If you’re concerned about infection, any break in the skin—from a major surgical incision to a small razor nick—is a big deal. Here’s how to properly care for yourself to minimize your risk and keep you on the road to recovery.

If you are caring for an incision from a recent injury or surgery

  • First and most importantly, plan to follow your doctor’s specific advice about caring for your wound, and to continue to follow it until he or she gives you an all-clear.

  • Before you touch the bandage, remove all your jewelry and clean your hands carefully. For tips on how to safely wash your hands, click here.

  • Then, assemble all your supplies — before you begin unwrapping the wound.

  • Use a medical glove to pull off the old dressing and put it into a waterproof plastic bag. If the dressing sticks to the wound, follow your doctor’s instructions for loosening it.

  • Wash your hands again before you clean the wound and put on new dressing.

  • Clean your wound as directed by your doctor, using either saline solution or mild soapy water, then use a soft cloth or piece of gauze to gently dry the wound.

  • Note any important changes to the wound: More redness, pain, swelling or discharge could be a sign of infection, as could a wound that suddenly appears larger or deeper. If anything seems wrong, call your doctor immediately.

  • Dress the wound in new bandages as you’d been instructed.

  • Wash your hands again when you are finished.

  • Double the plastic bag before depositing it into the trash.

If you hurt yourself at home, during recovery

  • If the bleeding is especially heavy or can’t be stopped after 10 minutes, call 911.

  • If it’s a minor cut or puncture, wash your hands carefully before you try to treat the wound.
  • Then run the cut under cold water and wash with mild soap.

  • If necessary, use direct pressure to stop the bleeding.

  • Apply antibacterial ointment and a clean bandage that will not stick to the wound.

  • If the wound is serious, especially deep—requiring stitches—or if it was caused by an animal or human bite, a fishhook, or a rusty nail, call your doctor immediately.