Steri-Strips (Butterfly Bandage)

Steri-Strips and butterfly bandages are thin, sticky bandages that cover small cuts and some surgical incisions. You apply them across your cut (running in the opposite direction) to help the two sides of your skin stay tightly closed. This helps prevent bacteria from getting in. Seek medical care immediately at the first sign of a wound infection.


What are Steri-Strips™?

Steri-Strips are thin, sticky bandages that you can apply to your skin to help small cuts or wounds stay closed as they heal. Healthcare providers also use Steri-Strips to cover some surgical wounds (incisions). Steri-Strips and similar wound closure strips work by helping the two ends of a wound come together. This helps with healing and prevents infection.

You might have Steri-Strips in your medicine cabinet or first-aid kit. If so, it’s important to know that you should only use them to treat a minor cut or wound that:

  • Is shallow (typically, this means it stops bleeding after you apply firm pressure for five minutes).
  • Has straight edges.
  • Is on an area of your body that you can keep dry.

Wound closure strips also work best on parts of your body that you can keep relatively still. Too much flexing or moving of the body part may make the strips fall off sooner than expected.

Keep in mind that it’s not always possible (or safe) to treat a wound on your own. Sometimes, you need stitches — and possibly other treatments, like antibiotics — at an emergency room or urgent care. Seek medical care for yourself or a loved one if the cut:

  • Is gaping open and you can’t gently press the edges together.
  • Is deep (for example, you can see yellow fatty tissue).
  • Won’t stop bleeding.
  • Has jagged edges.
  • Resulted from a bite (animal or human) or a dirty or rusty object (like a nail).

What is a butterfly bandage?

A butterfly bandage is a wound closure strip that has two long and wide ends (like a butterfly’s wings) connected by a thin center.

People often use the terms Steri-Strips and butterfly bandages interchangeably. But they’re a bit different. Steri-Strips are the same width throughout — they’re each just one long strip. Butterfly bandages get narrow in the center (where they cross over your cut) and are shaped more like a butterfly. You might find variations of both types of bandages at your local pharmacy, and you can use both to treat cuts at home. But in a clinical setting, like a hospital, healthcare providers typically use Steri-Strips.

A butterfly bandage has two wider ends connected by a thin center that crosses over your wound
A butterfly bandage has two wider ends connected by a thin center. You apply it in the opposite direction as your wound.

What are butterfly stitches?

Butterfly stitches is a medical term that refers to a specific technique for closing a wound. If you have butterfly stitches, or butterfly sutures, a healthcare provider uses a surgical needle and surgical thread to sew your skin back together. This is an intracutaneous method, meaning the sewing takes place between the layers of your skin. The needle and thread follow a path that takes the shape of a butterfly.

Some people use the term butterfly stitches to refer to butterfly bandages. This is because butterfly bandages act like stitches — they close your wound and help it heal. But butterfly bandages are sticky (adhesive) strips and don’t involve a needle or thread. They’re a suitable alternative to stitches for some small, shallow cuts.


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Procedure Details

How do I apply Steri-Strips?

Follow the instructions on the package and ask a healthcare provider if you have questions. In general, you should apply a Steri-Strip in the opposite direction as your cut so that the strip runs across your cut to form a plus sign (+). You’ll start by sticking a Steri-Strip across the middle of the cut (to form one big plus sign), and you’ll add more strips above and below as needed to fully close the entire cut.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Wash the cut and the skin around it with mild soap and clean, running water. Pat the area dry with a clean towel.
  3. Look at the cut and decide where the middle is (the midpoint between the top and the bottom of the cut). The first Steri-Strip you apply should go right across the middle of the cut, not at its top or bottom.
  4. Stick one half of the Steri-Strip on one side of the cut and press it down firmly against your skin just until it reaches the cut. Then, stop pressing it down. The second half of the strip should be lifted up, so it’s not yet touching the cut or the skin on the other side.
  5. Use your fingers to gently pinch or press the separated edges of your skin together. You need these edges to press together tightly. Otherwise, the cut is more likely to reopen and/or get infected.
  6. Stick the second half of the strip across the cut and press it down firmly against your skin on the other side. Be careful not to press on the cut itself — just the skin on either side of it. Also, don’t stretch the Steri-Strip as you’re applying it.
  7. Add a second Steri-Strip above or below the first one. The two strips together should look like an equals sign (=). Space the strips about 3 millimeters (1/8 inch) apart from each other. 
  8. Continue adding strips above and below the first one as needed until the entire cut is tightly closed.

