How do I apply plasters and other dressings?

Wash and dry your hands before applying any dressing, and wear disposable surgical gloves if you have them.

Also:

  • sit or lie down, or get the person who's bleeding to do this
  • if you're helping someone else, tell them what you're doing as you apply the dressing
  • stop any bleeding by applying pressure and raising the affected leg or arm higher than the heart 
  • use a dressing that's slightly bigger than the wound you want it to cover
  • hold the dressing at the edges, keeping your fingers away from the part that's going to cover the wound

Sterile dressing pads attached to bandages

Sterile (hygienic) dressing pads come in a protective wrapping. Once out of the wrapping, they're no longer sterile.

When applying one:

  • clean and dry the wound and surrounding skin
  • hold the bandage on either side of the pad
  • lay the pad directly on the wound
  • wind the short end once around the limb and the pad
  • wind the other end around the limb to cover the whole pad
  • tie the ends together over the pad to secure it, and put slight pressure on the wound

Dressings should be replaced on a regular basis

If the wound is severe, you may need to go to a minor injuries unit after applying the dressing.

If you can't stop the bleeding, go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department as soon as possible.

Plasters (adhesive dressings)

Plasters are made from a piece of gauze and have a sticky (adhesive) backing. They're usually wrapped in single sterile packs.

They sometimes come in different shapes and sizes, or you can cut them to size. Some plasters are waterproof.

When applying one:

  • clean and dry the wound and surrounding skin – see How do I clean a wound?
  • unwrap the plaster and hold it by the protective strips with the pad side facing down
  • peel back the strips, but don't remove them
  • place the pad on the wound, pull away the strips, and press the edges of the plaster down

Plasters should be replaced every time they get dirty or wet, or if the blood soaks through.

A small number of people are allergic to the adhesive strips – ask them if this is the case before applying a plaster.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 26/05/2017

Next review due: 26/05/2020