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Warm Compress or Soak

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2023.

What do I need to know about a warm compress or soak?

A warm compress or soak helps improve blood flow to tissues and relieve pain and swelling. This helps you heal from an injury or illness. You may need a warm compress or soak to help manage any of the following:

  • A sinus infection or upper respiratory infection
  • A blocked tear duct, eye infection, or a stye
  • A skin abscess or infection
  • An ingrown toenail
  • An ear infection
  • A soft or deep tissue injury
  • A muscle or joint injury, such as a sprain

How do I prepare and use a moist warm compress?

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

  • Wash your hands.
  • Use a washcloth, small towel, or gauze as your compress.
  • You can place the compress under running water or place it in a bowl with warm water. Check the temperature of the water with a thermometer. The water should not be warmer than 100°F (37.8°C) for babies and children, 120°F (49°C) for adults, and 100°F (37.8°C) for older adults. Adults should use water that is 100°F (37.8°C) if they will apply the compress to an eye.
  • If directed, add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water. Squeeze extra water out of the compress.
  • Place the compress directly on the area. If directed, gently massage the area with the compress. Check your skin in 2 minutes for blisters or bright red skin. Your skin should look pink to light red.
  • You may need to rewarm the compress every 5 minutes.
  • Remove the compress in 15 to 30 minutes, or when the compress starts to feel cold. 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 do I use a dry warm compress?

A dry compress may be a hot water bottle or a heating pad. You can also buy a prepared hot pack. Follow the package directions for how to use these devices. Cover a bottle or hot pack with a towel before you apply it to your skin. Do not leave a dry compress on your skin for more than 20 minutes or as directed. Do not fall asleep with a dry compress on your skin. A dry compress may burn your skin if it is left on for too long.

How do I prepare and use a warm soak?

  • Fill a clean container or tub with warm water and soap. The container should be deep enough to cover the area completely.
  • Check the temperature of the water with a thermometer. The water should not be warmer than 100°F (37.8°C) for children and babies, and 110°F (43°C) for adults.
  • If directed, add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water.
  • Remove any bandages.
  • Soak the area for 30 minutes or as long as directed. Gently pat your skin dry when you are done soaking.
  • Replace bandages as directed.
  • Clean the container or tub when finished.
  • Wash your hands.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your symptoms do not improve or you have new symptoms.
  • You see blisters on the area where you applied the compress or soak.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

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