Hydrogen peroxide has been thought to be an effective way to clean wounds, because it is an antiseptic that is not painful when applied to open flesh. Some studies, however, have indicated that hydrogen peroxide might not useful for treating wounds, because it damages new tissue, resulting in delayed healing. Many experts believe that hydrogen peroxide is helpful for cleaning surface dirt and debris from minor wounds when soap and water are not available, but long-term use of peroxide on wounds is discouraged because of the abrasive nature of peroxide.
The application of peroxide on wounds produces an effervescent bubbling that makes it look like the wound is being thoroughly cleansed. Researchers who discourage the use of peroxide as a wound treatment do not deny that peroxide kills dirt and bacteria. A major disadvantage of peroxide is that the solution is so abrasive — even when diluted with water — that the natural healing process that takes place within the skin cells is halted following application. The damage that peroxide does to the skin might manifest with dryness, itching and discoloration around and inside the wound. Wounds that have been treated with peroxide typically take longer to heal than wounds that have been treated with soap and water, and a wound that is open longer has a greater risk of infection.
Although hydrogen peroxide is not recommended as a primary treatment for wounds, it can help keep a wound clean in an emergency. When soap and water are not available, peroxide can clean the wound by dissolving dirt and debris or pushing it out with its foaming bubbles. Peroxide is low in cost and portable, and it is often used on minor wounds acquired during outdoor accidents when other treatment methods cannot be accessed. When there is dried blood on the surface of the wound, peroxide can be highly effective, because it will dissolve the blood and leave the wound clear for other treatments.
Experts recommend rinsing a wound with water and cleaning it with soap instead of regularly using peroxide on wounds. Antibiotic ointment can be applied to prevent infection or treat existing infections. A medical professional should be contacted when a wound is severe or an infection has persisted for several days. Antibiotic ointment is preferred over using peroxide on wounds, because antibiotic ointment is gentle and moisturizing, promoting healing instead of hindering it. The wound should be cleaned with soap and water at least twice each day, and all instructions on the packaging should be followed when applying antibiotic ointment, until the wound has healed.