After hands are washed, remove the old wound dressing from the surgical area, use the wrapper of the gauze to keep it sterile while wetting the new wound dressing with a saline wound wash.
  • Step 2: Clean the wound area gently with mild soap and water, antiseptic wash, or saline spray.
  • Step 3: Remove any additional dirt with gauze sponges and pat dry.
  • Step 4: If there's any bleeding, stop it by applying pressure to the surgical wound area with the gauze sponges.
  • Step 5: Treat with NEOSPORIN® antibiotic ointment to fight off wound infection for minor wounds. Please consult with a physician before use on a major wound.
    Note: If allergic to NEOSPORIN®, try POLYSPORIN® antibiotic ointment(link is external) instead.
  • Step 6: Gently cover the clean wound and apply a fresh bandage to the incision area.

If a wound does become infected, learn more information about How to Clean an Infected Wound.

There are a lot of ways for doctors to close a surgical incision after a medical procedure. Whether it’s stitches, staples, or surgical glue; these different methods need different guidelines to care for a wound, depending on which was used to close the incision.

How to Care for Stitches, Staples, & More

What are Stitches?

Stitches are a type of medical thread sewn through the skin at the site of injury that bring the wound together to heal properly.

How to Take Care of Stitches
If a patient has received stitches, the doctor will either remove them after the wound has healed, or they will dissolve over time. If the stiches are dissolvable, medical tape may be used to hold the wound together.

How Long Does It Take For Stitches To Dissolve?
Dissolvable stitches typically begin disintegrating one to two weeks after surgery. Although it is not the norm, be aware that sometimes dissolvable stitches can take up to several months before they disappear completely. After a wound has fully healed, the doctor may suggest speeding up the stitch dissolving process by getting rid of any loose ends from the stitches.

Surgical Staples

What are Surgical Staples?
Surgical staples are a special type of staple used in in medical procedures, instead of stitches, to bring wounds together to heal properly.

How to Care for Surgical Staples:

If a patient has received staples to close the incision, don’t worry about the removal process. As the doctor will schedule time to remove them after the wound has fully healed.

Surgical Skin Glue

What is Surgical Skin Glue?

Surgical skin glue is a special kind of medical skin adhesive often used in surgery. It works by fusing the edges of the wound, and ths allows for the wound to heal underneath the glue. Doctors and nurses often use surgical skin glue to help close wounds instead of other medical closure methods, such as stitches or staples. Skin glue is typically used instead of stitches for some surgical wounds because it is less invasive, and offers the potential for less scarring.

Post-Surgery Wound Care for Surgical Glue
If the doctor used surgical skin glue to close a patient’s wound, the healing process is very simple, as it tends to come off on its own. The timeline for that is usually between five to ten days after surgery.

Need additional wound care information? Call our nurse hotline at 1-800-526-3967 Monday through Friday EST (8am-8pm) to talk to a nurse and discuss additional information about how to care for stitches, staples and more. Or consult with a doctor if there are any additional questions.