The Splinter Removal Guide: Tweezers or…a Banana?
Picture this: It’s a lovely summer day and you’re sipping drinks with friends as you relax and chat in the backyard.
The air is warm, there’s a gentle breeze. The kids are happily playing on their own out in the yard. You think: It really can’t get any better than this.
And then this picturesque moment is broken by what usually interrupts parents’ idyllic daydreams—tears.
One of the kids—previously barefoot and happy in the grass—is now sobbing on the ground. And as you approach, you see the terrible cause of such pain and commotion: a splinter in the foot.
Splinters stink. And, depending on the kid, taking them out can be even worse.
So let’s talk about the most straightforward way to take splinters out, plus some more unconventional methods that might be less intimidating and even fun.
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Do You Even Have To Take It Out?
The truth is that many splinters can be left in place. Over several days, new skin will push up, forcing the splinter out. The body may also start breaking the splinter down, essentially causing it to disintegrate over time.
However, if there are signs of infection—redness, swelling, pus—if it’s causing pain, or if your child simply won’t be happy until it’s out, then you have to remove it.
But before we get to the specifics of taking splinters out, let’s ask:
Do Splinters Need a Doctor?
It might seem like a silly question to some, but there are actually some splinter scenarios that should involve medical care.
- Get Medical Care Urgently If Your Child Has:
- a splinter in the face, neck, or eye
- a splinter that’s near a vein or has caused bleeding that you can’t stop within 15 minutes
- a splinter that is glass
- a splinter that has a barb, such as a fishhook, as taking it out might risk more damage
- Call Your Doctor in the Next 1-2 Days:
- If your child has a very deep splinter and her last tetanus shot was over 5 years ago, or if you can’t remember when it was given
- If the area around the splinter is very red, hot, painful, or has pus coming out from it, as this may indicate infection
- If you can’t get all of the splinter out and are uncomfortable seeing if it will work its way out in the next few days
- Any time you feel uncomfortable taking a splinter out by yourself. Just because a splinter can be removed at home doesn’t mean that it has to be. If you are uncomfortable doing it, no matter how simple it may be, your pediatrician will be happy to remove it for you.
HOW TO REMOVE A SPLINTER
Alright, so you’ve decided to take this thing out. There are a few ways you can go about doing that, ranging from the obvious to the more creative and even fun.
Choose a method based on your comfort level and what you think your child will actually let you do.
The Traditional Approach: Tweezers
This is the go-to method for most folks, and it’s my preferred method as a physician. Follow these steps for the best results:
- Sterilize the tips of your tweezers with rubbing alcohol. If rubbing alcohol isn’t available, use soap and water.
- Clean the area with the splinter with rubbing alcohol. Don’t use soap and water if the splinter is wood or plant-based, because it could absorb the water, swell up, and become more difficult to remove.
- Look at the splinter closely. You may see a small break in the skin that was the entry point for the splinter. If you do, then this is where you want to pull the splinter out. If you don’t see the entry point, you may use the tips of sharp tweezers or the point of a sterilized needle to gently open the skin directly above the end of the splinter.
- Firmly grasp the splinter with your tweezers. Slowly & steadily slide the splinter out along the same path that it went in.
- Once the splinter is out, the most conservative thing to do would be to cover the area with over-the-counter antibiotic ointment and a bandage for the next day or two, although you can probably let it be if it looks totally clean.
(Pro Tip: Playing some relaxing music can make the procedure much easier for everyone. This is the song I use.)
The Creative Kitchen Approach: Banana Peels, Potatoes, Bread & Milk
No, these aren’t the ingredients for some funky breakfast dish. These are suggestions you’ll find on the internet for novel ways to remove splinters.
To be honest, I’ve never tried any of these methods, so I can’t tell you whether or not they actually work. However, I can imagine how they might work, since they all share one common trait—they’re all soft and damp.
My suspicion is that with the banana and potato peels, the moisture is absorbed into the skin, making the tissue ever so slightly swollen, and pushing the splinter up and out. In the case of milk and bread, since you have to wait until the bread has dried out, the splinter probably sticks to the dried bread and gets pulled out when you pull the bread off.
What to do:
For banana peel or a potato peel, slice off a section about the size of a nickel. Put the skin side up & the banana/potato side against the splinter, then cover it with tape or a band-aid. Some sources state that the peel needs to be left on overnight, while others report that the splinter might be out in only 5 or 10 minutes.
For the milk & bread method, soak a small chunk of bread in milk until it is somewhat soggy. Place it over the splinter and leave it on until it is dried—covering it with a bandage if you need to. Once it is dried, peel it off and ideally the splinter comes along with it.
The Less Tasty, But No Less Creative Approach: Tape & Elmer’s Glue
Small splinters that are still protruding from the skin can occasionally be removed with tape or glue that has dried. In a sense, this works the same way as the milk & bread method—the splinter gets pulled up as you peel off the tape or dried glue—but seems more likely to work, if you ask me.
For tape, apply a very sticky piece of tape (duct tape, electrical tape, and packing tape work best) to the area of skin with the splinter, then lift the tape. Ideally, the splinter comes along with it.
For Elmer’s glue (dads: don’t use super glue!), apply a drop or two of glue to the area with the splinter. Wait until it dries, then peel off the glue.
Just as the tweezer method works best if you can pull the splinter out through the break in the skin that it entered, you’ll have more success with these approaches if you start peeling the tape or dried glue from the base of the splinter, across toward the entry point—ideally getting the splinter to slide back out the hole it created.
The Choice Is Yours
Which approach you use is ultimately up to you and your child. Personally, I strongly prefer the tweezer approach. It’s precise, it works, and you’ll get better at it the more you do it.
However, if you’re uncomfortable trying it, or if your child won’t let you come within 15 feet of him with sharp tweezers, then give on of the less conventional methods a try. It certainly couldn’t hurt, and might even be fun—and will hopefully get you both back to enjoying your perfect summer day in the backyard!