How to Remove Steri-Strips After Surgery

Knowing when it's safe and when to leave them alone

Steri-Strips, also called butterfly stitches or butterfly closures, are sometimes used to hold together skin after a surgical incision, or a cut into tissues. Your healthcare provider may use Steri-Strips in place of stitches or in addition to them to support healing of the outer skin.

If you've recently undergone surgery, you may be told to wait until these bandages fall off naturally, or you may be told to remove them after a certain number of days. If it's the latter, you will want to take a few precautions to prevent reopening the incision and/or causing an infection.

This article will explain how Steri-Strips work, how to safely care for them and remove them, and when to contact your healthcare provider.

How to Care for a Wound After Removing Steri-Strips

Laura Porter / Verywell

What Are Steri-Strips?

Steri-Strips are essentially small pieces of tape but ones that cling to the skin better than ordinary tape. They are typically used to close superficial, or shallow, rather than deep parts of incisions.

For example, absorbable stitches that remain in the body and will eventually dissolve may be used to close most of an incision and then Steri-Strips along the outermost layer of skin.

Steri-Strips are also sometimes used after stitches have been removed as added protection to help keep skin in place.

From a medical standpoint, Steri-Strips are a wonderful invention. They can hold together small, contoured areas of the body until the site heals. They can also reduce the scarring that traditional sutures might produce that are called "ladder rung" scars.

For these reasons, they are commonly used after incisions in the lower abdomen, such as for a hysterectomy to remove the uterus.

Recap

Steri-Strips are bandages used to help close the outermost layer of skin after surgery and can help reduce scarring. They may be used in addition to absorbable stitches or after stitches have been removed to hold skin together.

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How to Remove Steri-Strips

If they do not fall off on their own after about 10 days, your healthcare provider may advise you to remove them.

Always follow your healthcare provider's orders even if the Steri-Strips are itchy or irritating. If your healthcare provider didn't provide you with specific instructions about when and how to remove the strips, call the office and avoid making potentially harmful assumptions.

In some cases, a surgeon will apply extra adhesive such as tincture of benzoin, which is an alcohol solution, to help Steri-Strips remain securely in place. If so, they will likely need to be removed in the surgeon's office with an adhesive remover.

We've all heard that you can remove a band-aid with a speedy, yanking motion. But the same logic does not apply to Steri-Strips. Butterfly stitches are much stickier than standard band-aids. If you tug at them forcefully, you will likely do more harm than good.

When it is time to remove your Steri-Strips, your healthcare provider may offer instructions such as:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water, cleaning under your nails.
  2. Gently peel each strip from one end, a tiny bit at a time.
  3. While you pull the strip, take your other hand and place your thumb and forefinger on both sides of the incision to keep the skin stable. Do not pinch the skin as this may open the wound.
  4. Slowly pull the strip back horizontal to your skin until it reaches the incision point. Do not pull vertically as this increases tension on the skin.
  5. Now repeat the process on the other side. Take your time.
  6. Once complete, pinch both ends of the strip with your fingers and lift gently.
  7. If the strips are scabbed over and stuck to the skin, do not pull. You don't want to remove the scab.
  8. If the strip is stuck, you can take a dampened cotton ball and gently dab the area. Do not soak the scab as this may cause it to fall off prematurely. Now, wait 30 seconds and see if you can remove the strip without resistance.
  9. If you cannot remove the strip easily, leave it be. To avoid accidentally snagging the loose ends, take a clean pair of nail scissors and trim them away.

After Removal

Once all of the Steri-Strips are removed, gently wash the area with soap and water and pat—don't rub—it dry. The wound is likely still healing and you don't want to irritate it.

If you have patches of dried blood or dead skin, do not remove them; let them fall off.

Make sure to protect the area until it has fully healed, avoiding contact with lotions or clothing which could be irritating.

Generally speaking, you will want to leave the skin open to the air once the strip is removed. If there is visible oozing, you may need to apply a dressing, but call your healthcare provider if there is any oozing or discharge.

When Not to Remove

Rather than removing the strips, it is always an option to simply wait until the strips fall off on their own. In fact, many surgeons will recommend this.

Showering and the natural oils of your skin will allow the strips to peel off on their own, usually in about two weeks.

If your surgeon recommends removing the Steri-Strips, it will usually be on or around the seventh to 10th day following the surgery. Even then, it is not necessary to remove the strips, especially if the scabbing around the Steri-Strips looks dense. Waiting will not cause any harm or change the outcome of the wound's appearance.

If the ends of the Steri-Strips begin to curl, simply trim the edges to keep them neat.

Recap

You can wait for the Steri-Strips to fall off or follow instructions from your healthcare provider for gently removing them. If you cannot remove the strips easily, leave them be. Do not rub the wound area or try to remove any dried blood or dead skin.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

If your Steri-Strips come off and the incision opens, see your healthcare provider right away.

Reclosing an opened incision can be challenging and, if not done correctly, may result in "second intention," a condition in which the open gap will fill in unevenly while healing and cause an unsightly scar. Worse yet, it can lead to an infection.

Signs of Infection

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of these signs of infection:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Drainage
  • Fever

Summary

Steri-Strips are bandages used to help close an incision after surgery. They are typically used for the uppermost layer of skin and may be used in place of stitches, in addition to them, or after stitches have been removed to help the wound heal.

Your healthcare provider may tell you to let these bandages fall off on their own or may give you guidance on how to carefully remove them a tiny bit at a time.

If the incision reopens after the Steri-Strips are removed or partially removed or if you have any signs of infection, such as swelling or fever, seek urgent medical care.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you clean a wound with Steri-Strips?

    Your healthcare provider will likely suggest waiting 24 to 48 hours before getting the area wet. Afterwards, use mild soap to gently cleanse the area. Avoid rubbing the Steri-Strips. Carefully pat the area dry with a clean towel.

  • How are Steri-Strips applied?

    Half of the Steri-Strip will go on one side of the wound. The other half will go on the other side, pulling the skin together to close the cut.

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4 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.
  1. Esmailian M, Azizkhani R, Jangjoo A, Nasr M, Nemati S. Comparison of wound tape and suture wounds on traumatic wounds' scar. Adv Biomed Res. 2018;7:49. doi:10.4103/abr.abr_148_16

  2. MedlinePlus. Hysterectomy - abdominal -discharge.

  3. Brown Health Services. Suture and Steri-Strip care instructions.

  4. Shanmugam VK, Fernandez SJ, Evans KK, et al. Postoperative wound dehiscence: Predictors and associations. Wound Repair Regen. 2015;23(2):184-190. doi:10.1111/wrr.12268

Additional Reading
  • Brunicardi FC, et al. Schwartz's Principles of Surgery. McGraw-Hill Education; 2014.