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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(4):CD003861.

Water for wound cleansing.

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  • 1Centre For Applied Nursing Research, Locked bag 7103, Liverpool BC, Australia, 2170.

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Various solutions have been recommended for cleansing wounds, however normal saline is favoured as it is an isotonic solution and does not interfere with the normal healing process. Tap water is commonly used in the community for cleansing wounds because it is easily accessible, efficient and cost effective, however, there is an unresolved debate about its use.


The objective of this review was to assess the effects of water compared to other solutions for wound cleansing.


Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials were identified by electronic searches of Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Trials Register, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register. Primary authors, company representatives and content experts were contacted to identify eligible studies. Reference lists from included trials were also searched.


Randomised and quasi randomised controlled trials that compared the use of water with other solutions for wound cleansing were eligible for inclusion. Additional criteria were outcomes that included objective or subjective measures of wound infection or healing.


Trial selection, data extraction and quality assessment were carried out independently by two reviewers and checked by a third reviewer. Differences in opinion were settled by discussion. Some data were pooled using a random effects model.


Three trials were identified that compared rates of infection and healing in wounds cleansed with water and normal saline, two compared cleansing with no cleansing and one compared procaine spirit with water. There were no standard criteria for the assessment of wound infection across the trials which limited the ability to pool the data. The major comparisons were water vs normal saline, and tap water vs no cleansing. For chronic wounds, the odds of developing an infection when cleansed with tap water compared with normal saline was 0.16, 95 % Confidence Interval (CI) 0.01, 2.96. Use of tap water to cleanse acute wounds was associated with a lower rate of infection than saline (OR 0.52, 95 % CI 0.28, 0.96). No statistically significant differences in infection rates were seen when wounds were cleansed with tap water or not cleansed at all (OR 1.06, 95 % CI 0.06, 17.47). Similarly there was no difference in the infection rate in wounds cleansed with water or procaine spirit and those cleansed with isotonic saline, distilled water and boiled water (OR 0.55, 95 % CI 0.18,1.62).


Although the evidence is limited one trial has suggested that the use of tap water to cleanse acute wounds reduces the infection rate and other trials conclude that there is no difference in the infection and healing rates between wounds that were not cleansed and those cleansed with tap water and other solutions. However the quality of the tap water should be considered prior to its use and in the absence of potable tap water, boiled and cooled water as well as distilled water can be used as wound cleansing agents.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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