How to Treat a Burn from Boiling Water

Lesson Transcript
Jennifer Brest

Jennifer has a Master's Degree in Nursing. Her specialty is pediatrics. She has worked in hospital care, primary care, home care, government, and teaching.

Expert Contributor
Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college physics and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is pursuing his doctorate study.

Discover how to treat a burn caused by boiling water. Explore the steps of basic first aid from a scalding wound, when to seek additional medical attention, and the ongoing care to ensure proper healing. Updated: 01/11/2022

Getting Burned

A burn caused by boiling water or any hot liquid or steam is called a scald. Most scalds are caused by cooking, serving, or drinking hot liquids. Did you know it takes only one second to be scalded by a freshly brewed cup of coffee? Other scalds are caused by hot tap water when water heaters are set to dangerously high temperatures.

Prevention is the best treatment, but, let's face it, accidents happen. You head for your favorite chair with a mug of hot coffee for what you think will be a few moments of peace, and suddenly your toddler barrels into you and there is coffee everywhere. What will you do?

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  • 0:05 Getting Burned
  • 0:43 Basic First Aid
  • 3:07 Medical Attention
  • 4:35 Ongoing Care
  • 5:57 Lesson Summary
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Basic First Aid

1. Cool the area

Immediately run the scalded area are under cool water for at least 20 minutes. Twenty minutes may seem like a long time, but your objective is to cool the burn quickly and completely. Any heat retained in the skin can continue to burn it. Have you ever come home from the beach and you were more sunburned hours after you got home than you were when you left the beach? That heat was still in your skin and continued to burn you even though you weren't in the sun anymore. The same thing can happen with a scald.

Treatments like butter, lotions, oils, flour, toothpaste, and onions can make things worse by retaining the heat and/or causing infection, so don't use them. Don't use ice either; it will cause more skin damage. Stick with cool, not cold, water only. Some authorities suggest soaking the area rather than placing it under running water, so as to cause less skin damage. That is fine if the scalded area is small. If the area is very large or if you are soaking the whole person, it can cause hypothermia. Be sure to keep the person warm while keeping the scald cool.

2. Remove jewelry and clothing around the scalded area

This does two things: reduces the temperature (metal jewelry especially will retain heat) and makes room for swelling. If that wedding ring just won't come off, place cold packs around it. Do not remove clothing that is already stuck to the skin; for that, seek medical attention.

3. Pat the area dry

The towel should be clean to prevent infection, and should not be one that will shed lint or fibers into the burn. Pat the area, don't rub it, because rubbing may cause further skin damage.

4. Do not open blisters

Infections are a common complication of burns and scalds, and opening a blister greatly increases the chance of infection. However, if the blister is in a place that prevents you from moving the area (for example, on a knuckle so that you cannot bend your finger), seek medical attention. If you can't move the area, the skin may heal too tightly, permanently restricting movement. The doctor will need to treat the blister so that doesn't happen.

5. Bandage the wound

At this point, you can use an antibiotic ointment. Apply the ointment, then cover the scald with a nonstick dressing like Telfa that has no lint or fibers. Keep it loose to allow for swelling. Don't happen to have Telfa handy? Plastic cling-wrap is a good temporary substitute.

Medical Attention

Many burns can be handled at home. If needed, seek medical attention immediately after you have performed first aid. Remember, the first priority is cooling the burn, so get medical care promptly, but don't delay cooling by driving to the emergency room or by waiting to be seen once you get there. If you need to, call 911 and cool the burn while you wait for help to arrive.

If any of the following conditions exist, you should seek medical attention:

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Additional Activities

Burn from Boiling Water: True or False Activity

This activity will help assess your knowledge of the treatment and common remedies of burn from boiling water or scalds.


A scenario is presented below that shows symptoms that may or may not be related to scalds. From this scenario, determine whether the following statements are true or false. To do this, print or copy this page on a blank paper and underline or circle the answer.

1. The burn sustained by Cloe's hands is known as scald. True | False

2. Blisters refer to the small bubbles or sacs that appeared on her hand. True | False

3. The application of toothpaste in the affected areas will greatly reduce the risk of infection. True | False

4. From the symptoms, Cloe has sustained a third-degree burn. True | False

5. Cloe's hands should be kept elevated to minimize the swelling. True | False

6. Cold compress is necessary to minimize the subsequent pain and itching. True | False

7. Moving the affected area will cause her skin to tighten. True | False

8. Opening a blister will greatly increase the chance of infection. True | False

9. Cloe's case does not require medical attention. True | False

10. Her parents should clean her wound every day, reapply the antibiotic ointment, and apply a new bandage. True | False

Answer Key

  1. True
  2. True
  3. False, because the correct statement is: The application of antibacterial ointment in the affected areas will greatly reduce the risk of infection.
  4. False, because the correct statement is: From the symptoms, Cloe has sustained a second-degree burn.
  5. True
  6. True
  7. False, because the correct statement is: Moving the affected area will prevent the skin from tightening.
  8. True
  9. False, because the correct statement is: Cloe's case requires medical attention as she sustained a second-degree burn.
  10. True

Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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