Wound dressing types

The following dressings are the most common choices used in wound treatment. Note: Dressings are often combined, since different dressings serve different treatment purposes.


Gauze dressings

What they are: Sterile and nonsterile, multi-purpose dressing made up of a thin, loose-weave fabric.

Use: Gauze is used to clean, pack and cover wounds.


Packing strips

What they are: Made from fine mesh gauze, packing strips are absorbent and lint-free. Packing strips are available in plain or include antiseptic agents (called “impregnated”) to treat infected wounds.

Use: Packing strips are designed to lightly pack certain types of wounds.


Alginate dressings

What they are: Derived from seaweed, these dressing look like white flocking and are highly absorbent.

Use: Used for wounds with heavy fluid drainage (exudate). Some alginates include calcium (alginate/CMC dressings), which mixes with salts in the wound to form a gel that can absorb large amounts of drainage and stop small amounts of bleeding (it should not be used for heavily bleeding wounds). The dressing helps maintain a healthy, moist environment; it is also designed to remove easily from the wound. In addition, some alginate dressings contain silver, which has antimicrobial properties.


Transparent film

What they are: A thin, polyurethane film coated with medical-grade acrylic adhesive.

Use: Transparent film dressings’ clear coating allows a visual inspection of the wound without removing the dressing. These dressings are non-absorbent so they are used with wounds that have little to no drainage. They are often used in combination with other dressings to hold them in place.


Foam dressings

What they are: These dressings are designed to be extremely absorbent. Available in non-adherent or with an adhesive border.

Use:  For wounds with heavy exudate, foam dressings absorb excess drainage and keep it away from the wound. They are soft and conformable, and some types can be used for packing wounds. In addition, some foam dressings contain silver, which has antimicrobial properties.


Hydrogel dressings

What they are: The dressing contains a soft, gel-like substance that has a very high water content.

Use: The dressing’s high water content helps rehydrate dry wounds and provide a healthy, moist healing environment. These dressings aid in the body’s efforts to remove dead tissue and keep clean wounds moist. Sheet forms are used with shallow wounds or as a cover or secondary dressing. For burns, the dressing has a cooling effect.


Hydrocolloid dressings

What they are: Hydrocolloids are adhesive, absorptive dressings that help create a moist healing environment.

Use: The hydrocolloid material combines with wound fluid to form a moist, gel-like substance that helps with healing.



What they are: The collagen in these dressings serves as a scaffold for the body’s own collagen to grow into and repair the injured area. The body produces substances (MMPs) that help wounds heal naturally. In chronic wounds, too many MMPs are created, which disrupts the healing. Collagen dressings bind excess MMPs and help normal healing to resume.

Use: Collagen dressings are used for wounds that may be stalled in the healing process and are not responding to traditional wound therapy.


Related articles:
Wound care 101
What are chronic wounds?