The entire process of donating blood will often take about 1 hour 15 minutes, depending on which blood product a person donates. The actual drawing of whole blood takes about 10 minutes.
In this article, we cover how long it takes to donate blood, how to prepare for a blood donation, what to expect from the procedure, and more.
According to the American Red Cross, the process of donating blood usually takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. However, the actual blood drawing is much quicker.
Drawing 1 pint of whole blood takes 8–10 minutes. A few factors influence this time, including the person’s health and medical history.
Donations that require a process called apheresis take longer — typically about 1.5–2 hours. Apheresis is a process for filtering out specific components of the blood to donate, such as:
- red blood cells
- certain leukocytes, such as lymphocytes
The exact time for each of these procedures will vary, but it should not exceed a few hours. In both types of donation, the donor should also factor in time to fill out paperwork and spend some time relaxing after the donation to recover.
Regardless of blood product, the average donor can expect to spend just an hour to a few hours from registration to recovery, and they can go on with their day from there.
Most blood donation centers will require a person to meet certain criteria to donate any blood products. They may also ask additional questions about a person’s medical history to determine whether they are fit to donate blood.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the general requirements for donating blood include:
- being at least 16 years old (in most states)
- being in good health
- weighing at least 110 pounds
People who may not give blood include:
A person might find it helpful to bring the following to a donation:
- forms of identification
- comfortable clothing
- drinks and snacks
- a book, especially for longer procedures via apheresis
Drinking extra water on the day of donation can help keep a person hydrated and increase the likelihood of the donation running smoothly. In fact, many centers will recommend drinking at least 16 extra ounces of water on the day of donation.
Blood donation may occur at various locations, such as a blood donation center, mobile blood drive, or blood bank.
Although the actual process of donating blood is relatively quick, the procedure does take time because it requires paperwork and other protocols to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Before the procedure
Depending on the site of the blood donation, the process may vary slightly, but it usually follows these steps:
- Registering as a donor: The person will fill out donor registration information, such as their name and address. They will also need to present a donor card, driver’s license, or other verified identification.
- Questions: The health practitioner or attendant may ask the person some general questions about their health, medical, and travel history.
- Checks: The attendant may also check simple vitals, such as the person’s temperature, blood pressure, and pulse, before beginning.
During the procedure
The process of donating blood products itself is straightforward and usually consists of :
- Cleaning the skin: The attendant will clean the blood withdrawal site. This is typically a spot on the arm where the forearm and upper arm meet. The veins in this area are close to the surface, making it easier to see and draw blood from them.
- Inserting the needle: After cleaning the area, the attendant will gently insert a sterilized needle into the vein to draw blood from the arm. The insertion will feel similar to a pinch or a sting, but the discomfort generally does not last for more than a couple of seconds.
- Drawing of blood: The drawing of the blood itself occurs naturally, and the person simply has to wait and relax. A pint of whole blood takes about 10 minutes to draw.
Donations via apheresis, which are those involving plasma, platelets, or red blood cells, follow a slightly different process. Instead of going straight into a bag, the blood flows through a tube into a machine that separates out specific components of the blood.
This procedure will vary depending on what the person donates, though the process is similar. Once the machine has filtered out the component that the person is donating, it reinfuses the blood back into the donor.
A person can expect the entire apheresis procedure to take about 2 hours, but it could be slightly shorter for some donations.
Most healthy adults will not experience side effects from donating blood products, and serious complications from blood donation are rare. However, some people may experience mild side effects, such as dizziness or nausea, just after donating.
Due to this, many donation centers will ask the person to sit for 15 minutes after a donation to rest. They may also offer the person something to eat or drink to help the body recover.
After apheresis, some people may experience other mild symptoms, such as pain, bruising, or bleeding at the needle insertion point. Other symptoms might occur as the body recovers, such as nausea, lightheadedness, or dizziness.
After the procedure
Although blood donation is safe in most cases, it does remove blood components and iron from the body, with certain blood products taking more time for the body to replenish. After donating, a person can take care of themselves by:
- Adopting a healthful diet: Anyone donating blood should make sure that they are eating healthfully to recover the lost iron through their diet or supplementation.
- Treating any bruising: Some people may experience bruising around the injection site. If this occurs, they can place an ice pack on the area intermittently for the first day. The following days, they should apply a warm compress to the area to help soothe the bruising as the body recovers.
- Allowing time between donations: A person should leave some time between donations. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a person must wait for a minimum of 56 days between whole blood donations.
After the blood drawing process, the product will undergo testing. It will then remain in storage to be ready when people need the blood. The shelf life of red blood cells is about 42 days, so only regular donations can help maintain the blood supply.
A person may make one blood donation and one platelet donation, or up to six platelet donations, in an 8-week period.
Other facilities may also have their own specific rules about donations, and many only allow donations every 4, 8, or 16 weeks, depending on the type of donation. Check with each center for their specific rules about donation.
Donating blood is a simple and generally risk-free way for people to help others in need. Blood donations often only take about 1–3 hours of a person’s day, from registration to recovery.
Aside from the initial needle insertion, the person should not feel any discomfort. Mild side effects are possible after the procedure, such as lightheadedness. The attendant will often ask the person to relax for 15 minutes and may offer them a juice drink to help the body recover.
A person may experience donation limits if they frequently want to donate blood products. In general, a person must wait 56 days between whole blood donations.
If anyone is uncertain about their eligibility for donating blood, or if they do not know which blood product to donate, they should talk to their local blood bank or donation center for more information.