Butterfly Stitches: What Are They and How to Use Them?

You have likely seen butterfly stitches before, the small and narrow adhesives that are placed side by side to cover a cut. Compared to traditional stitches, they can be applied at home.

However, butterfly stitches only work for a particular type of cut, one that is short, shallow, and has a clean edge. If this applies to your cut, you can follow the tips listed below to apply butterfly stitches, closing the wound and helping with the healing process.

What Are Butterfly Stitches?

Butterfly stitches are also known as butterfly bandages or Steri-Strips, and they are a type of narrow adhesive bandage used in place of traditional stitches to close small, shallow cuts.

Butterfly stitches typically have two wider sections connected by a narrow strip, which is the part that crosses over the cut. However, they may also appear as long and narrow rectangles.

When To Use Butterfly Stitches?

Butterfly stitches are used to close small, shallow cuts.

They are not a good choice for large and gaping cuts or cuts that have ragged edges. Additionally, butterfly closures are not recommended for cuts that won’t stop bleeding; these types of cuts typically require traditional stitches.

Because the bandages use an adhesive, butterfly bandages often do not stay well on areas that experience a lot of movement, such as a finger joint. Additionally, the adhesive does not stick as well in areas that are moist or hairy.

When determining if butterfly stitches would be a good choice for your wound, you will want to do the following things:

  • Assess The Bleeding – Apply pressure to the wound for 5 minutes using a clean towel, bandage, or cloth. If the cut continues to bleed after applying this pressure, it is crucial to seek medical attention.
  • Check The Edge – Butterfly stitches work best for cuts with clean edges. If you have a cut with ragged edges, such as a scrape, a larger bandage will likely work better.
  • Assess The Cut – Butterfly bandages work best for cuts that are ½ inch or less in length.

How To Use Butterfly Stitches

Listed below is a step-by-step guide for using butterfly stitches.

Clean the wound

The most important first step in caring for your cut is cleaning the wound to ensure that it does not become infected.

Before touching the wound, be sure to wash your hands so that you do not spread any germs to the open skin. Once your hands are washed, rinse out the cut with cool water, removing any larger pieces of debris or dirt.

Once the cut has been rinsed, use gentle, unscented soap and water to gently clean the skin around the cut, then thoroughly dry the area. The skin must be completely dry before applying butterfly stitches, otherwise, the adhesive will not stick as well.

Apply the bandage

Once the injured site is clean, you can apply the butterfly bandage.

Start by holding the edges of the cut together with your fingers to close it. Then, position the butterfly stitch across the cut perpendicularly so that it can hold the edges together in the same way you are with your fingers.

Stick half of the bandage to one side of the cut, then tightly stretch the other side of the bandage over the cut, bringing the edges of the cut together. Once the bandage is tight enough to close the wound, stick down the other half of the bandage.

Continue placing butterfly stitches about 1/8 an inch apart until the cut’s edges are fully held together.

In some cases, it is helpful to place a bandage on either side of the cut, lengthwise, so that it covers the edges of the butterfly stitches. Doing this can help to hold the stitches in place.

How To Care for Butterfly Stitches 

If you have placed butterfly stitches or have had butterfly stitches placed, it is important to adhere to the following care instructions.

Keep it Clean

Just as you cleaned the area before placing the butterfly stitches, you will want to keep the site clean while they are in place and the wound is healing.

Keep It Dry 

The first 48 hours after the butterfly closures are placed, you will want to keep the area completely dry. After the first 48 hours, you may get the area wet when showering or washing, but otherwise, you will still want to keep it dry. This helps to ensure that the butterfly stitches remain stuck to the skin.

Trim As Needed

As the butterfly stitches become wet and as the skin stretches and moves, the ends may become loose. If this happens, you can trim the loose edges with scissors, but avoid pulling on the butterfly stitch as this may reopen the cut.

How To Remove Butterfly Stitches

Butterfly stitches still in place after 12 days can be removed, but you do not want to pull them off. To remove butterfly stitches, first soak them in a 50-50 solution of water and peroxide. Then, you will be able to gently lift them off.

When To See a Doctor

Butterfly stitches are only meant for short and shallow cuts, so you will want to see a doctor if any of the following apply to your wound:

  • large cuts
  • cuts on a curved edge or a place that moves a lot (such as a joint)
  • cuts that are gaping open
  • cuts that don’t stop bleeding
  • cuts where muscle (dark red) is exposed
  • cuts where fat (yellow) is exposed

If you have applied butterfly stitches, but the cut has not stopped bleeding, it is recommended to see a doctor, as this is often a sign that butterfly stitches were not the ideal treatment choice.

You should also see a doctor if your cut becomes swollen, red, or more painful, which may be a sign of infection.

Key Takeaways

Butterfly stitches are small and narrow adhesives used to bring two edges of a cut together, closing the wound and helping with the healing process. They are only recommended for small, narrow cuts with clean edges. If the cut is large, deep, or won’t stop bleeding, it is recommended to see a doctor about a different treatment.

Butterfly stitches can be applied at home, and one of the most important steps is cleaning your hands and the wound before applying them to limit the risk of infection. If you notice any signs of infection, such as red, swollen, or tender skin, it is crucial to see a doctor. 

Sources

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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