A splinter is a sliver of foreign material that gets lodged under the skin. Splinters are most often wood but can also be thorns, glass, metal, or other foreign objects. If you’ve ever had a splinter, you know they can be both annoying and painful.
If possible, you should remove a splinter right away to prevent infection. For tiny splinters that aren’t too bothersome, though, it’s sometimes best to just wait for the splinter to rise to the surface of the skin and then remove it with tweezers.
Even after waiting, sometimes there isn’t enough of the splinter sticking up to grab with tweezers. But there’s another way to remove it that doesn’t involve poking around your already throbbing finger with a pair of tweezers or a needle.
This is where baking soda comes into play.
While this life hack may seem odd, it can be useful for splinters that are more deeply embedded in the skin. The baking soda method is quite simple but does require a little patience.
While this method hasn’t been tested in controlled clinical studies, baking soda is thought to work by increasing osmotic pressure in the skin.
The skin is a semipermeable membrane. When you apply two unequal substances, like water and baking soda, to the skin, the skin will absorb the mixture. And this leads to a change in osmotic pressure.
Increasing osmotic pressure causes the skin to swell up and drive the splinter to the surface.
The process for using baking soda to remove a splinter is as follows:
- Wash your hands.
- Mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda with water to form a paste.
- Clean the skin around the splinter with soap and water.
- Apply the paste to and around the splinter.
- Place a sterile bandage on top.
- Leave the bandage on for 24 hours, and then remove it. The splinter should be sticking out at this point.
- Sterilize a pair of tweezers using alcohol or heat.
- Use the tweezers to pull the splinter out.
- Apply antibiotic ointment to the affected area after removing the splinter.
If you still don’t see the splinter after removing the bandage, repeat the process until the splinter works its way out.
The traditional go-to methods to remove splinters are tweezers and needles. But there are several other natural remedies that some people say also help remove splinters.
If the splinter is very small and already near the surface but you can’t seem to grip it with tweezers, try using a piece of sticky tape, like duct tape.
To try this method:
- Gently press a small piece of tape over the area containing the splinter.
- Wait up to 30 minutes.
- Slowly peel back the tape. Try to pull the tape in the opposite direction that the splinter entered the skin.
This method may be better for children than using tweezers since some children (and some adults) may find tweezers a little scary.
Banana peels or potato skins
Like baking soda, banana peels and potato skins are thought to help with splinter removal by causing the skin to swell up and push the splinter out.
To try this method:
- Slice off a small section of the banana peel or potato skin and place it skin side up against the splinter.
- Cover with a bandage and leave it on for a few hours or overnight.
- After removing the peel or skin, remove the splinter with a pair of tweezers.
- Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water, apply antibiotic ointment, and cover with a bandage until the wound heals.
You can also try soaking the area in essential oils, such as lavender oil or tea tree oil, in an attempt to draw out the splinter. To prevent skin reactions due to using potent essential oils, always dilute with a carrier oil.
To try this method:
- Clean the area of skin containing the splinter.
- Soak the splinter in the diluted essential oil for a few minutes.
- Once the splinter rises closer to the surface of the skin, use a sterilized pair of tweezers to remove it.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
While splinters might seem like a minor medical issue, there are a few reasons you may want to visit a doctor.
Splinters pose a high risk of infection. This is because a foreign body can introduce bacteria and other germs under the skin’s surface, where they can multiply.
You should see a doctor for the following:
- large splinters that break off under the skin
- splinters that are deeply lodged and can’t be removed despite your best efforts
- splinters that cause extreme pain
- splinters with barbs, like fishhooks, that may be difficult to remove without causing pain
- a splinter that’s near a vein or has caused bleeding that won’t stop
- a splinter made of glass that can’t be easily removed in one piece
- a splinter that’s underneath a fingernail or toenail
- symptoms of an infection, such as redness or flushing, warmth, oozing pus, fever, and chills
- a deep splinter, if you haven’t had a tetanus booster in over 5 years
If you have a splinter in your eye, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
Baking soda is one of several methods that can help force a splinter to rise to the surface of the skin, where you can more easily remove it with tweezers.
No matter which method of splinter removal you choose, be sure to first wash the area with soap and water and sterilize any tweezers or needles you’ll use to pull the splinter out. Sterilizing the tool before use reduces the risk of infection. And you can sterilize tweezers or needles using alcohol or heat.
Check the area carefully afterward to make sure that no pieces remain under the skin. For very large splinters, splinters in the eye, or splinters that seem infected, contact a doctor.