Wound irrigation in children: saline solution or tap water?

Ann Emerg Med. 2003 May;41(5):609-16. doi: 10.1067/mem.2003.137.


Study objective: Irrigation, a critical component of wound management, is commonly performed with sterile normal saline solution. The purpose of this study was to compare the infection rates of wounds irrigated with normal saline solution versus those of wounds irrigated with running tap water.

Methods: A prospective trial was conducted in an urban pediatric emergency department. Tap water pressure and flow rates were measured, and cultures were obtained before the study and at 5 months after study initiation. Patients 1 to 17 years of age presenting to the pediatric ED with a simple laceration were eligible. Exclusion criteria included immunocompromise, complicated lacerations, or current use of or need for antibiotics. Patients were allocated to the running tap water group or the standard normal saline solution irrigation group. Wounds were closed in standard fashion. Patients returned to the pediatric ED in 48 to 72 hours for evaluation.

Results: Two hundred seventy-one patients were enrolled in the normal saline solution group and 259 in the tap water group. Tap water and normal saline solution pressures and flow rates differed. The groups did not differ in terms of patient demographic characteristics or wound characteristics. However, more wounds were located on the hand in the tap water group (21.3%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 16.3% to 27.1%) compared with those in the normal saline solution group (9.2%; 95% CI 5.9% to 13.4%). The wound infection rates were similar in the 2 groups (normal saline solution group: 2.8% [95% CI 1.1% to 5.7%] versus running tap water group: 2.9% [95% CI 1.2% to 5.9%]).

Conclusion: There were no clinically important differences in infection rates between wounds irrigated with tap water or normal saline solution. Tap water might be an effective alternative to normal saline solution for wound irrigation in children.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Fresh Water*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lacerations / therapy*
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sodium Chloride*
  • Therapeutic Irrigation / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wound Infection / epidemiology
  • Wound Infection / microbiology
  • Wound Infection / prevention & control*


  • Sodium Chloride