You probably don’t get as many splinters as you did when you were a kid. But they can still zap you when you least expect it.
It might be tempting to ignore a splinter, especially if it doesn’t hurt. But a splinter can become infected, so you should try to get it out as soon as you notice it. Removing a splinter right away means the skin won’t have time to heal over so the splinter will pull out more easily.
Here’s how to remove a splinter:
- Clean the area. Wash your hands, then wash the area surrounding the splinter with soap and warm tap water.
- Sterilize a needle and some tweezers. The best way to do this is to immerse the ends of the needle and tweezers in boiling water or run boiling water over them. Wipe them off with a clean cotton pad, cotton ball, or alcohol pad after boiling.
- Gently pull out the splinter. If the end of the splinter is still poking out of your skin, you should be able to remove it using just tweezers. Be sure the tweezers have a firm grip on the end of the splinter and pull slowly and gently at the same angle as the splinter went into the skin. (Pulling too quickly or at the wrong angle can break the splinter and make it harder to remove the part that remains in your skin.) If there’s no end to grab, use the sterilized needle to gently scrape the skin away from the splinter until there’s enough of an end to grab with the tweezers.
- Clean the wound. Check to be sure all pieces of the splinter came out. Then, wash the area with soap and warm water once more. (You can also dab it with an alcohol pad or rubbing alcohol if you wish.) If the opening left by the splinter is noticeable, it’s a good idea to cover it with a bandage to prevent infection.
When to Call the Doctor
Usually, splinters can be handled at home. But in some cases, you might have to visit the doctor. See a doctor if:
- The splinter seems to be too deep.
- The wound is bleeding a lot.
- It can’t be removed.
- The splinter seems infected (red, puffy, warm to the touch, or containing pus).
Not all splinters can be prevented, but you can help protect yourself with these steps:
- Wear shoes. It makes sense to wear sandals or flip-flops instead of barefooting it over a rough wood boardwalk or deck. But it’s also a good idea to wear water shoes to protect your feet when diving off a dock or wading in water. Of course wood’s not the only thing that splinters. If you drop a glass or bottle (or someone with you does), grab some slippers or shoes until the floor’s been swept.
- Work smart. If you’re working with glass, metal, or wood (such as chopping or sawing tree limbs), eye goggles are a must for protecting your vision. It’s also smart to wear gloves to protect your hands from any flying debris. Also, wear gloves when gardening to protect your hands from thorns.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 2013