Saline water vs. soap: Which is better for cleaning wounds?

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows soap and water is less effective than saline water at cleaning wounds, a finding that could result in significant cost savings.

Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in collaboration with the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal conducted the study using 2,400 people with open arm or leg fractures. The participants either had their wound cleaned with soap and water or a saline water solution at one of three different water pressure levels. The patients were monitored for 12 months.

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The researchers found that very low water pressure is acceptable, and that patients whose wounds were cleaned with soap had a higher reoperation rate than the saline group.

"These findings may have important implications for the care of patients with open fractures worldwide since developing countries deal with a disproportionate number of cases," said Edward Harvey, MDCM, co-author of the study and chief of orthopedic trauma at the McGill University Health Centre. "Most of the time we were using soap and water with a high pressure delivery system to clean the wound, but now we don't, and that makes the best practice much cheaper."

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