A Succinct Guide to Waterproofing Dressings

There are going to be certain times you will need to waterproof a dressing, to make showering or swimming possible after an injury. In this article, we go into the best means of waterproofing a dressing!


How to waterproof a dressing

Short answer: check if your circumstance requires waterproofing a dressing. You may ask your doctor, or if it is necessary you will be automatically instructed to. There are certain times you should not waterproof a wound, so ensure you check.

  • You may purchase a waterproof dressing, which will come as a bandage film that has adhesive. Apply your waterproof bandage as per the instructions. Stretch it out over the wound to ensure it fully covers it.
  • If you are going swimming or showering, keeping your wound dry will be especially important. On top of a waterproof bandage, you can use a plastic/rubbish bag to cover your wound for added protection.

When Should I Waterproof a Dressing?

There are certain instances in which it may be mandatory to waterproof a dressing, in order to avoid any moisture exposure to the wound or area.

 Times waterproofing a dressing may be important:

  • Post operation circumstances: it will need to be possible for you to shower or possibly go swimming even with your wound, and this is why you must waterproof your dressing.
  • Acute or lacerated wounds
  • Small-moderate degree chronic exudate wounds (like abrasions)
  • Sterile IV dressings with cannula fixation
  • However; even if it is not mandatory, waterproofing a dressing may have immense benefits like speeding up the healing process - so it can be a good idea either way.

However, there are also times it is precisely the opposite; and waterproofing a dressing is counterproductive.

When to NOT waterproof a dressing:

You should talk to your doctor before waterproofing any dressing unless specifically instructed to do so.

 The following circumstances should be avoided altogether:

  • Wounds/injuries with severe exudates: such as very large burns, fungal infections, currently present infections/suspected infections, and herpetic lesions.
  • Elderly patients or people currently taking steroids should avoid waterproofing wounds as well. This is due to thinning of their skin likely being present in comparison to other individuals, which may result in skin tearing or further issues.

What Products Exist to Waterproof a Dressing?

So, how do you go about waterproofing a dressing; and which products are available to assist you in doing so?

Well, there are a variety of things available on the market to aid you.

Pre-prepared waterproof dressings

You can purchase ready to use dressings for waterproofing your wounds.

Most major chemists or retailers will have them in supply, and this will save you from needing to go to extra lengths when waterproofing a dressing.

These are typically transparent dressings, which are made up of a Polyurethane (PU) film, that will have an adhesive on the side you apply it to the skin.

These dressings are designed in a way that is breathable and still porous - even though they are entirely waterproof.

They will assist in retaining moisture for the wound to speed up the healing process, without allowing it to be exposed to water. Your doctor may suggest these for you at certain times, such as post surgery circumstances.

Brands will vary in price and size.

How to apply the bandage when waterproofing a dressing:

  • Before applying your dressing, ensure your hands are clean or washed with soap and water.
  • When you go to apply it, make sure the dressing film is stretched out. It should extend past the wound area about 1 inch further on all sides.
  • Smooth it over and gently press down the adhesive to ensure it is firmly attached to the skin.
  • When removing, go slowly and carefully, beginning from the corners and then moving towards the center.
  • Change your wound dressing about every 3-5 days or so; or as instructed by your doctor. How frequently changing is required may depend on your situation. Note: If anything comes detached or you notice discomfort/excess wound leakage you should change it straight away.

Showering With a Waterproofed Dressing

Even if you have a waterproof bandage in place, it is important to keep your dressing as dry as possible (particularly in cases such as stitches).

 Here are a few options:

  • You could avoid showering entirely, and instead take a bath standing up and cleansing yourself in this way using a cloth or similar.
  • If you would like to shower, ensure you are using a waterproof bandage: but note you will likely require additional methods on top as they are not foolproof.
  • You can secure/further protect your bandage by using a plastic bag and securing it on to the wound with tape. Plastic gloves can also be used if the wound is on the hand or such area, and secured firmly with waterproof tape.
  • You could use a cling type wrap or rubbish bag if you have no plastic bag on hand.
  • Lastly: there are also products you can purchase that are specifically designed for shower wound coverage. Check with first aid shops or your chemist.

Swimming With a Waterproofed Dressing

It is important to waterproof your wound if you are going swimming.

The reasoning for waterproofing a dressing before swimming is to ensure that the pool water (which will likely contain chlorine) will not irritate your wound or offer any added moisture to it.

It can also prevent wound healing from properly commencing.

One other often overlooked factor is ensuring protection from the UV rays the sun emits. This is another reason waterproofing a dressing when swimming is beneficial.


Instructions for waterproofing a dressing when swimming:

The process for waterproofing a dressing when swimming is quite similar to the one when showering, except in this case you may have additional contaminants to worry about as mentioned above.

Some water bodies have microorganisms in them, so it is also important to know the difference between swimming in a pool versus say, a lake.

1. Prior to applying your bandaid, always ensure your wound is clean. Make sure your hands are washed, and clean the wound with an antibacterial spray/liquid, or wipe.

This is important to prevent bacteria getting trapped.

Some wound plasters/bandages will also have a silver base for dressing and keeping the wound sterile throughout.

2. You can use a waterproof bandage or plaster to cover your wound with. There are many different sizes, and the one you select will depend on your wound area.

Once again, try to make sure it is slightly larger than the wound to properly cover it.

The goal is to make sure there are no wrinkles, so this step is important.

There are varying shapes, sizes (small-large) and plasters designed for specific areas: (e.g fingers).

3. Apply the bandage to your wound, being sure to smooth it out and spread it in a similar manner to the showering instructions.

Again, be gentle when peeling it off, starting from the corners towards the middle to prevent skin tearing.

There are certain times you should avoid swimming with an injury:

  • You have open wounds/exposed sores anywhere that will be exposed to the water
  • The injury/wound is steadily bleeding
  • There is still a lot of redness present on the wound
  • You have stitches that have been placed. You should consult your doctor regarding the most appropriate time for you to begin swimming again, as it may not be allowed.
  • You have sensitive skin that can not handle exposure to chlorine or saltwater/other contaminants at this time.

There are a few general rules to follow when checking the water:

You will also need to factor in the body of swimming water.

Chlorinated water is akin to regular water, but some pools may specify you need a plaster or coverage to swim with a wound.

Check the water condition if you plan to swim in open bodies of water, e.g the beach.

Related Questions:

Can I purchase waterproof bandages from my chemist? Yes. Many chemists will have waterproof bandages. If you are having trouble, check with your doctor or ask your local first aid shop.

What if I am allergic to latex/materials in the adhesive bandages? Check very specifically if you have allergies to any of the materials present in the bandages, or they will irritate your skin.

On occasion, some people may experience skin irritation due to either the adhesive or the bandage film when using a waterproof bandage.

Check with your doctor or ask your chemist for bandages made out of suitable materials for your situation if this occurs.


There are many benefits to waterproofing a dressing, and in certain circumstances it may be crucial. Your doctor will likely discuss this with you.

Ensure that you follow the appropriate steps to waterproofing a dressing, and be vigilant when showering or swimming with a wound.

Monitor your wound to assess the healing progress, and keep it as dry as possible throughout for the best healing results.


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