Nurse dressing wound with sterile cotton gauze; Cleaning open wound with cotton; Protecting wound with a dressing

Cotton gauze dressings are among the oldest medical supplies, with evidence of its use dating back as far as Ancient Egypt. They are typically a strip of woven or unwoven cotton fabric that serves to clean and protect wounds in first aid and medical settings. These non-adherent first aid items are versatile and come in many forms like swabs, buds, rolls, sponges and sterile/non-sterile pads.

What’s the difference between a sterile and non-sterile pad and when should you use each type?

What is a sterile dressing?

Cotton gauze wound dressing partially unrolled on a blue background

Sterile dressings undergo a thorough sterilisation process to achieve their designation. They are guaranteed to be free from germs, bacteria or dirt, making them suitable for use on open wounds. The sterility of the bandage reduces the risk of infection after the wound has been cleaned.

To protect wounds from contaminants and to maintain sterility, sterile dressings come individually wrapped and sealed.

What is the difference between a clean and a sterile dressing?

Any dressing, sterile or otherwise, should appear visibly clean before you apply it; avoid reusing dressings or using dressings that aren’t sealed. Sterile dressings have gone through an additional process to ensure there are no environmental contaminants – after they are opened, sterility can no longer be guaranteed.

What is a non-sterile dressing?

Non-sterile dressings haven’t been through the strict process of sanitisation that sterile dressings have. As sterility can’t be guaranteed with these dressings, they shouldn’t be used on open wounds. They are better suited for closed wounds like bruises or to secure other dressings in place.

Non-sterile dressings don’t require special storage and tend to be cheaper than sterile ones, making them more convenient and economical.

Read our other blogs for more information on first aid or contact us for further advice and information on our products.

About the author:

Jo Stokes is a writer, marketer and trained first aider at First Aid Online.
Find out more about Jo.