An Overview of Rug Burns

A rug burn, known more precisely as a friction burn, is caused when a section of skin comes in contact with an abrasive surface at such a high speed that it scrapes off one or more layers of skin. A friction burn can happen when the skin scrapes across an abrasive surface or an abrasive surface is scraped across the skin. The injury is sometimes referred to as a "skinning."

The name can vary by the abrasive surface involved, such as a rope burn, carpet burn, sand burn, or road rash (asphalt). If enough friction is generated, an actual thermal burn with blisters and peeling can occur.

The treatment of a friction burn varies by how many layers of skin have been removed and how large the wound is. Some cases can be treated at home, while others require medical treatment and hospitalization.

This article describes the symptoms, causes, severity, and treatment of rug burns as well as what to expect during healing.

how to treat rug burn
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Rug Burn Symptoms by Severity

The symptoms of a rug burn can vary by the overall size of the burn and how many layers of skin have been removed. The burn might involve the outermost layer of skin (epidermis), the middle layer rich in glands and blood vessels (dermis), and the innermost layer rich in fatty tissue and larger blood vessels (subcutaneous tissue).

The symptoms can best be described by the severity of the burn:

  • First-degree friction burns. These are superficial burns that only affect the epidermis. The skin will look red and feel tender, but there won't be any bleeding or release of moisture.
  • Second-degree friction burns: This is when the epidermis has been scraped away and the underlying dermis has been exposed. The wound will be painful and look red, shiny, and wet. There may be slight bleeding.
  • Third-degree friction burns: These involve the exposure of subcutaneous tissue. Instead of a shiny red wound bed, the wound may appear black, brown, white, or yellow. It won’t hurt as much because this type of burn damages nerve endings.

How Long Does It Take for a Rug Burn to Heal?

Rug burns are usually minor and heal on their own within a week. Superficial second-degree friction burns may take up to two weeks, while non-extensive third-degree burns may take around three weeks to heal. Friction burns involving larger portions of the body may take longer.


Friction burns and thermal burns both involve heat, but with friction burns, the heat is generated purely from the force of friction. A friction burn involves more than just an abrasion (such as a scratch) but an abrasion that occurs at such a speed that it generates heat.

The velocity of the abrasion largely influences the severity of the burn.

Examples include:

  • Tripping and skinning your knees or palms on a carpet, rug, or pavement
  • Falling or lunging during sports like baseball, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, or soccer and scraping your skin against grass, artificial grass, gym floors, or sand
  • Skateboarding, rollerblading, or cycling at higher speeds and crashing on your knees, elbows, forearms, shoulders, or face
  • Holding onto the mooring rope as it is yanked out of your hand as the boat speeds away
  • Getting into a vehicle accident where you might fall off a motorcycle or scrape a part of your body against the interior of your car

Assessing the Injury

Friction burns that occur at high speeds are more likely to cause deeper and more severe wounds. With that said, delicate areas of skin—such as the face, hands, feet, and genitals—can sustain severe injuries at lower velocities and may need to be treated in the same way as a high-speed friction burn.

How Rug Burns Are Treated

The treatment of a friction burn can differ by the severity of the injury. First-degree and some milder second-degree burns can be treated at home. More severe friction burns require medical treatment, including all third-degree burns, which are considered medical emergencies.

At-Home Care

Most rug burns are superficial and can be treated at home in much the same way as any other type of burns, as follows:

  1. Rinse the burn and clean it with warm water and gentle soap. Pat dry.
  2. Use an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment or cream like Neosporin or Bacitracin to prevent infection. 
  3. Cover the burn with a dry dressing or clean bandage wrapped loosely.
  4. If needed, take an over-the-counter pain reliever like Tylenol (acetaminophen) to help ease the pain. Elevating the wound and applying ice can also help.

While healing, there may be itchiness as the wound starts to dry and scab over. Do not pick or scratch at the wound as this could lead to an infection and scarring. Instead, apply petroleum jelly (Vaseline) several times daily to keep the skin moist while healing.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any or all of the following after getting a friction burn:

  • Increasing pain, tenderness, redness, warmth, or swelling
  • A pus-like discharge
  • A foul smell from the wound
  • High fever with chills
  • Expanding redness around the wound, including rapidly expanding red streaks

Second- and Third-Degree Burns

Second-degree friction burns may require debridement (the removal of damaged tissue) and irrigation with sterile fluids to remove debris and contaminants. After cleaning, medicated topical ointments or creams would be applied along with dry sterile bandages.

Third-degree friction burns may require an overnight hospital stay. In addition to debridement and cleaning, autologous skin grafting (in which skin is taken from one part of your body and moved to another) may be needed. Heterologous skin grafting (from a cadaver) or a dermo-epidermal graft (made from artificial skin) may also be used.

Plastic surgery may be needed for certain friction burns to the face.


A rug burn, also known as a friction burn, occurs when an abrasive surface scrapes across the skin at high speed, generating heat and removing one or more layers of skin.

First-degree friction burns involve only the top layer of skin (epidermis), while second-degree friction burns involve the top and middle layers (epidermis and dermis). Third-degree friction burns are medical emergencies in which all three layers of skin (epidemic, dermis, and subcutaneous tissues) are compromised.

The treatment of a friction burn varies by its severity and size. Some can be treated at home, while others require medical treatment and even hospitalization and surgery.

1 Source
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. Jeschke MG, van Baar ME, Choudhry MA, Chung KK, Gibran NS, Logsety S. Burn injury. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2020;6(1):11. doi:10.1038/s41572-020-0145-5

Additional Reading

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.