Rug burn is an injury that many people experience at some point in life. You might recall having rug burn after falling on a carpet as a child, or your own children may occasionally end up with a painful rug burn wound.

Also called a friction burn or carpet burn, rug burn occurs when the skin rubs or slides against an abrasive surface like a rug or carpet. Typically, rug burn is minor and doesn’t cause lasting problems.

To avoid potential complications, such as infection, it’s important to understand how to treat these skin injuries.

Even though rug burns can be minor, these injuries are a type of first-degree burn. If you fall down and your bare skin comes in contact with a rug or carpet, the friction from the fall may generate enough heat to remove or damage the top layer of your skin, resulting in a burn-like mark.

Rug burn can occur on any part of the body, such as the knees, legs, elbows, hands, or face.

Falling or sliding on carpet doesn’t always result in rug burn. The formation of these burns depends on the severity of the fall and the speed you’re traveling when your skin rubs against the surface.

Rug burn might not occur when you’re wearing pants or long-sleeved shirts. But it’s likely if you’re wearing shorts or a short-sleeved shirt. Although rug burn occurs with carpet, these types of wounds can also occur after falling on tile floors and concrete.

Rug burns can range from mild to severe. Signs of these burns include redness, discoloration, and pain at the contact site.

The spot of contact may be sensitive to touch, so much so that wearing jewelry or clothing may irritate the wound and cause additional discomfort. Some people also experience swelling and itching.

Because rug burn removes the top layer of skin, there’s also the risk of developing an open sore. These types of rug burns are more severe, and you may notice some moisture around the wound. It’s important to treat and protect serious rug burns to avoid an infection.

Rug burn can happen to anyone, and these injuries don’t usually require a doctor. Here’s how to treat rug burn at home.

Run cold water over a rug burn for up to 15 minutes. The coldness can reduce swelling and inflammation. After rinsing the wound, you can clean it with cool running water and a mild soap.

Don’t use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, which could cause additional pain and stinging or delay healing. After cleaning the area, dry the wound with a soft cloth.

Apply antibiotic ointment after cleaning the wound. Antibiotic ointment helps reduce inflammation and kills bacteria, thus preventing skin infections triggered by burns, acne, and boils.

Apply a loose bandage or gauze to protect the injury. Rug burns may remain sensitive for several days after the injury. Keep the skin protected with gauze. This prevents bacteria from entering the wound, and it can prevent irritation of the burn.

Clean the wound and apply a new layer of antibiotic ointment and new gauze daily.

Take a painkiller if necessary. Even though cold water and antibiotic ointment can reduce inflammation, some rug burns are painful. If so, take an over-the-counter painkiller to reduce discomfort until the wound heals. Options include ibuprofen (Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen sodium (Aleve).

Take medication as directed and wear loose clothing until your rug burn heals to avoid irritating the area. Also, avoid lotions, baby powder, and baby oil until the skin heals. These items may also cause irritation and slow the healing process.

Although you’re able to treat rug burn at home, monitor the wound for signs of an infection. You may develop an infection if you have a health condition or take a medication that weakens your immune system. Signs of infection include:

  • worsening of pain
  • swelling
  • pus or drainage from the wound

Other signs might include a rash that spreads or increases in size, and a fever. If you have an infection, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to kill the bacteria as well as a prescription topical cream to aid healing.

Rug burn is usually minor and heals on its own within a week without scarring. Depending on the severity of rug burn, however, the injury may leave a permanent scar or slight discoloration.

If you keep the wound clean, wear gauze to protect it, and apply topical antibacterial ointment, the wound slowly scabs over and a new top layer of skin forms.

Since rug burn is a first-degree burn and only damages the outer layer of the skin, it usually heals with no further complications.