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. They support the healing of the skin and can be used in place of or in addition to stitches.

Steri-Strips are meant to be worn until they fall off, usually within 14 days, after which the remaining strips can be gently removed. If removed before then, you need to take precautions to avoid reopening the wound or causing an infection. Any curled or loose ends can be trimmed with nail scissors to prevent snagging.

If Steri-Strips cannot be used, alternatives include a surgical glue called Dermabond or moist, non-adhesive dressings like Xeroform that do not stick to healing wounds.

This article provides instructions on how to safely remove Steri-Strips as well as when Steri-Strips should not be removed

How to Care for a Wound After Removing Steri-Strips

Laura Porter / Verywell

What Are Steri-Strips?

Steri-Strips are small pieces of tape used for cuts that cling to the skin better than ordinary tape. They are typically used to close shallow rather than deep parts of an incision. They can also help keep skin in place after stitches have been removed.

For example, absorbable stitches (which gradually dissolve in the body) close the incision from the inside while Steri-Strips stabilize the wound from the outside so that the cut ends heal together properly.

Steri-Strips are extremely useful for holding together small, contoured areas of skin until ample healing occurs. They can also avoid traditional "ladder rung" scarring that sutures can produce.

For these reasons, Steri-Strips are commonly used after lower abdomen surgery, such as a hysterectomy, cesarean section (C-section), or gallbladder surgery.

In some cases, a surgeon will apply an extra adhesive, called tincture of benzoin, to keep Steri-Strips securely in place. If so, they will likely need to be removed in the surgeon's office with a special adhesive remover.

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How to Safely Remove Steri-Strips

After surgery, your surgeon will advise you on how to care for your Steri-Strips, including how and when to remove them. If they do not fall off within seven to 14 days, you may be advised to remove them on your own.

When it is time to remove the strips, the one thing you should never do is yank them off. Steri-strips are far stickier than standard adhesive bandages and can injure the wound and underlying skin if you tug at them forcefully.

When it is time to remove your Steri-Strips, here is how it is done:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water, cleaning under your nails.
  2. To keep the wound stable, place your thumb and forefinger on opposite sides of the incision next to the strip you want to remove. (Do not pinch the skin as it may cause the wound to open.)
  3. With the opposite hand, gently lift and peel one end of the strip, a little at a time.
  4. Slowly pull the strip back horizontally to the skin until it reaches the incision. (Do not pull vertically as this increases tension on the skin.)
  5. Repeat the process on the opposite end of the strip.
  6. Once both ends have been pulled to the incision, pinch the ends of the strip with your fingers and gently lift.

Wound Dehiscence

Always follow your surgeon's instructions even if the Steri-Strips are itchy or irritating. Removing Steri-Strips early can cause wound dehiscence, a surgical complication where the edges of a wound no longer meet, causing unsightly scarring and increasing the risk of infection.

After Removing Steri-Strips

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

If you see patches of dried blood or dead skin, do not remove them; let them fall off on their own.

You will need to protect the area until the wound has fully healed. This includes avoiding textured clothes that can get snagged on burrs or scabs,

Never scrub the wound or use products like rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or iodine that can harm healing tissues and slow wound healing.

You will want to leave the skin open to the air as much as possible once the strips are removed. With that said, if there is any minor oozing, you may need to apply a sterile dressing.

When Not to Remove Steri-Strips

As a general rule, it is usually best to wait until the Steri-Strips fall off on their own. You should only remove the strips when your surgeon gives you the OK to do so. Even then, there may be times when you will need to wait.

For example, if a strip is scabbed over and stuck to the skin, do not pull. Instead, take a moistened cotton ball and gently dab the strip, waiting 30 seconds to see if it comes off any easier. If it does not, leave it until the scab comes off on its own or the strip can be dislodged without resistance.

Waiting will not cause any harm or change the outcome in any way.

The one thing you should never do is remove a scab or over-soak it (as doing so can cause the scab to fall off prematurely). Until the strip is ready to be removed, trim any loose ends with a pair of nail scissors to avoid accidental snagging.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

See your healthcare provider immediately if your Steri-Strips come off and wound dehiscence occurs.

Reclosing an opened incision can be challenging and, if not done correctly, can result in what is called "second intention." This is when an open gap in a wound fills in unevenly, causing a lumpy, unsightly scar. Revision surgery by a plastic surgeon may be the option to repair such damage.

You would also need to seek immediate care if you have any signs or symptoms of an infection.

Signs of Infection

See your healthcare provider immediately if have any of the following signs of infection:

  • High fever with chills
  • Increasing pain, swelling, heat, or redness at the incision site
  • A pus-like discharge
  • A foul-smelling wound

Summary

Steri-Strips are bandages used to help close an incision after surgery. They are typically used to stabilize the outermost layer of skin and are sometimes used in place of stitches,

Your healthcare provider may advise you to wait until these bandages fall off on their own. Or, they may advise you on when and how to carefully remove them.

If the incision reopens or you have any signs of infection such as swelling or fever, call your healthcare provider immediately.

A Word From Verywell

Even if the incision site itches or you think the wound has healed, it's important that you don't remove Steri-Strips too early. They're there for a reason—to ensure better healing—and. for them to work best, they need to remain in place for as long as possible.

If you're eager to take the strips off, speak with your healthcare provider to get their OK. Doing so prematurely can end up causing greater pain if the incision opens or becomes infected.

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. Afterward, 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.

  • Are Steri-Strips waterproof?

    Steri-Strips are water-resistance, but they are not meant to be soaked. Doing so can cause tissues to swell and the cut ends of the incision to separate. If your surgeon gives you the OK, you can waterproof the wound by applying an adhesive film called Tegaderm over the incision and Steri-Strips.

  • How do I stop my Steri-Strips from itching?

    To reduce itching from Steri-Strips, leave a jar of Vaseline in the refrigerator until chilled and apply tiny dabs around the strips (not on them). It may also help to place a soft ice pack around the incision site.

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.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed