How To Clean Burn Wounds

How To Clean Burn Wounds

A critical component of wound care management is the frequency of dressing changes. Properly managing wound dressings can facilitate the healing process and reduce the risk of infection. However, knowing how often to change dressings can be confusing for many people. In this article, we will discuss how frequently you should change wound dressings to promote optimal healing and minimize complications.

Step 1: Prioritize Safety

Before attempting to clean a burn injury, it is vital to ensure your own safety and that of the injured person. Begin by assessing the situation and removing the individual from any ongoing dangers, such as a fire or electrical hazard. Call for emergency medical assistance immediately if there are hazards present, the burns are severe or burns that cover a large area of the body. If there is clothing stuck to the skin, leave it there until the healthcare providers can address the damage and remove it. Trying to pull the clothing may remove the surface layer of the skin.

Step 2: Stop the Burning Process

If the burn injury is caused by a hot liquid or flame, it is crucial to stop the burning process as quickly as possible. This can be done by removing the person from the source of the burn, smothering flames with a blanket, or dousing the area with cool water for at least 10 to 20 minutes. Cooling the burn helps alleviate pain, reduce swelling, and prevent further damage.


Despite myths, you should not apply ice or very cold water to burns. Applying ice on a fresh burn can damage your skin. Ice or very cold water on a burn decreases blood flow to the burnt area, which can reverse the healing process. While ice can numb the burn, it can lead to frostnip, a dangerous precursor to frostbite. An ice burn is a bigger risk than you might think. Instead of ice and very cold water, apply cool water to the burn.

Step 3: Assess the Burn

After the burning process has been halted, carefully assess the severity of the burn. Burns are categorized into three levels:

  • First-Degree Burns: Affecting only the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). These burns typically result in redness, minor pain, and swelling. Similar to a bad sunburn with no blisters. These typically heal with minor at-home care, however if they do not improve, seek care.
  • Second-Degree Burns: Affecting both the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) and the layer beneath (dermis). These burns will likely have blistering, more pain, and swelling. If they are small you may manage at home, however larger damaged areas will benefit from medical care.
  • Third-Degree Burns: The most severe type of burn, reaching deeper layers of tissue. Third-degree burns result in charred or white skin, numbness, and potential damage to muscles and bones. These burns require medical attention.

Step 4: Clean the Burn Area

Before cleaning the burn, it is crucial to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer to prevent infection. Cleanse the burned area with cool, clean water: Gently rinse the burn with cool (not cold) water for several minutes. Avoid using ice or very cold water, as it can further damage the injured tissue. Use a gentle cleaner or wound spray to clean the blistered area. Do not attempt to pull off fabric if it is burned onto the skin and adhered or pop a blister. Pat the area dry and allow to air dry. Avoid rubbing or applying pressure, as it can cause pain or damage the delicate skin.

Step 5: Apply a Sterile Dressing

Once the burn area is clean and dry, apply a sterile dressing to protect the injury from dirt, bacteria, and further damage. Use non-stick sterile gauze pads or a clean, lint-free cloth to cover the burn. Avoid using adhesive bandages directly on the burn, as they can stick to the wound and cause pain during removal.

Step 6: Pain Management

Burn injuries can be excruciatingly painful, and providing immediate pain relief is crucial. If the burn is not severe, you can use over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, following the recommended dosage. Topical aloe or lidocaine can also provide relief and moisture to promote a healing environment. If pain continues more than a few hours or days with your typical pain management methods, then medical attention is recommended.

Step 7: Monitor for Infection

Keep a close eye on the burn injury for any signs of infection, such as increased redness, swelling, discharge. Closed intact burns and blisters with no open areas should be at minimal risk for infection. Avoid removing the top skin of blisters, as this makes the deeper tissue underneath potentially exposed to bacteria. For burns where the blister has popped or the skin was charred, the risk for infection is greater. Medical interventions will likely include prophylactic bacteria management. If symptoms change throughout the course of healing, be in touch with your medical provider.

As a reminder, if you suffer from a burn injury, remember these simple solutions to avoid more trauma. No Ice to burns. Do not pop blisters. Keep it clean and covered. If the burn is severe or does not improve with your typical home care, seek medical attention early. 

©2020 Human Biosciences, Inc. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice.