We studied the effect of different occlusive dressings and of air exposure on the growth of four pathogenic bacteria in wounds. Partial-thickness wounds on domestic pigs were inoculated with Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, Bacteroides fragilis, or Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Each wound was covered with three dressings (DuoDERM, Opsite, or Vigilon), or left exposed to air. Groups of wounds were sampled at 24, 48, and 72 hours. Staphylococcus aureus reached high levels beneath all of the dressings and in the air-exposed wounds. The numbers of C perfringens and B fragilis were greatly reduced in the air-exposed wounds and slightly reduced in the Opsite-covered wounds. The numbers of P aeruginosa were greatest in the Opsite- and Vigilon-covered wounds. The results indicate that occlusive dressings are not indicated in wounds that clinically appear to be grossly contaminated or that may contain anaerobic organisms.