How to Drain an Abscess or Boil

Tips for Preventing Infection and Complications

A boil, also known as an abscess or furuncle, is a painful pus-filled bump that is caused by bacteria. Draining these can be tricky, as it may force the bacteria deeper, which can make the infection worse. Because of this, it's best to have a medical professional pop or drain an abscess.

If the boil is on your face or another vulnerable area, or is large, reach out to your doctor before trying to drain it yourself. If you are immunocompromised, meaning your immune system isn't able to fully protect you from diseases, you should also reach out to your doctor.

Verywell / Laura Porter

This article explains what tools are used to pop a boil. It will also cover how this procedure is done by a healthcare provider, as well as how you can drain an abscess at home.

What Is Used to Pop a Boil?

Boils may be drained during an in-office procedure, but some may require surgery. In general, an abscess is drained using sterile, or germ-free, tools, which may include:

  • Disposable gloves
  • Needles
  • Scalpel, which is an instrument with a very sharp blade
  • Irrigating syringe, which is used to clean wounds
  • Sterile saline
  • Dressing, which includes clean and soft materials that keep the wound protected

How Does a Doctor Drain a Boil?

During an in-office procedure, every effort is made to ensure a germ-free environment. The procedure takes around five to 10 minutes in total. The procedure may differ depending on your type of abscess, but in general:

  1. The healthcare provider wears protective clothing and disposable gloves. An absorbent pad is placed under the area to be drained.
  2. The healthcare provider finds the head of the boil. Ethyl chloride, a numbing medication, may be applied at this stage to reduce pain.
  3. The healthcare provider makes a quick nick in the skin to release the pus. A sample of pus may be collected and sent to the lab if you have a severe infection, have a history of recurrent boils, or have a weakened immune system.
  4. Depending on the size of the boil, the healthcare provider may need to make another cut to ensure that all the pus is completely drained.
  5. The wound is flushed out with sterile saline, and bandaged.

Superficial (shallow) boils that affect fleshy parts of the skin may be drained during an in-office procedure. However, some of these may require surgical care if they are large, located on the face or head, or are especially deep.

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Click Play to Learn How to Drain an Abscess Safely and Properly

This video has been medically reviewed by Casey Gallagher, MD.

How Can I Drain an Abscess at Home?

You may feel tempted to lance, or cut, a boil at home, especially if it is small and isn't super painful. You should avoid doing this. Instead, encourage the boil to pop on its own by doing the following:

  • Place a warm, wet cloth on the boil for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, four to five times per day.
  • Cover it with a heating pad to provide additional warmth.
  • In about a week, the boil may open on its own. When it does, wash the affected area with soap and water.
  • Dress the boil with a clean bandage.
  • Continue using heat and re-dressing the boil every day for three days once it has opened.

Reach out to your doctor right away, or head to urgent care if:

  • The boil doesn't open on its own
  • The boil is getting bigger
  • You have a fever
  • You are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms that are getting worse

Summary

A boil, or abscess, is a red bump that is filled with pus. Caused by bacteria, boils can be painful and may range in size from small to large.

To drain an abscess, a doctor will lance, or cut, the skin to remove the pus. Then the doctor will flush out the wound and bandage it.

If you plan on caring for your own boil at home, try not to pop it. This can force bacteria even deeper. Instead, apply a warm, wet washcloth for 20 to 30 minutes up to five times a day. Continue applying heat until the boil opens on its own. Once open, clean it and apply a new bandage every day.

Reach out to your doctor right away if your boil doesn't drain on its own, if you have a fever, or are experiencing uncomfortable or worsening symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it safe to pop a boil at home?

    No. Boils are typically bacterial infections. Putting pressure on one to make it burst can push the infection deeper into the skin. Instead, use warm compresses to draw the infection out for small boils. Then, treat the open wound with antibacterial medication.

    Large boils should be drained by a healthcare provider to prevent complications.

  • How can I stop boils from coming back?

    To prevent recurring boils, keep the skin where you’ve had boils clean and dry every day, and wear loose clothing to prevent irritation. If boils continue to come back, your healthcare provider might prescribe antibiotics and a topical cream.

  • What comes out of a boil when it pops?

    The fluid that comes out of a boil is pus, also known as purulent exudate. Pus may be white and yellow, but can also look brownish or green. Pus is a sign that the body is fighting an infection. It’s made up of white blood cells, the bacteria those cells are fighting, and broken-down tissue from the infected area.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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