11

If I'm out of adhesive bandage, and have a wound to treat, how can I improvise, using duct tape?

Adhesive bandage is actually a sticky tape with a piece of fabric inside, so I could slice a piece of clothing (I assume, cotton would be preferable?), cover the wound with it, and wrap with a duct tape so that it holds.

What should I take into account when doing such improvised bandage? Are there any dangers of using duct tape, for example, ischemia because it's less flexible than real bandage?

11
  • 1
    IF you have "sports tape" (the one used for supporting joints or taping ice packs to your body) I'd rather use that, with some gauze or clothing, if you must (disinfect it!) underneath and over the wound area. Sports tape is at least as adhesive as duct tape and is designed for being on skin. Duct tape will likely give you more skin irritation. May 26 at 8:56
  • I've never used it on a wound, but I've often used it on toes that were showing signs of developing a blister.
    – user2169
    May 26 at 12:37
  • 1
    Tangentially: Duct tape actually works for warts, not that warts fall under "First Aid." webmd.com/men/news/20021015/duct-tape-gets-rid-of-warts May 26 at 13:04
  • 1
    If you're bleeding badly then something is ALWAYS better than nothing. Risking ischemia is better than being dead. When doing construction projects or working on my car I've wrapped wounds that won't stop bleeding in paper towel and duct tape more times than I can recall and I still have all of my appendages. Regular bandages just don't hold as well if your plan is to keep working. My main reason for wrapping is so that I don't get blood on my work surfaces.
    – MonkeyZeus
    May 26 at 14:11
  • @MonkeyZeus I always seem to bleed near joints that need to bend to continue (e.g. cycling, come off, cut knee and elbow). Bandaging a dressing on holds far better than any tape, even tape that can go right round and stick to itself
    – Chris H
    May 26 at 14:58
18

Yes you can. Just be aware that Duct tape is very sticky in comparison to regular medical tape, so when you go to peel it off, it puts a lot more stress on the healing wound and is likely to re-open it.

Ischemia isn't particularly likely unless you are putting pressure on the wound or tightly wrapping all the way around a limb or digit.

One thing that might be of concern is that Duct tape is made in a commercial factory out of substances that haven't been tested for compatibility with human health, whereas medical tape will be made using substances that have been tested for such compatibility. So, you might be more likely to get an allergic reaction to the Duct tape than medical tape, or the Duct tape contains a chemical that inhibits wound healing. Personally I carry a roll of strapping tape (like you use on your ankle when sprained) when hiking for this purpose - it is strong, super sticky, doesn't come off when wet, and works as well as Duct tape for temporary repairs to things like tents.

However, in an emergency, use what you need to and then get professional help!

4
  • 2
    Yeah, while I might put duct tape on a wound in an emergency I would not remove it, I would leave that up to medical professionals. May 26 at 3:12
  • OP specifically mentioned they don't plan to put duct tape directly on the skin ("so I could slice a piece of clothing, cover the would with it, and wrap with a duct tape so that it holds."). Removing the duct tape should not be a problem May 26 at 8:24
  • 4
    @EricDuminil to me this means that the tape is acting like a sticky plaster, with the cloth covering the wound only, tape holding it in place by attachment to skin. I can see your interpretation too - that would work fine, though the risk there is that the cloth+tape slips to a narrower part of the limb
    – bob1
    May 26 at 8:54
  • 3
    In my experience at least, duct tape on skin is MUCH less sticky than medical tape. Might vary by brands though.
    – MaxD
    May 26 at 14:18
8

Given your comment that you want to replace an adhesive bandage, rather than medical tape:

Yes, you can use duct tape + CLEAN cloth for this, but you can do a few things to make it more pleasant.

  1. Cut your fabric large enough so that the edges are far from the actual wound, this will reduce pulling on the wound when you remove the tape.
  2. Only tape around the edges of the fabric. This lets the fabric stretch even if the tape doesn't (if your fabric isn't stretchy, cut it on the bias so that you get some stretch out of it).
  3. Minimize the amount of tape that actually contacts skin. You only need enough to keep the bandage in place.
  4. Even better, don't tape on skin at all if you don't have to. If you are bandaging a finger, wrist, or other similar area, you may be able to keep the bandage in place perfectly well by wrapping cloth entirely around and taping the bandage only to itself (still leave untaped fabric to provide stretch).
  5. Test the stickiness of your tape on some non-injured section of skin. If it seems to be too sticky (painful to remove) then you can repeatedly stick/remove it from non-injured skin to reduce the stickiness before you put it anywhere near the injured area.
  6. Flex your muscles while taping, this will make the tape wrinkly/slack when your muscles are relaxed. (The wrinkles are a bit annoying, but much more comfortable than the bandage being too tight.)

Note that this is probably not the most efficient improvised bandage that you can make. I would rather improvise with women's sanitary pads than cloth (these make really good improvised bandages and are usually individually wrapped) or glue (you should only use approved non-toxic glue on your skin, but really glue bandages are fantastic).

Re: What type of fabric/material to use... It's less dependent on the fiber content (cotton vs any other type) and more dependent on other properties of the material: clean (very important), not fuzzy/sticking to scabs too much but still being absorbent, being comfortable to the touch, moisture wicking/breathable, and being thin/light enough to tape down.

Natural fibers (cotton, linen, bamboo, wool, silk, etc.) probably get a slight edge up on moisture wicking/breathable, but how the material is created has more impact across the board. Something like a lightweight poly tee shirt would be better than a heavy cotton canvas. (Actually there are studies showing that spider silk is one of the best materials for bandages because it also has some antibacterial properties, but probably most people don't keep large quantities of clean spider silk laying around.)

If you dissect a commercial adhesive bandage you'll notice that they achieve all of this with multiple layers, one layer that prevents it from sticking to scabs and then an inside layer that does all the absorbing, and you can use that technique, too. Also note that I keep saying material instead of fabric. You could make a pretty good bandage with one layer of gauze backed up by a couple of layers of paper towel for absorption.

2
  • This is very thorough; any additional thoughts on the "(I assume, cotton would be preferable?)"?
    – uhoh
    May 26 at 22:30
  • 1
    @uhoh I added a section at the end re: materials. May 27 at 15:16
2

FWIW, I have found blue Painter's Tape to be preferable to DuctTape for just about any application imaginable. It's strong,lasts, removes easily, etc. Maybe keep a roll of Painter's Tape in your emergency pack instead of DuctTape.

3
  • 8
    If you have an emergency pack then you should probably just put medical tape in there instead of some non-medical tape alternative.
    – user
    May 26 at 13:36
  • 3
    @user's right; the reason for duct tape would be if you had a tool kit and not a first aid kit with you; then the tape would be selected for it's usefulness in the tool kit.
    – Chris H
    May 26 at 14:59
  • @user good point -- unless you have both a medical kit and a BatmanUtilityBelt general toolkit :-) May 27 at 11:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.