Dressings have a part to play in the management of wounds; whether they are sutured or open, usually chronic wounds of many aetiologies which are healing by secondary intention. They traditionally provide a moist wound environment, but this property has been extended through simple to complex, active dressings which can handle excessive exudate, aid in debridement, and promote disorganised, stalled healing. The control of infection remains a major challenge. Inappropriate antibiotic use risks allergy, toxicity and most importantly resistance, which is much reduced by the use of topical antiseptics (such as povidone iodine and chlorhexidine). The definition of what is an antimicrobial and the recognition of infection has proven difficult. Although silver has been recognised for centuries to inhibit infection its use in wound care is relatively recent. Evidence of the efficacy of the growing number of silver dressings in clinical trials, judged by the criteria of the Cochrane Collaboration, is lacking, but there are good indications for the use of silver dressings, to remove or reduce an increasing bioburden in burns and open wounds healing by secondary intention, or to act as a barrier against cross contamination of resistant organisms such as MRSA. More laboratory, and clinical data in particular, are needed to prove the value of the many silver dressings which are now available. Some confusion persists over the measurement of toxicity and antibacterial activity but all dressings provide an antibacterial action, involving several methods of delivery. Nanocrystalline technology appears to give the highest, sustained release of silver to a wound without clear risk of toxicity.