At this point, you may choose to add Steri-Strips parallel to the wound (running in the same direction) to help everything stay secure. One strip should go on each side of the wound, across the strips you just placed, to form what will look like railroad tracks or a tic-tac-toe board.

If you notice blood soaking through the Steri-Strips, seek medical care.

How long do Steri-Strips stay on?

Steri-Strips typically stay on for up to two weeks. They should fall off on their own within that timeframe. If the edges of your Steri-Strips start to curl before two weeks are up, you can carefully trim them with small scissors.

After two weeks, you can gently remove Steri-Strips.

How to remove Steri-Strips

You can remove Steri-Strips after two weeks by peeling each one back, slowly and carefully, from your skin. You should remove any “railroad tracks” first. Then, focus on the main strips that run across your wound:

  1. Loosen one end of the strip and gradually peel it back until you reach the wound.
  2. As you do this, gently press another finger on newly exposed skin to help it stay stable (you don’t want it getting tugged upward). Move your finger along as more skin gets exposed.
  3. When you reach the wound, pause. Don’t continue peeling back the part that’s over the wound.
  4. Now, loosen the other end of the strip, and gradually peel back that half.
  5. By this point, just the middle of the Steri-Strip will be left, covering the wound. Gently remove this part last.

When removing a Steri-Strip that covers a wound, you should always move toward your wound, rather than away from it. That’s why gently peeling the strip back one half at a time is important. This approach will help avoid reopening the wound.

Don’t peel off a Steri-Strip all in one motion. And go slowly rather than fast. The old “rip off the bandage” approach doesn’t apply here.


Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of using Steri-Strips?

Steri-Strips help your cut heal and protect it from infection. They’ll seal the two sides of your skin together more tightly than a regular bandage (the kind with two sticky sides and a soft pad in the middle). After surgery, Steri-Strips help protect your incision site and lower your risk of a wound infection.

What are the risks of using Steri-Strips?

Steri-Strips are generally safe. But there’s a slight chance they’ll irritate your skin. Irritation is more likely to happen if your healthcare provider uses surgical glue, along with Steri-Strips, to cover an incision. Surgical glues may cause allergic contact dermatitis. If you have a history of contact dermatitis or other skin conditions, talk to a healthcare provider about the best wound closure options for you.


Recovery and Outlook

Can I take a shower with Steri-Strips?

Yes, you can take a shower while Steri-Strips are on your skin. But if the Steri-Strips are covering a surgical wound, you may need to wait 24 to 48 hours before getting them wet. Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance.

In general, you can clean the area with mild soap and water and pat it dry with a clean towel. You shouldn’t pull or tug on the Steri-Strips. Remember that your wound is healing underneath, so be gentle and don’t rub or apply firm pressure to the area.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Contact a healthcare provider if you’re using Steri-Strips and notice:

  • Discoloration, soreness or warmth around the wound.
  • Drainage from the wound.
  • A foul smell coming from the wound.

These are signs of a wound infection, which you can’t treat on your own. You need to seek medical care. Untreated wound infections can spread to other parts of your body and lead to serious complications like cellulitis or septicemia.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Some cuts need a little more care than others. Your average paper cut will be fine with a regular adhesive bandage. But that deeper cut you got while using a knife to peel potatoes? It might be time to reach for butterfly bandages. And if you’re recovering from a surgery or procedure that involved an incision, your provider might send you home with Steri-Strips in place to help with healing.

Steri-Strips and their cousins, butterfly bandages, can help you in many situations. But it’s important to know they have limits. Certain wounds — like those from an animal bite or those that won’t stop bleeding — need a healthcare provider’s attention. As much as you’d like to do it all at home, it’s simply not always possible. Whenever there’s any doubt, call a healthcare provider or go to your nearest urgent care facility.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 06/12/2024.

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