How To Clean Stitches?

Keeping stitches clean is vital to prevent infection in the wound and to reduce any potential scarring. Learn how to clean stitches below.

Why clean stitches?

The wound itself will be cleaned thoroughly before the stitches are applied, and all of the equipment used to place the stitches will be sterilized before use. The wound should therefore be clean when you leave the hospital, but this does not mean that the stitches will stay clean.

It is extremely important to keep the stitches clean, because whilst they are used to aid the recovery of wounds, they protect the body against infection. An open wound is the perfect entry point for bacteria, viruses and diseases to make their way into the bloodstream. A wound which has been stitched up is still open and is therefore still an area at high risk of infection.

Cleaning the stitches regularly, and keeping them clean, is a vital part of preventing the wound from becoming infected. It also aids recovery, and could make the wound heal more quickly than it would do otherwise. There has even been medical research conducted which found that regularly cleaning your stitches can also prevent scarring, or make the scars much less prominent once they do form.

How to clean stitches

Cleaning stitches is easy, with no specialist skills or equipment needed. Stitches can be cleaned from the comfort of your own home, with no need to ask healthcare professionals for help.

Below is a step-by-step guide explaining how to clean stitches:

  • Don’t let the stitches get wet for the first 48 hours
  • Do not try to clean the stitches until 2 days after they have been placed
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before starting the cleaning process
  • Use a gentle soap and cool water to wash around the area
  • Wash the area as close to the stitches as you can, but do not wash the stitches directly
  • Do not apply much pressure, or strain the stitches
  • Wash the site twice a day
  • Dry the stitches by dabbing them with a clean paper towel
  • Do not rub the area
  • Do not use a towel, cloth or anything which could leave fibers in the wound
  • Replace the gauze or bandage over the stitches with a clean dressing

Some stitches may be easier to clean than others. There are certain factors which can make it more difficult to clean the stitches and to keep them clean. Things which can make it harder to clean stitches:

  • Location of the stitches
  • Being covered by gauze or bandages
  • The size of the wound underneath
  • The type of stitches used

If the stitches are in a difficult-to-reach place, such as the top of the head, the neck, back or shoulders, this can makes things difficult. In this case it might be easier to ask a friend or family member to help you to clean the stitches.

If the stitches are covered by gauze or bandages, this is not a replacement for cleaning. Even if they are covered up, the stitches underneath will still need to be cleaned at least once a day. Sometimes the gauze can get stuck to the stitches. It is therefore important to be gentle when you remove the gauze so as not to pull at the stitches or open the wound back up again.

The size of the wound which has been stitched can also make things more difficult. Smaller wounds may have stitches which are closer together. This makes it harder to clean around the stitches. Larger and deeper wounds can be prone to bleeding more. When the blood dries, it can get caught in the stitches and make it more difficult to get the stitches clean without applying too much pressure to the wound. If this is a problem, try to use more water to flush the wound clean.

Protecting your stitches

Keeping stitches clean is just one part of caring for them. There are also many other precautions which need to be taken in order to properly care for your stitches. These precautions include:

  • Do not scratch the stitches
  • Keep the stitches dry
  • Do not go swimming
  • Do not take part in strenuous activity or contact sports
  • Avoid exposing the stitches to sand, dirt, paint or other substances

How to spot an infection

Be careful to look out for the signs of an infection in the wound, and seek medical attention if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Swelling of the wound
  • Increased redness around the stitches
  • Blood or pus oozing from the wound
  • giving off an unpleasant smell
  • Fever
  • Increased pain
  • Excess heat coming from the wound

Removing Stitches

There are several different types of stitches, and not all of them will need to be removed. Some stitches are designed to dissolve naturally after about a week, so patients with these stitches will not need to return to the hospital, surgery or clinic to have them removed. You will be told by the doctor, nurse or healthcare professional when to return to have the stitches taken out, if you do need to come back.

Wounds on different parts of the body will heal at different rates. For example, head wounds can heal faster than wounds over joints such as knees and elbows.

Head stitches - remove after 3 - 5 days

Joint stitches - remove after 10 - 14 days

Other parts of the body - remove after 7 - 10 days

Preventing scarring

After a laceration has been made, either to facilitate surgery, or as a result of a wound or injury, even if the wound is treated quickly, there will almost always be some scarring. There are some things which you can do to minimise the scarring, although there is no way of preventing the scar altogether.

  • Clean the wound regularly
  • Wear sunscreen and keep the wound covered up in direct sunlight
  • Silicone gels
  • Massage
  • Onion extract

Skin which has been damaged is much more likely to be affected by sunlight. In the first six months after an injury or operation, the skin is likely to become discolored when exposed to the sun. It’s important to keep sunscreen out of the stitches themselves, but make sure that the surrounding area is protected and that the wound is covered. Wait at least 2 weeks after the wound has fully healed before applying sunscreen directly to the affected area.