Wound Irrigation: Definition & Procedure

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition and Anatomy courses for several years. He has a B.S. in Exercise Physiology from Furman University and a M.S. in Dietetics & Nutrition from Florida International University. He is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C)

Wound irrigation is the act of flushing a wound with a gentle stream of liquid in order to remove dead tissue or other debris. Learn about this medical procedure.

Wound Irrigation

Have you ever played in lawn sprinklers? When you were a child you may have playfully run through sprinklers on a hot summer day. However, these sprinklers were not designed just for kids to play in them. Rather, they were designed to irrigate grass in order to keep the grass green and healthy. Irrigation is also used in the medical field, but this type of irrigation has nothing to do with grass or children playing.

Wound Irrigation: Definition

Wound irrigation is the act of flushing a wound with a gentle stream of liquid in order to remove dead or necrotic tissue and other debris. Wound irrigation is used to help clean a wound and keep it hydrated. Keeping a wound clean and hydrated ultimately helps the wound heal quickly, much like irrigating a lawn helps the grass to become healthy and grow more quickly.

Wound irrigation is used to remove dead tissue, dirt, or debris. This wound needs irrigation.

During wound irrigation, the pressure of the stream is high enough to remove dead tissue, dirt, debris, and wound care products that have been applied to the wound, but low enough to not damage the wound any further.

One type of wound that often undergoes wound irrigation is an ulcer. Ulcers are chronic wounds that look like open sores and are often filled with necrotic or dead tissue. Irrigating ulcers to remove this dead tissue can help them heal more quickly.

There are a couple different types of fluids that a wound can be irrigated with, including:

  • Water: Water is very accessible and therefore, very easy to use for wound irrigation.
  • Normal saline: Normal saline is the most common fluid used in wound irrigation since it does not have many side effects and it does not alter the normal healing of the wound. Normal saline is an isotonic solution, meaning it has the same osmotic pressure as bodily fluids.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide helps to kill germs and bacteria while flushing the wound. However, its use is controversial because there is some evidence that overusing this solution may slow wound healing.

Wound Irrigation: Procedure

The wound irrigation procedure usually involves using a syringe without a needle or a tool that looks very similar to what dentists use to rinse your teeth with water during a cleaning. These are instruments that produce a stream of liquid necessary to clean the wound. The stream of liquid can either be a continuous, uninterrupted stream or it may be an intermittent stream, which is referred to as pulse irrigation. The procedure will last until all the dead tissue and debris is cleared from the wound. This could take a minute or two, or much longer, depending on wound size and the amount of debris to be removed.


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