Surgeons also use stitches, or sutures, to close an incision after finishing a surgical procedure. Stitches consist of thin threads that join the skin together while the cut heals.
In this article, we discuss when it is safe for a person to remove their stitches themselves and how to do it. We also cover what to do afterward and when to see a doctor.
Is it safe to remove your own stitches?
A healthcare provider should remove a person's stitches.
It is best for a person to have a healthcare professional remove their stitches.
A doctor or nurse can make sure that the wound has healed and that the stitches are ready to come out. They can also ensure the safe removal of the stitches to minimize the risk of infection.
Some people may prefer to remove their stitches themselves. In this case, it is essential to check with a healthcare professional that it is safe to take out the stitches before doing so.
To remove their stitches safely, a person will need some basic equipment. They will also need to take some simple precautions to reduce the risk of infection.
When is it safe to do?
Healthcare professionals use two main types of stitch:
- Dissolvable stitches. These do not need removing. Enzymes in the body slowly break them down, and they will eventually dissolve and disappear on their own.
- Nonabsorbable stitches. These come in a variety of materials, such as nylon or silk, and require removal once the wound has healed.
It is essential that people do not remove their stitches until the wound has had sufficient time to heal.
General guidelines on how long to wait before removing stitches are:
- 10–14 days for stitches on the body
- 7 days for stitches on the head or neck
However, recovery time will vary from person to person and depends on several factors, including:
- where the wound is on the body
- the depth of the wound
- the size of the wound
- the general health of the person
A healed wound will usually look pink with closed edges. It should not feel painful, and there should be no blood or fluid coming from it.
However, it is best for a person to check with a healthcare professional before removing their stitches at home.
What do you need?
To remove stitches safely at home, a person will need:
- antibacterial soap
- boiling water
- a clean cloth
- a small pair of scissors
- antiseptic wipes
How to do it
There are different types of stitches, such as baseball stitches, that require specific techniques to remove them safely.
Before removing stitches, it is essential for a person to check that the wound has healed properly and that they have all the necessary equipment at hand.
The method for removal depends on the type of stitching. People who are unsure which type of stitching they have should ask a healthcare professional.
If the wound opens while removing the stitches or there is any bleeding or drainage from the wound, stop immediately and consult a healthcare professional.
How to prepare
To prepare for removing stitches, follow the steps below:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap and warm water.
- Sterilize the scissors and tweezers by placing them in boiling water for at least 20 minutes. Then dry them using a clean cloth.
- Clean the wound and surrounding area with an antiseptic wipe.
- Position yourself in a place where you can see the stitches clearly, such as in natural daylight or under strong lighting.
- Count the number of stitches that are in the skin so you can check that none remain afterward.
To remove individual stitches
The technique for removing individual stitches is as follows:
- Take hold of the knot at the top of the stitch with the tweezers and gently pull upward.
- Slide the scissors under the thread, close to the knot, and cut the thread.
- Carefully pull the broken stitch away from the skin and place it to one side. Do not pull an unbroken stitch or knot through the skin. The stitch should come away easily.
- Repeat this process until you have removed all of the stitches.
- Count the removed stitches and ensure that the number matches the original count.
The other type of stitching that a person may have is a simple running stitch. People sometimes refer to this as a baseball stitch because it resembles the stitching on a baseball.
To remove baseball stitches:
Follow the instructions below to remove baseball stitches:
- Starting at one end of the row of stitches, take hold of the knot with the tweezers and gently pull upward.
- Slide the scissors under the thread and cut the stitch close to the knot, but do not pull out the stitch yet.
- Cut each stitch in the row of stitches until you reach the last one.
- Cut the last stitch in the same way that you cut the first stitch in the row, by taking hold of the knot and then cutting the thread.
- Gently pull on the loose ends of the cut stitches to remove the thread from the skin.
- Check that you have removed all of the stitches from the skin.
What to do afterward
A plaster can protect a wound from infection.
After removing the stitches, it is vital to clean the wound area once more with an antiseptic wipe.
A scar will often remain from the cut or wound, which is a sign that the body has healed itself.
Proper wound care may help reduce the appearance of scarring. This care includes:
- Keeping the wound clean. Avoid getting the wound dirty, which could cause it to become infected. After washing, dry the wound thoroughly with a clean towel.
- Using sun protection. Newly healed wounds are more vulnerable to sun damage. Apply high-factor sunscreen to the wound area or cover it at all times when in sunlight.
- Moisturizing. Applying a moisturizer, particularly one that contains vitamin E or aloe vera, may help reduce scarring.
- Protecting the wound. Depending on the location of the wound, it may be best to avoid any heavy physical exercise or sport for several weeks following stitch removal as this can sometimes cause the wound to reopen. Alternatively, use a bandage or dressing to protect the wound during exercise.
When to see a doctor
If the wound opens during stitch removal or there is any bleeding or drainage, stop immediately and consult a healthcare professional.
It is also important to consult a doctor or nurse if the wound or the skin surrounding it:
- starts bleeding or oozing fluid
- becomes swollen
- becomes painful
- feels hot
- starts blistering or a rash appears
- smells bad
- feels hard or unusual
Any of these symptoms could indicate that the wound has become infected or needs restitching. A person should also seek medical attention if they develop a high temperature or feel feverish.
Healthcare professionals use stitches to close wounds while they heal. To ensure proper healing and reduce the risk of infection and scarring, it is best for a person to have a healthcare professional remove their stitches.
It is advisable to speak to a doctor or nurse before attempting to removing stitches at home. When removing stitches, ensure that the equipment is sterile and keep the wound clean at all times. Seek medical assistance if the wound opens or begins to bleed or leak fluid.