An Overview of Rug Burns

In This Article

Rug burn is a common way to refer to the type of injury that describes scraping off layers of skin. A more correct term would be friction burn since there's no real difference between the damage done through friction with a carpet and friction from any other surface. Another name would be road rash—commonly used when a combination of asphalt and high speeds is the cause.

Even though a rug burn could be referred to as (and is essentially a form of) a skin abrasion, the depth and severity of the injury requires that it be treated very similarly to other types of burns (thermal or electrical, for example). All burns cause injury to the skin, which consists of three layers of tissue: epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous. The surface of the skin is the epidermis, which is the layer that is always damaged or missing in a burn injury. Deeper burns can extend into the dermis, where most of the nerve endings and hair follicles are located. The deepest burns extend into, or through, the subcutaneous, a layer of fatty tissue under the dermis.

Friction burns account for about 1–2 percent of all types of burns. Statistics on the different surfaces that cause friction burns—rug burns, road rash, treadmills, etc.—are not readily available. Anything that can rub off layers of skin can cause a friction burn. Carpets or rugs are well-known culprits. A more modern growing cause of friction burn is the treadmill, which can be particularly damaging to kids. Luckily, in most cases, treatment is fairly straightforward.

how to treat rug burn
Verywell/Brianna Gilmartin


The hallmark of a friction burn is damage to the skin over a wide area. The area will be red, raw, and could be bleeding or weeping fluid. The biggest difference between a rug burn and road rash is how dry the injury is. Rug burns are usually much more dry. Road rash is more likely to weep. The difference could have something to do with the fibrous nature of rugs and carpets versus the harder surfaces of gravel and asphalt. Besides the obvious physical injury, the biggest symptom of a rug burn is pain.

Burn Severity

The severity of friction burns, like all burns, is measured through a combination of the depth of the burn—how many layers of skin are involved—and the overall size of the burn as measured in percent of body surface area injured. Burn depth is expressed in degrees of burn:

  • First-degree friction burns are superficial and only affect the epidermis. These are as likely to be referred to as skin abrasions as friction burns.
  • Second-degree friction burns have completely scraped away the epidermis and are now affecting the dermis. This is where rug burns develop bleeding and, in some rare cases, weeping clear fluid.
  • Third-degree friction burns are extremely rare and occur when the injury has completely removed both the epidermis and dermis, exposing the subcutaneous layer or muscle underneath. The amount of sustained force necessary for third-degree rug burns make them highly unlikely.

Burns of any type that only include first-degree injuries are not considered severe. When looking at a burn area, only count second or third degree. Certain types of burns are considered more severe than others based on the body part that is affected. Burns of the hands, feet, face, and genitalia are treated as severe burns.

Different types of burns have unique characteristics and complications. For example, rug burns can happen to hands, feet, face, and genitalia, but in the case of facial injury, rug burns do not come with the same types of complications that thermal burns do. In other words, a patient is not in danger of inhaling super-heated air when getting a rug burn they way they could when getting a thermal burn.


Rug burns are treated much the same way as other types of burns:

  1. Rinse the burn and clean it with warm water and gentle soap. Unlike a thermal burn, there is no need to rinse a rug burn for several minutes to cool it. The injury stops getting worse as soon as the friction stops.
  2. Cover the burn with a dry dressing. It is okay to moisturize and soothe a rug burn with a burn gel or ointment. Some patients experience relief and it won't hurt healing.
  3. Over the counter medications may be used for pain.

When to See a Doctor

Any rug burn on the hands and feet, especially the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet, that is large enough to interfere with function should be seen by a doctor. Also, see a doctor for any rug burns to the face or genitals, or any burn deeper than first degree that covers an area bigger than a whole thigh.

A Word From Verywell

Anyone who grew up with wall-to-wall carpet and was prone to wrestling matches with siblings is well acquainted with rug burns. Unlike thermal burns, they don't keep getting worse after the initial injury. Rug burns are common injuries and are not life-threatening. Most of the time, you can treat them yourself right in your home. The most dangerous modern friction burns come from kids and treadmills. Be very careful with children around treadmills and make sure to take all the precautions to keep your child from turning on a treadmill when you're not there.

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Article Sources

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  • Jeremijenko, L., Mott, J., Wallis, B., & Kimble, R. (2009). Paediatric treadmill friction injuries. Journal Of Paediatrics And Child Health45(5), 310-312. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1754.2008.01329.x.

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  • Menon, S., Ward, D., Harvey, J., Hei, E., & Holland, A. (2012). Friction Burns in Children. Journal Of Burn Care & Research33(6), 736-740. doi:10.1097/bcr.0b013e3182504469.

  • Ortiz-Prado, E., Armijos, L., & Iturralde, A. (2015). A population-based study of the epidemiology of acute adult burns in Ecuador from 2005 to 2014. Burns41(3), 582-589. doi:10.1016/j.burns.2014.08.012.