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The Most Efficient Way to Clean a Wound

Knowing how to clean a wound is an important wound care skill for emergency preppers — the risks and consequences of infection increase dramatically during emergencies, but a few simple steps can prevent a minor problem from becoming a major one that could be fatal.

One of the most significant milestones in medical history was the discovery that microorganisms (such as bacteria) cause infections and that simple steps like hand washing and wound care can easily prevent those infections. Scientists discovered that a small amount of effort can save a large number of lives.

It's simple: your skin's primary function is to keep foreign contaminants out of your body. Bacteria and debris enter the body when the skin is broken.

To avoid trapping the contamination inside, clean that junk out before covering the injury or letting it scab over on its own.

Cleaning a wound is only the first step in wound care:

  • Control the bleeding -- if necessary, use a tourniquet.
  • Purify the wound
  • Close the wound with sutures, staples, glue, or whatever method makes sense.
  • Dressings and bandages should be used to protect the wound.

Infection risks are greatly influenced by the situation: the nature of the wound, the type of contamination that got inside, and whether the patient has quick access to professional medical care. There are technical medical classifications, but understanding the risks of a specific wound is fairly simple if you use your head.

Getting a small paper cut from a newly opened stack of printer paper at the office is unlikely to be a major issue. You may experience pus and redness, both of which are symptoms of a localized infection, but this is normal because your body can keep the infection contained.

When infections overwhelm the patient's defense system and spread throughout the body, major problems arise.

To make matters worse, during bad or prolonged emergencies, immune systems tend to weaken due to disruptions in sleep, food, stress, and so on.

Assume you're using your survival ax to clear downed trees after a hurricane. You nick your leg after fumbling with a swing. The cut may not appear to be serious, but flood waters contain feces and other harmful contaminants, some of which got into the wound.

That superficial wound can develop into a life-threatening systemic infection (called sepsis), which is then exacerbated by everything else going on in the larger emergency and the lack of professional care.

Instructions on how to clean a wound are as follows:
  1. Clean it out when in doubt.
  2. The most important step is flushing. Make liberal use of clean, potable water. Don't use dirty water, hydrogen peroxide, or other chemicals to introduce chemicals or contamination into the wound.
  3. If you have a serious wound and can get professional help, do so.
  4. To avoid recontaminating your work, clean the surface area around the outside of a wound before cleaning the inside.
  5. To see all the nooks and crannies where debris might be hiding, spread/open the wound with your fingers or a clean tool. Just don't aggravate the wound unless you're in a life-threatening situation and can't get help.
  6. Remove foreign objects (for example, a nail in the foot) as long as they do not cause further damage or bleeding.
  7. Before flushing, remove any visible debris. If flushing alone does not remove it, you may need to loosen it up with a toothbrush.
  8. Flushing deep, narrow puncture wounds -- such as a nail straight into the thigh -- only pushes contamination deeper. Allow the outgoing blood to push away whatever it can.


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