Splinters occur when a small, thin fragment of wood or other material punctures the skin and becomes embedded. In most cases, it will be possible to remove the splinter at home.
This article covers simple methods to remove a splinter and explains when a person should seek medical attention.
It is possible to remove a splinter at home using one of several methods. In general, the steps to removing a splinter are:
- Wash and dry the area around the splinter.
- For a small splinter, use a magnifying glass to determine its size and entry point.
- Remove the splinter with sanitized tweezers, if possible.
- Wash and dry the area again and apply a bandage.
However, the best method for removing a splinter will depend on:
- the location of the splinter
- how deep the splinter is
- the size of the splinter
- the direction of the splinter
Below are the most common methods for getting rid of a splinter:
Most people with a small, easy-to-access splinter will use tweezers to remove it. Tweezers make it possible to pinch the splinter and pull it out.
This method involves:
- disinfecting the tweezers with rubbing alcohol
- pinching the end of the splinter between the tweezer’s arms
- pulling the splinter out gently and slowly
Duct tape is a very strong tape that can help remove a deeper splinter.
A person can use duct tape to remove a splinter by:
- cleaning the area thoroughly
- applying duct tape to the splinter
- waiting about 30 minutes
- pulling the tape off
If this method does not work the first time, it is worth trying again.
When the splinter has fully punctured the skin, and no part of the material is visible, an individual may be able to expose part of it using a needle. Having exposed part of the splinter, they can then use the tweezers to remove it.
A person can remove a splinter using a needle and tweezers by:
- disinfecting both the needle and tweezers with rubbing alcohol
- puncturing the skin with the needle over the part of the splinter closest to the surface
- pinching the splinter with the tweezers and pulling it out gently and slowly
Numbing the area beforehand with ice wrapped in a thin cloth may help reduce any discomfort.
While this method still needs medical testing, some people try soaking the area in a solution to draw out a buried splinter.
Some commonly used solutions include:
Using one of these solutions, a person can try to remove the splinter by:
- soaking the splinter in the liquid for a few minutes
- using a sanitized pair of tweezers to remove the splinter once it has surfaced
However, if a splinter is completely beneath the skin, it is usually best for someone to contact a doctor to arrange removal.
If a small splinter is close to the skin’s surface and does not cause pain, a person can often leave it in. Natural skin shedding will typically remove it in time.
However, if there is pain, skin discoloration, swelling, or pus in the area around the splinter, it could indicate an infection. In this instance, an individual should contact a medical professional to remove the splinter and treat any infections.
People should remove splinters of wood, thorns, spines, and vegetative foreign objects as soon as possible because they contain substances that can result in inflammation and infection. Glass, metal, or plastic splinters do not carry as much risk.
Wounds containing foreign objects may also carry bacteria that cause tetanus, a rare condition that may be fatal without proper treatment. The symptoms of tetanus include difficulty opening the mouth, painful muscle spasms, and fever.
In some cases, even if a person is up-to-date on their tetanus vaccination, a doctor may recommend an additional treatment with tetanus immunoglobulin (TIG) to treat this type of wound. TIG contains antibodies that destroy tetanus bacteria.
It is important for a person to assess their wound before choosing a removal method. Things to look for include:
- Is part of the splinter sticking out?
- Where is the splinter located?
- In which direction is the splinter going?
Before getting started, a person should thoroughly wash their hands with soapy water and sanitize any equipment they plan to use, such as tweezers. Always clean the wound after removal to help avoid infection.
If available, use a magnifying glass to help see the splinter. It is also possible to use a lamp or bright natural light from a window.
Finally, it is essential never to squeeze or pinch the skin around the splinter. Applying pressure can cause the splinter to break into more pieces or push further below the surface.
A person should seek medical attention when:
- there is discoloration around the splinter
- the area swells
- the wound is leaking pus
- the splinter is large
- the skin is warm to the touch
- the splinter is near the eye
- the wound is excessively painful
- the splinter is stuck deep in the skin
Below are some common questions about removing splinters:
How do you bring a splinter to the surface?
A splinter that is not deeply embedded can be brought to the skin’s surface using a sterilized needle or tweezers.
How do you remove an embedded splinter?
If the entire splinter is embedded just under the skin, a person can use a sterilized needle to gently pierce the skin’s surface and push out an end of the splinter. They will often then be able to remove the splinter with tweezers. Embedded splinters that are large or deep often require professional help to remove.
Can you soak a splinter out?
In an effort to bring a splinter to the surface, some people soak the area around it for a few minutes in a solution such as hydrogen peroxide, Epsom salt mixed with water, or baking soda mixed with water.
What is the fastest way to remove a splinter?
The fastest way to remove a partially embedded splinter in the skin is to pull it out using duct tape or sterilized tweezers.
A splinter is a common but painful injury that is usually easy to treat at home. Before removing a splinter, a person should follow proper precautions, such as washing their hands and sanitizing any equipment.
Individuals should ask a medical professional to remove the splinter if it is very large, is positioned near the eye, or appears infected.