How should I care for my stitches?

Information written and reviewed by Certified Doctors.

If you have stitches, take care to:

  • keep them clean and dry
  • watch out for any increase in redness, swelling or pain

This will reduce your risk of developing an infection.

Your doctor or nurse should tell you how to care for your wound. If you are unsure what to do, ask your healthcare team for advice.

Protect your stitches

It's important not to scratch your stitches; even though they're strong, scratching may damage them.

You should avoid contact sports, such as football or hockey, to give your wound the best possible chance to heal.

You should not go swimming until your wound has healed and your stitches have been removed.

If your child has stitches, don't let them play with water, mud, sand and paint.

Playing with things like these could cause the wound area to get dirty or sore, or cause an infection.

Children may also be advised to avoid PE at school until their wound has healed.

Signs of infection

Watch out for any signs of infection near the stitches, such as:

  • swelling
  • increased redness around the wound
  • pus or bleeding from the wound
  • the wound feeling warm
  • an unpleasant smell from the wound
  • increasing pain
  • a fever of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • swollen glands

If you have any of the above symptoms, speak to your GP. You could also visit a walk-in centre or minor injuries unit.

Removing stitches

You will be told if you need to return to your GP or a nurse to have your stitches removed. These are the usual time periods:

  • stitches on your head – you'll need to return after 3 to 5 days
  • stitches over joints, such as your knees or elbows – you'll need to return after 10 to 14 days
  • stitches on other parts of your body – you'll need to return after 7 to 10 days

Some stitches are designed to dissolve gradually and will disappear on their own.

Can I get my stitches wet in the bath or shower?

Try to keep your stitches dry for at least 48 hours after surgery.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when you can get your stitches wet or if they need to be kept dry. This may depend on what kind of wound and dressing you have.

When can I have a bath or shower after surgery?

It's safe to shower 48 hours after surgery. After 48 hours, surgical wounds can get wet without increasing the risk of infection.

After this time, you can get your stitches wet briefly with a light spray (such as in the shower), but they shouldn't be soaked (for example, in the bath). Make sure you pat the area dry afterwards.

Dressings

If you have a dressing over your stitches, avoid getting it wet.

Some dressings are waterproof, so you could wet your dressing lightly – for example, with the spray from a shower. However, you shouldn't submerge your dressing under water. If you're not sure whether your dressing is waterproof, avoid getting it wet.

Do not remove the dressing unless you're advised to do so by a healthcare professional.

Keeping stitches dry

If you have been advised to keep your stitches dry, you could:

  • cover your stitches when you have a shower – for example, with a waterproof dressing, or you could use a rubber glove or plastic bag
  • have a wash standing in a bath tub, using a cloth to clean yourself and avoiding your stitches

Dab your stitches dry with a clean towel after washing, even if the wound area didn't get wet, to ensure the area is completely dry

If your stitches get wet accidentally, simply dry the area immediately with a clean towel and make sure all the moisture around the stitches is soaked up.

If your stitches get wet and you're worried, call your GP.

How long will my stitches (sutures) take to dissolve?

The time it takes for dissolvable or absorbable stitches to disappear can vary.

Most types should start to dissolve or fall out within a week or two, although it may be a few weeks before they disappear completely. Some may last for several months.

Ask your surgeon or the health professional treating you about the type of stitches you've been given and how long they expect it will take for them to dissolve.

If your wound has healed and your stitches are bothering you, you might want to consider making an appointment at your GP surgery to have them removed by the practice nurse, rather than waiting for them to dissolve completely.

Content supplied by NHS Choices