Ways to Use Gauze Swabs on a Wound

I wanted to investigate a very important aspect of first aid today; one you’ve likely needed on hand before too. Today we delve into how to use gauze swabs for a wound.


Short answer: Gauze swabs are a common inclusion in most first aid kits. They will come in both sterile and non sterile versions. You should use sterile for open wounds, to prevent infections.

  • They are a white piece of fabric (cotton) that can be used with or without dressing.
  • You may use a gauze swab for many types of minor injuries: including cuts, grazes, minor open wounds, post surgery, or abrasions etc. You can do so with an antibacterial or antibiotic ointment.
  • You will place it directly over the open wound or injury. Wash your hands beforehand, and keep the gauze clean (avoid touching it) whilst applying by holding the edges. Apply your ointment if desired.
  • If you are using gauze to dress a wound, you should regularly change and re-apply the dressing. Keep monitoring the wound for infection.

Are Gauze Swabs Easy to Use?

Yes, gauze swabs can be relatively easy to use if you are utilising them for a minor injury or wound.

It is important to note you should not use gauze swabs for moderate to severe injuries or wounds. In these instances, the best idea is to seek medical attention and have a professional assist you with first aid.

Gauze swabs are typically made out of cotton. They are present in the majority of first aid kits.

  • You may use gauze swabs to dress minor injuries: from wound dressing, mild cuts, grazes and abrasions to post surgery usage.
  • You may use your swabs with a dressing or cream of some sort to cover a wound. If it is an open wound, you should use an antibiotic or antiseptic ointment/dressing.
  • As touched on above, there are 2 types of gauze pads: sterile and non sterile. Non sterile gauze should never be used on an open wound, as it has not been properly handled nor packaged to ensure that it is sterile and bacteria free (which may pose risk of infection).
  • The swabs may come packaged together or individually packaged (in the case of sterile swabs).
  • If you are dealing with an open wound, ensure you use sterile You can use non sterile for very minor injuries that are not open.

Following are the steps for how to use gauze swabs:

  • Prior to applying your gauze swab, firstly ensure that you have washed your hands with soap and water. You can also wear latex or such gloves.
  • If you are dressing an open wound, select a sterile gauze. Make sure that it is clean, packaged and has not come into contact with any contaminants. Make sure that the gauze size will entirely cover the injury/wound area.
  • Have some adhesive or roller tape on hand to secure the pad to the skin. Select an antiseptic or antibiotic ointment of choice, and gently apply it to the area if it is an open wound.
  • Grip your gauze pad by the edges, being very careful to only touch the corners and no part of the pad going directly on to the skin. You will want to take additional care to not touch the part of the gauze that is going directly onto the wound when applying, as below.
  • Secure the dressing directly onto the wound, covering it. Hold it in place with your first aid tape.
  • Change the dressing regularly as desired until healed.

Common Mistakes Made During Use

There are a few things to bear in mind when using gauze swabs.


1. As first mentioned, a common mistake is using non sterile gauze swabs for open wounds. Avoid this.

If you have an open wound, you should only purchase sterile gauze to minimise risk of infection.

2. Touching the gauze swab whilst applying it (which contaminates it) OR using contaminated gauze.

Avoid doing either of these things. If the gauze appears dirty or you know it has been exposed to any kind of contamination, do NOT use it.

Also, when placing it upon your wound ensure that you are holding it by the edges. A common mistake is improperly handling the gauze upon application, hence contaminating it with bacteria. You should make no contact with the part being placed directly upon the wound.

What are the Risks Associated With the Use of Gauze Swabs?

  • There is a risk of infection, particularly if you use non sterile gauze swabs on an open wound area.
  • There will also be risk of infection if you touch the gauze swab whilst applying, or if you use gauze swabs that have not properly been packaged (this is why some sterile gauze swabs will often come entirely individually packaged).

If you use a dirty or contaminated gauze swab, infection may present as well. So also ensure you check the gauze swabs are clean.

  • Lastly, in some cases you may desire to cut a gauze swab to size. In this instance, because of the cotton there may very often be dangling or worn threads that detach.

You will likely notice this, and it is very important to make sure these threads do not make their way into an open wound: because they can slow healing and irritate the wound.

Make sure there are no loose or dangling threads entering the wound when you use gauze swabs.

  • There is a lot of risk using gauze swabs for wounds that are severely open or moderate to severe, and they should not be used for these purposes.
  • Do not use gauze if allergic to cotton,

How to Prevent Infections After Use

When applying them, it is important to best use gauze swabs in a way that ensures infection prevention.

Following are some steps you can take:

  • As mentioned above, make sure there are no dangling threads entering the wound if you ever cut the gauze to size or alter it in any way.
  • Use sterile gauze for open wounds.
  • If you are covering a wound, select an antibiotic or antiseptic ointment to dress the wound with. Cover the wound nicely with it before applying your gauze swab.
  • Always wash your hands before application.
  • Make sure your gauze is clean prior to application. You should keep your swabs clean if you take them out of the packaging or prior to usage. As stated above, throw out any gauze that is damp or dirty. Try to go for individually packaged gauze (which may come in a sachet of one or 2 sterile swabs) if you are using the swabs to cover an injury or wound.
  • Do NOT touch the part of the gauze swab making contact with the wound at any point.

If you are struggling with this, when you open the gauze swab you can use the packaging to grasp the angle. Tear off the edge of the gauze wrapping, and then use it to also ensure the corner is tightly grasped as you apply it to the wound.

If you can not do this, the only part you should touch at any point is the corner. Make sure no part of the swab comes into contact with your wound after being touched; to ensure it remains sterile.


Related Questions:

Can I cut the gauze swab to size/are there different sizes? Yes. A lot of gauze swabs can be unfolded and cut to size, depending on the area or wound you would like to cover.

When doing this, it is simply good to take careful attention to ensure that the loose strands that may detach when cutting the cotton do not enter the wound.

You should also try to use clean or sterilised scissors. Different gauze swab sizes may be available to be purchased.

Can I use a non sterile swab for an open wound if it is clean/I use antiseptic ointment? No. You should still never use non sterile gauze for an open wound. The reason for this is that non sterile swabs often will come in one, without being individually packaged. The care has not been taken to ensure they are handled or packaged in a sterile manner, and this may present bacteria to your wound. It is not worth the risk of exposure, so try to go for individually packaged swabs that are sterile: EVEN IF you are using ointment.

In conclusion, gauze swabs are very commonly used to cover minor injuries and a variety of issues that require wound dressing.

They are available in the majority of first aid kits, and size/options may vary slightly depending.

They can be easy and convenient to apply if you follow the simple steps above detailing how to use gauze swabs.

Make sure that you keep them clean and take proper infection prevention. Change your wound dressing regularly to keep it most, clean and ensure it heals the fastest possible.


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