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How to Change a Surgical Wound Dressing


Close-up of a person applying a new wound dressing

Hopefully, you'll never need to know how to dress a wound. But if you do ever have to change a wound dressing, whether its for a simple cut or if something more serious, this handy step-by-step guide can help. It's a simple process, but one that’s important to do correctly to avoid infection. Even if you’ve never changed a dressing before, these seven steps for dressing a wound will guide you through it with flying colors.

1. Get the right wound-care supplies. Gather the following items before you start your wound-dressing change, and place them on a sterile surface mat to keep them clean:

  • Sterile gloves
  • Saline water
  • Scissors
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Gauze pads or rolled gauze
  • Non-stick pad
  • Tape or wrap (depending on the location of the wound; cutting the tape or wrap ahead of time will make it easier to apply. Also, if you’ve never changed this particular wound dressing before, take note of how the existing pad is secured so you can follow suit with the new one.)

2. Wash and dry your hands. Then put on a new pair of sterile gloves.

3. Remove the old wound dressing. Carefully loosen the old dressing, then remove it. Use a little saline water to loosen any sticky parts. Be careful not to remove any tape the surgeon used to close the wound.

4. Clean the wound. Remove a gauze pad or sponge from its wrapping to begin the wound cleaning (don't do this ahead of time, only do it once you've removed the old dressing to keep the pad or sponge sterile). Wet the gauze with saline water and carefully clean any visible blood or other fluids from the wound.

5. Let the wound dry. While you're waiting, check the wound for any signs of infection.

6. Apply the new dressing. First, apply antibiotic ointment to the wound, then apply a new nonstick pad to the wound, plus any extra gauze it may need for cushioning.

7. Secure the new wound-care dressing. Do this with tape or with a wrap, depending on where the wound is located.

  • If you’re using tape, apply it to two or more edges of the pad so it’s secure.
  • If you’re using a wrap, wrap it around the bandage so that it’s firm but comfortable.

You’re done! Dressings should be changed at least twice a day or whenever blood has soaked through the bandage.


©Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. 2019

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