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Must-Have Gauze Swabs

Gauze swabs are up the top when it comes to first aid essentials. Serving as an important wound coverage item; they are absorbent, handy and effective.

To optimise your usage, it is helpful to know the different types of swabs available - and that’s what we take a look at today.

What are the most important types of gauze swabs?

Short answer: there are two main different types of gauze swabs; woven and non-woven. There is also paraffin gauze.

  • Gauze can also be either sterile or non-sterile. Sterile gauze is necessary for open wounds, to avoid introducing bacteria.
  • Gauze swabs can be used for many purposes; including wound dressing, bleeding control, padding and application of topical substances.
  • They also come in multiple different sizes.
Gauze Swabs

The Different Types of Gauze Swabs

Firstly, let’s cover what they are.

Gauze swabs are essentially square patches made out of gauze material.

Gauze comes in many forms, and is created from fibres (usually cotton or a synthetic fibre).

These fibres appear as a sheet of white fabric, which we can use for a variety of medical purposes.

Some of the key properties of gauze include:

  • Absorbent (soaks in liquids) 
  • Soft, lightweight and cushioning 
  • An excellent wicking material (wicks liquids from surfaces, keeping them dry).

Sterile and non-sterile

Gauze swabs can also come either individually packaged or in bulk together.

Non-sterile gauze swabs will often not come individually packaged.

You may find them in packs of 100+, with swabs stacked neatly on top of each other.

Sterile swabs, however, often come individually packed in order to keep them clean and safe from bacteria until their time of usage.

Woven, non-woven and paraffin gauze

There are 2 main types of gauze, woven and non-woven.

  • Woven gauze is made by weaving the fibres together, creating either a coarse or fine mesh.
  • It can be purchased in both of these forms, and the weave can be visibly seen.

  • Non-woven gauze is not woven but instead compressed together.
  • This creates the appearance of a mesh/fabric.

  • There is also paraffin gauze, an additional type.
  • Paraffin gauze is non-adherent, which prevents it from sticking to wounds.

    It is created by using medical grade paraffin coating on the fabric.

Shapes and sizing

When it comes to sizing, gauze swabs additionally come in many different shapes and sizes.

You can purchase them in either small, medium or large - and the exact measurements are usually displayed.

Make sure to select the correct size of swab for your wound area.

What Are The Different Types of Gauze Swabs Used For?

Gauze swabs have many uses across general first aid applications, but their usage can differ slightly per type.

What are some differences between the types of gauze swabs?

  • A common example is that you should never use non-sterile swabs for open wounds/areas, due to the risk of bacteria introduction.
  • Some different sizes of swabs will also be unsuitable depending on the wound - like small swabs for a large area, or vice versa.

Account for the size and type of swab before using them.

Sterile vs non-sterile

Sterile gauze swabs are great for many medical applications - including cleaning, preparation and coverage of wounds.

Non-sterile gauze makes a good padding when necessary for injuries, and can be used on top of wounds that are already closed up.

Woven vs non-woven

Woven gauze: offers better grip and stability.

May achieve a more firm hold than non-woven gauze.

Non-woven gauze: is not produced through weaving.

It is usually softer and stronger than woven gauze, and is also more absorbent.

Primary differences between them:

  • Woven gauze offers more stability and traction.
  • It is, however, less absorbent than woven gauze - and as a result can be less successful for wound absorption.

  • Non-woven gauze produces less lint than woven, and it is softer.
  • ‘Lint’ refers to the little specks that can come off a material and be distributed into the wound/area.

    This is undesirable when treating a wound, because lint can get stuck in it and cause irritation.

Gauze Swabs

Common uses of gauze swabs:

  • Padding and/or protecting a wound (extra cushioning)
  • Being highly absorbent, gauze is an excellent choice for bleeding wounds when it comes to absorbing and controlling excess blood. 

    This is the case used both as a wound dressing/coverage or simply being held to the area. 

    Example: you may recall that when a person goes to the dentist, they usually are given gauze to bite down in order to absorb the blood.

  • Wound dressing
  • Gauze is one of the most traditionally used forms of wound dressing.

    This is because it is absorbent, great at wicking and soft; offering padding and comfort.

    Gauze helps to wick away excess liquid and blood or wound exudate from the area, keeping it clean and dry.

    It also can provide a nice coverage for your topical ointments/antiseptics

  • Cleaning or applying substances to a surface (such as topical antibiotics/antiseptics)
  • Gauze is also good for providing a clean surface to use when applying antiseptics or solutions to a wound.

    Use the gauze to dab them directly on.

How To Use Gauze Swabs

Here we will provide some general instructions for the usage of gauze swabs.

*Note: always seek medical assistance for severe open wounds.


  • Before using gauze swabs, make sure to select the appropriate size for the area.
  • You want the gauze to completely be able to cover the area, overlapping the edges.

  • Make sure your hands are completely clean and/or wear disposable gloves
  • Avoid touching the gauze as much as possible. Grasp it from the furthermost corner, and place it onto the wound.

(Or, gently clean the wound if using it for this purpose).

Your goal is to avoid touching it and keeping it clean as possible.

For individually wrapped gauze, you can also hold the sachet from the corner and peel it back without touching it.

From there, gently press/apply it to your wound with minimal touch - peeling off the packaging.

You could also remove the gauze with clean tweezers and place it directly on.

For cleaning wounds:

After removing the gauze as described, dab/soak the gauze in your desired preparation.

Gently dab and apply to the wound, wiping it clean.

If applying a topical substance such as cream or ointment, repeat this process from the first steps - instead applying your ointment.

Use the gauze to apply the substance directly to the wound.

Tip: Never use dirty, contaminated, wet or open gauze when applying directly to a wound.

If you suspect any damage has occurred to the packaging, do not use the product.

Why Are Sterile Gauze Swabs Better Than Non-Sterile Swabs?

So, what exactly is the advantage of sterile gauze swabs over non-sterile?

Well, simply put - using non sterile material of any form to cover a wound presents the risk of introducing bacteria to it.

Open wounds are susceptible to bacteria entry, and when this occurs we can develop infections.

This is why you always hear about the importance of keeping wounds clean; part of this includes using sterile materials.

Non-sterile materials do not guarantee a lack of bacteria, and they are subject to less strict control requirements/regulations.

Only when using sterile gauze swabs can you be confident that you are placing a clean surface over an open wound.

Due to this, sterile swabs can be used for clinical/medical applications and may offer a wider usage variety than non-sterile.

While non-sterile swabs are limited to situations excluding open wounds, sterile swabs can be safely used for many common first aid scenarios.

They are helpful in the many cases that non-sterile swabs are unsuitable.

Open wounds or susceptible areas are quite common situations in both a clinical/medical and first aid context, making sterile gauze essential.

Gauze Swabs

Related Questions:

Where can I purchase gauze swabs?

Chemists, medical supply stores and first aid retailers are some of the best places to purchase gauze swabs from (both online and in store).

Do gauze swabs expire?

Gauze swabs may not necessarily expire the same way medications do, for instance - but the material and contents are prone to degradation/loss of effectiveness over time.

Sterile gauze may not work the same way past its expiry date, so this will often be listed on the product.

It is recommended to replace as needed.


Now that you know the different types of gauze swabs, you are ready to go next time you need to use them for all dressing purposes.

Follow the instructions carefully to make use of this handy first aid essential!


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