Butterfly stitches, also known as Steri-Strips or butterfly bandages, are narrow adhesive bandages that are used instead of traditional stitches (sutures) to close small, shallow cuts.

These adhesive bandages aren’t a good choice if the cut is large or gaping, has ragged edges, or won’t stop bleeding.

They’re also not a good option if the cut is in a location where your skin moves a lot, such as a finger joint, or an area that’s moist or hairy. In these conditions, the bandages may have trouble sticking.

Keep reading to learn how to apply and remove butterfly stitches, and when to use them.

When to use butterfly stitches

There are specific aspects of a wound that do or do not make it a good candidate for butterfly stitches. When considering whether to use butterfly stitches to close a wound, you’ll first want to:

  • Assess the edges. Butterfly stitches are effective for holding together the clean edges of shallow cuts. If you have a scrape or a cut with ragged edges, consider a larger bandage or a liquid bandage.
  • Assess the bleeding. Using a clean cloth, towel, or bandage, apply pressure for 5 minutes. If the cut continues to bleed, you should seek medical attention.
  • Assess the size. If the cut is too long or too deep, butterfly stitches aren’t the best treatment. Butterfly stitches shouldn’t be used for cuts longer than a 1/2 inch.

How to use butterfly stitches

1. Clean the wound

The first step in wound care is cleaning the wound:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Use cool water to rinse your cut, flushing out dirt and debris.
  3. Gently clean the skin around the cut with soap and water and then dry the area. The butterfly stitches will stick better on clean, dry skin.

2. Close the wound

The next step is applying the butterfly stitches:

  1. Close the cut by holding its edges together.
  2. Position the butterfly stitch across the middle of the cut to hold the edges together, not lengthwise.
  3. Stick half the bandage on one side of the cut.
  4. Bring the other half over the cut, tight enough to hold the edges of the skin together, and stick it to the other side of the cut.
  5. Place more butterfly stitches across the cut — alternating above and below the first strip about 1/8 of an inch apart — until you feel the edges of the cut are adequately held together.
  6. Consider putting a bandage on each side of the cut, running horizontally to the cut, over the ends of the butterfly stitches to help hold them in place.

How to care for butterfly stitches

If you have a cut that’s been closed with butterfly stitches, follow these care instructions while the wound is healing and before you remove the stitches:

  • Keep the area clean.
  • Keep the area dry for the first 48 hours.
  • After 48 hours, keep the area dry except for showering or washing.
  • If the butterfly stitch edges come loose, trim them with scissors. Pulling on them could reopen the cut.

How to remove butterfly stitches

According to the University of North Carolina, if the butterfly stitches are still in place after 12 days, they can be removed.

Don’t try to pull them off. Instead, soak them in a solution of 1/2 water and 1/2 peroxide, and then gently lift them off.

Butterfly stitches vs. sutures

Traditional stitches are the preferred option for wound closure in some circumstances. These include:

  • large cuts
  • cuts that are gaping open
  • cuts that are on a curved area or an area that moves a lot, such as a joint (the bandages will not be able to properly hold the skin in place)
  • cuts that don’t stop bleeding
  • cuts where fat (yellow) is exposed
  • cuts where muscle (dark red) is exposed

Since sutures tend to heal more cleanly than butterfly stitches, they’re also commonly used for cuts on the face or other places where scarring might be a concern.

When to see your doctor

If you’ve applied butterfly stitches, you should see your doctor if:

  • The cut doesn’t stop bleeding. Continued bleeding is an indication that butterfly stitches might not have been the best treatment choice.
  • The cut becomes red, swollen, or more painful. This could be a sign of infection.

The takeaway

Butterfly stitches are narrow adhesive bandages that are used to close small, shallow cuts.

They’re used instead of stitches by medical professionals and can be applied at home under the right circumstances.