Using drinkable tap water to clean wounds does not increase infection rates, according to the findings of a Cochrane Review. There is, however, no evidence that it reduces infection rates or increases healing rate over leaving the wound alone.
Cleaning wounds caused by injuries is part of standard medical care, but there is a vigorous debate about how best to do it. Research shows that using chemical-containing antiseptic may slow wound healing. Many people recommend saline (salt solution) instead, but others worry that this will wash away growth promoters and infection-fighting white blood cells. Sterile saline is also not always available and can be expensive.
As an alternative to saline, some suggest using drinkable tap water, or clean water that has been boiled.
Cochrane Researchers considered data from eleven trials that compared rates of infection and healing in wounds when treated with various cleansing regimes.
In adults, wounds cleansed with tap water had significantly fewer infections than those cleansed with saline. There was no difference between wounds cleansed with tap water and those that received no cleaning.
In situations where a broken bone had punctured the skin, there was no significant difference between cleansing with saline, distilled water or boiled water.
"The decision to use tap water to cleanse wounds should take into account the quality of water, nature of wounds and the patient's general condition," says lead author Ritin Fernandez who works in the Centre for Applied Nursing Research in Liverpool BC, Australia.