First Aid Tips to Treat a Cut (So It Heals Faster)

Follow these proven first aid steps to prevent infections and scars.

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No matter how many hours you’ve clocked in your kitchen, a nick from your chef’s knife is bound to happen from time to time. Even the pros on those Food Network competitions lose precious minutes after slicing themselves while trying to dice up tomatoes for a last-minute pico de gallo. (BTW, here’s how to dice tomatoes fast—and safely.)

Unlike those culinary competitors, you’re not racing the clock, so safety after a cut should be your number-one priority. Here are the proper first aid steps to treat a minor cut and avoid infections.

  1. Wash your hands. No matter where the cut is on your body, wash your hands with soap and water to prevent infecting the cut with any germs and bacteria on your hands.

  2. Stop the bleeding. Apply gauze with light pressure until bleeding has mostly stopped.

  3. Rinse the cut. Run a gentle stream of water over the cut to rinse out any dried blood or other debris.

  4. Wash around the cut, but skip hydrogen peroxide, which is way too harsh. Even when using soap, however, you should be careful to wash around—not directly on—the cut.  “It can actually damage the tissue,” says nurse practitioner Erik Larson. “Besides hurting, the soap could potentially be abrasive to the tissue.”

  5. Apply antibiotic ointment to the cut. This can help prevent infection and promote scar-free healing.

  6. Wrap the cut with a bandage, and change the wrapping at least once a day. Despite what you may have heard, you don’t want to “let the cut breathe.” That’s now considered outdated medical advice. A cut will actually heal better in a moist environment, so covering with ointment and keeping it under a bandage is the best option for healing.

These first aid steps should do the trick for most minor cuts, but if your cut starts to swell, become painful, or turns a dark red color, call your doctor—you may have an infection that might need more serious treatment. If you’re at all worried if your cut needs stitches, play it safe and call the doctor. Oh, and don’t forget to check up on your tetanus shot. If you haven’t had one in the last five years, you may need a booster shot ASAP.

If you find yourself cutting your fingers frequently in the kitchen, you might want to brush up on your knife skills. Check out our tutorials for how to chop an onion in six steps and how to cut a mango.