Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD003861. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003861.pub2.

Water for wound cleansing.

Author information

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

Update in



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 with other solutions for wound cleansing.


Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials were identified by electronic searches of Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register (June 2007), MEDLINE (1996-2007), EMBASE (1980-2007), CINAHL (1982-2007) and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (Issue 3; 2007). 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 authors and checked by a third author. Differences in opinion were settled by discussion. Some data were pooled using a random effects model.


Eleven trials were included in this review. Seven trials were identified that compared rates of infection and healing in wounds cleansed with water and normal saline, three trials compared cleansing with no cleansing and one trial compared procaine spirit with water. There were no standard criteria for assessing wound infection across the trials which limited the ability to pool the data. The major comparisons were water with normal saline, and tap water with no cleansing. For chronic wounds, the relative risk of developing an infection when cleansed with tap water compared with normal saline was 0.16, (95% CI 0.01 to 2.96). Tap water was more effective than saline in reducing the infection rate in adults with acute wounds (RR 0.63, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.99). The use of tap water to cleanse acute wounds in children was not associated with a statistically significant difference in infection when compared to saline (RR 1.07, 95% CI 0.43 to 2.64). No statistically significant differences in infection rates were seen when wounds were cleansed with tap water or not cleansed at all (RR 1.06, 95% CI 0.07 to 16.50). Likewise, there was no difference in the infection rate in episiotomy wounds cleansed with water or procaine spirit. The use of isotonic saline, distilled water and boiled water for cleansing open fractures also did not demonstrate a statistically significant difference in the number of fractures that were infected.


There is no evidence that using tap water to cleanse acute wounds in adults increases infection and some evidence that it reduces it. However there is not strong evidence that cleansing wounds per se increases healing or reduces infection. In the absence of potable tap water, boiled and cooled water as well as distilled water can be used as wound cleansing agents.

Update of

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk