Skip to Content

Cold Compress or Soak


A cold compress or soak helps relieve pain, swelling, and itching. You may need a cold compress or soak to help manage any of the following:
  • A sunburn
  • Poison ivy or poison oak
  • A skin rash
  • A bite or sting by an insect or jellyfish
  • A muscle or joint injury, such as a sprain
  • A high fever


Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your symptoms do not improve or you have new symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

How to prepare and use a moist cold compress:

Your healthcare provider will tell you how often to apply a cold compress:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Use a washcloth, small towel, or gauze as a cold compress.
  • You can place the compress under running water or place it in a bowl with cold water. Squeeze extra water out of the compress.
  • Place the compress directly on the area.
  • Remove the compress in 10 to 15 minutes or as directed. Gently pat your skin dry with a clean towel.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Reapply the compress as many times as directed each day. Use a clean compress every time.

How to use a dry cold compress:

An ice pack, bag of ice, or bottle filled with cold water can be used as a dry compress. Cover the ice pack or bag of ice with a towel before you apply it to your skin. Leave the compress on your skin for 15 to 20 minutes or as directed. Your healthcare provider will tell you how often to apply the compress each day.

How to prepare and use a cold soak:

  • Fill a clean container or tub with cold water. The container should be deep enough to cover the area completely.
  • Remove any bandages.
  • Soak the area for no longer than 10 minutes. Gently pat your skin dry when you are done soaking.
  • Replace bandages as directed.
  • Clean the container or tub when finished.
  • Wash your hands.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.