General Rules for Dressing Changes

Document created by kbass on Dec 22, 2016Last modified by ssnider on Jan 7, 2017
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Proper cleaning and proper changing of dressing on a wound can aid healing and prevent infection.


Supplies you will need


  • Sterile dressing materials
  • Sterile cotton swabs (Q-tips)
  • Sterile gloves
  • Normal saline


You will also need

  • Clean gloves
  • Plastic trash bag to dispose of old dressings
  • Tape
  • Protective pads (Chux / blue pads) to protect bed linens
  • Clean scissors used only for dressing changes

What to do

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Explain to the patient what you are going to do even if you do not think they can hear you.
  3. Position patient so they are comfortable, while respecting their modesty. Provide exposure of just the dressing site.
  4. Estimate what dressing supplies will be needed and place on a clean work area.
  5. Open the dressing materials. The nurse will show you how to keep materials sterile.
  6. Place protective pads under the body part where the wound is located.
  7. Place garbage bag nearby for soiled dressings.


To remove old dressing

  1. Put on clean gloves (not sterile).
  2. Loosen all tape. Keep skin tight and gently pull the ends of the tape toward the wound.
  3. Remove old dressings, one layer at a time and place in garbage bag.
  4. If dressings stick to the wound, moisten with normal saline to ease removal.
  5. Remove and throw away gloves.
  6. Wash your hands.


To clean the wound

  1. Open sterile supplies by peeling apart the edges and leave each dressing inside the open package.
  2. Put on sterile gloves.
  3. Using swabs dipped in normal saline, clean along the wound edges using small circular motions from one end of the wound to the other.
  4. Clean each side of the wound separately.
  5. Do NOT scrub back and forth across the wound.
  6. Pat the area dry with sterile gauze.
  7. Throw away cleaning materials.


Dress the wound

  1. After the wound is dry, apply dressing as instructed by the nurse or a medical provider.
  2. Tape the dressing in place.


Additional instructions from your nurse

  1. Dressing changes may cause increased pain and/or anxiety for the patient. Ask the nurse or your medical provider if pain or anxiety medication should be given shortly before changing the dressing.
  2. When cleaning the wound, look for signs of infection: redness, increased swelling, increased tenderness, unusual drainage or smell. Report to your nurse or medical provider.
  3. Report fever greater than 100 degrees or if the patient has chills.



Adapted from: The Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice (10th ed.) Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.