Small cuts and abrasions can be very painful to clean. How might one clean such a wound without causing undue pain, while still effectively sterilizing it?

Attempts so far that have caused pain:

  • soap and water
  • isopropyl alcohol
  • polysporin
  • wet wipe

I'm describing a minor wound, nothing that would require stitches or a skin graft and I.V. antibiotics

Edit: For those of you who've never heard of it, polysporin is basically an antibacterial with some other helpful ingredients:

Medicinal Ingredients (per gram) : 10,000 units Polymyxin B (as sulfate), 500 units bacitracin zinc, 0.25 mg gramicidin and 50 mg lidocaine. Non-medicinal Ingredients (alphabetically) : butylated hydroxytoluene, cocoa butter, cotton seed oil, olive oil, petrolatum, sodium pyruvate, vitamin E.

  • This won't minimise the sting whilst cleaning it, but chilling the area with an ice pack on bad of frozen vegetables immediately afterwards will reduce the pain.
    – Dave
    Dec 15, 2015 at 11:38

5 Answers 5


Wounds by nature will hurt but we should not make them hurt more than needed when trying to clean them. Any rinsage with irritating substances such as alcohol or soap not only cause pain but they will also lead to additional tissue damage.

In addition we should not introduce bacteria to the wound by using any non-sterile compound, including water, cloth, and our fingers.

Let it bleed

Bleeding is nature's way to flush out dirt and debris. So if we let our wound bleed for a while we can almost be sure that most if not all dirt was removed as well.

Remove larger dirt particles

Of course we may have to remove larger dirt fragmenst from abrasions or cuts. This can be done with a pair of sterile forcepts (e.g. sterilized with a lighter flame) or a sterile piece of cloth. For splinters see this question.

If we do not have any such tools we may use our fingers for larger particles but we'd have to be extra careful to clean them before we touch anything. Use soap and alcohol on your hands - rather than on the wound.

Only rinse the wound with clean (!) water in case you can't remove the dirt otherwise.

Disinfect the wound

It may help avoiding an infection to disinfect a wound with a disinfectant. Avoid alcohol-containing preparations, as they hurt more than help. For me a water-based povidone iodine preparation was the least painful to apply (avoid those that also contain alcohol in their ingredients). Antibiotics should be reserved for cases where an infection had already taken place, and then you should definitely seek medical advice.

Protect the wound

After cleaning and applying desinfectant it is important to protect your wound from exposure to further environmental dirt. Use a clean band-aid for this. Change the bain-aid frequently.

Seek medical advice

Most smaller bruises are self healing over time and do not need any professional intervention but we should see a doctor in the following cases:

  • we are unsure about our last tetanus shot
  • the wound does not stop bleeding
  • moveability of a limb is tampered
  • numbness feeling distant to the wound
  • growing pain, possibly accompanied by reddening and swelling. This indicates an infection.
  • 1
    "Wrong again, Internet" — Urine is not sterile Dec 15, 2015 at 14:12
  • @RobertCartaino: oh - great article.. thanks for letting me know. Better removed that part.
    – Takkat
    Dec 15, 2015 at 14:16
  • +1 Nice complete answer with considerations of all the related points.
    – Minnow
    Dec 19, 2015 at 14:28

First of all "soap and water" and "wet wipe" doesn't sterilize it at all, and can be slightly harmful or irritating. It is better to use plain water to rinse it and wash of any excess dirt. I haven't used polysporin, as that particular product is not available in my country, but I've occasionally used isopropyl alcohol, which inevitably will sting.

Here is a quote regarding the subject from an article named "Reducing wound pain":

Wounds always hurt, but the degree of pain will vary according to the nature, location, and severity of the injury. Burns are particularly painful, as are many blisters, cuts, and scrapes.

  • You're right about sterilizing. So "no pain, no gain"? I'll edit the question to describe the contents of polysporin, there's no doubt something similar in your locale.
    – Minnow
    Dec 15, 2015 at 2:22
  • 1
    @Minnow, we do surely have similar, but as the quote indicates, there will be pain...
    – holroy
    Dec 15, 2015 at 2:23
  • You can get many different types of wet wipes. I used pampers on my daughters deepish knee gouge a couple of days ago, no pain caused by wet wipes, but they weren't the usual ones, they were alcohol or toxins free or something. Obviously this doesn't steralize it, but god for cleaning.
    – n00dles
    Dec 15, 2015 at 15:06

Betadine. It's does not cause additional pain or stinging when applied to a cut/abrasion.


natural disinfectants/antiseptics: honey bee propolis

both are WONDERFUL for preventing oxydization of your wound (the primary cause of scabs, which incidentally are BAD for healing!)... a large burn, road rash, etc - cover the entire wound with honey as a disinfectant, then 'wash' it out with bee propolis, and keep completely covered with the bee propolis for 5-10 days.. it will heal faster than you can imagine...



I'll suggest simple methods I know:

First of all, the flow of blood should be stopped by applying pressure to the injured part using a cloth. As soon as it stops bleeding, follow these steps:

1.Carefully remove the skin that sticks out.

2.You can remove it safely by cutting it using nail cutter or using scissors.

3.To avoid pain, do not pull this skin out.Cut those portion that projects outwards.

4.Keep the wounded region gently under flowing water, preferably under a tap. It may sting a little.

5.After making sure that the dirt in the wound is gone, use cotton to clean and dry the wounded region. Make sure you remove every drop of water that is stuck inside the wound.

6.Use cotton and medicated gauge tape to wind over the injury to a fastened dressing. By the term cotton, here I meant sterile cotton that we can see in first aid box or that we can get from medical store, it does not stick to your wound, instead absorbs any water that is left inside.

You can reduce the impact of the pain with these steps, even though it is quoted:

Wounds always hurt, but the degree of pain will vary according to the nature, location, and severity of the injury. Burns are particularly painful, as are many blisters, cuts, and scrapes.

But if the wounds appears to be serious or deep, try not to tamper with it. Consult a doctor as soon as possible.

  • Do you mean cotton wool? Because that stuff stcks to the cut. Not very pleasent to use.
    – n00dles
    Dec 15, 2015 at 15:09
  • I mean sterile cotton that we can see in first aid box or that we can get from medical store, it does not stick to your wound, instead absorbs any water that is left inside. @n00dles Dec 16, 2015 at 4:08
  • Ok, you should add that into your answer.
    – n00dles
    Dec 16, 2015 at 14:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.