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How to Treat a Boil

Three Parts:Treating BoilsPreventing BoilsUsing Home Remedies

A boil, also known as a skin abscess or furuncle, is a painful, pus-filled lump that develops on the surface of the skin. Boils can be as small as a pea or as large as a golf ball and can develop on any part of the body. They are usually caused by the infection of a hair follicle or oil gland in the skin. Although often painful and unsightly, boils are not a serious problem and can be effectively treated at home.

Part 1
Treating Boils

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    Apply hot compresses to the boil. As soon as you notice a boil beginning to form, you should begin treating with hot compresses. The sooner you begin treatment, the less likely it is that complications will occur. Make a hot compress by holding a clean washcloth under hot water until wet, and then squeeze out the excess moisture. Press the warm, damp cloth gently onto the boil for five to ten minutes. Repeat three to four times a day.
    • The hot compress does several things to speed up the healing of a boil. Firstly, the warmth increases circulation to the area, helping to draw antibodies and white blood cells to the site of the infection. The heat also draws pus to the surface of the boil, encouraging it to drain faster. Lastly, the hot compress will help to relieve pain.
    • Instead of a hot compress, you can also soak the boil in warm water if it is on an area of the body where it's convenient to do so. For boils on the lower body, sitting in a hot bath can be helpful.[1]
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    Do not lance or burst the boil at home. As the surface of the boil softens and fills with pus, it may be tempting to burst the skin with a needle and drain the contents yourself. However, this is not recommended as it can cause the boil to become infected or the bacteria within the boil to spread, causing multiple boils. With continued application of hot compresses to the area, the boil should burst and drain by itself within about two weeks.[2]
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    Wash the drained boil with antibacterial soap. Once the boil starts draining, it is very important that you keep the area clean. Wash the boil thoroughly with an antibacterial soap and warm water, until all of the pus has drained. Once clean, dry the boil with a clean towel or some paper towel, which should be washed or thrown away immediately after use, to avoid spreading the infection.
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    Apply an antibacterial cream and dress the boil. Next, you should apply an antibacterial cream or ointment to the boil and cover it with a gauze dressing. The gauze will allow the boil to continue draining, so the dressing should be changed frequently. Antibacterial creams and ointments made specifically to deal with boils are available over-the-counter at your local pharmacy.[1]
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    Continue applying hot compresses until the boil is fully healed. Once the boil has drained, you should continue to apply hot compresses, clean the area and dress the boil until it has fully healed. As long as you are conscientious about keeping the area clean, there should be no complications, and the boil should heal completely within a week or two.
    • Make sure to wash your hands with antibacterial soap before and after touching the boil, to avoid spreading infection.
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    See a doctor if the boil has not drained within two weeks, or has become infected. In some cases, medical treatment will be required to deal with the boil, due to its size, location, or infection. A doctor will need to lance the boil, either in his/her office or surgery. In these cases, the boil may have several pockets of pus to be drained, or be in a delicate are such as the nose or ear canal. If the boil or the skin surrounding it becomes infected, you may be given a shot of antibiotics or given a prescription to take them orally. The situations where you should seek medical advice include:
    • If a boil develops on the face or spine, in the nose or ear canal or the crease between the buttocks. These boils can be extremely painful and are difficult to treat at home.
    • If the boils are consistently recurring. In some cases, treatment of recurring boils in areas such as the groin and armpit will require the removal of sweat glands whose regular inflammation is causing the boils.
    • If the boils are accompanied by a fever, red streaks oozing from the boil or redness and inflammation of the skin surrounding the boil. These are all signs of infection.
    • If you suffer from a disease (such as cancer or diabetes) or are taking medication that weakens the immune system. In these cases, the body may not be able to fight off the infection causing the boil on its own.
    • If the boil doesn't drain after two weeks of home treatment or the boil is extremely painful.[3]

Part 2
Preventing Boils

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    Do not share towels, clothes or bedding with anyone who has a boil. Although boils themselves are not contagious, the bacteria which causes them is. That's why it's very important to exercise caution and avoid sharing any towels, clothes or bedding used by a family member with boils. These items should also be thoroughly washed after used by the infected person.[2]
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    Practice good hygiene. Good hygiene is probably the most important thing you can do to prevent boils As boils are usually caused by bacteria infecting the hair follicles, you should prevent the build up of bacteria on the surface of the skin by washing daily. Normal soap is fine, but if you are prone to developing boils, an antibacterial wash may be better.
    • You can also use an abrasive brush or sponge, such as a loofah, to scrub the skin. This will break up any oil from becoming clogged around the hair follicles.
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    Clean any cuts or wounds immediately and thoroughly. Bacteria can easily enter the body through cuts and wounds on the skin. It can then travel down the hair follicle where it causes infection and the development of boils. To avoid this, make sure to clean all minor cuts and scrapes well with an antibacterial wash, apply a cream or ointment, and cover with a bandage until healed.
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    Avoid sitting down for extended periods of time. Boils that form between the buttocks, also known as "pilonidal cysts," usually develop as a result of direct pressure caused by sitting down for long periods of time. They are common in truck drivers and people who have recently traveled on a long flight. If possible, try to relieve the pressure by taking frequent breaks to stretch your legs.[3]

Part 3
Using Home Remedies

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    Use tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and is used in the treatment of numerous skin conditions, including boils. Simply apply a dab of tea tree oil directly to the boil once a day, using a q-tip.
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    Try Epsom salts. Epsom salt is a drying agent that can assist in bringing the boil to a head. To use, dissolve the Epsom salts in warm water and use this water to make a warm compress to place over the boil. Repeat three times a day until the boil begins to drain.[4]
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    Experiment with turmeric. Turmeric is an Indian spice with impressive anti-inflammatory properties. It also acts as a blood purifier. Turmeric can be taken orally in capsule form, or it can be mixed with a little water to form a paste and applied directly onto the boil. Just make sure to cover the boil with a bandage afterward, as the turmeric can stain clothes.[5]
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    Apply colloidal silver cream. Colloidal silver is a natural disinfectant that has been used with success in the home treatment of boils. Simply rub a little of the cream directly onto the boil twice a day.
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    Use apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is a natural disinfectant that can be used to cleanse infection from the boil once it has begun to drain. Dip a cotton ball into the vinegar and press it gently against the boil. If you find that it stings too much, dilute the apple cider vinegar to half strength with water first.
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    Try castor oil. Castor oil is used in numerous natural and medical treatments - including chemotherapy for cancer patients.[6] It is an effective anti-inflammatory that can be used to lessen the swelling and tenderness of boils. Soak a cotton boil in castor oil and place it on the boil. Secure the cotton ball with a band-aid or some gauze. Change every few hours.


  • Use a microwaveable heat pack, wrap it in a warm wet cloth and apply it to the boil. It will keep your compress from getting cold quickly. They usually will last for about 40 minutes whereas a plain wet compress will get cold within a few minutes.
  • If you are embarrassed about the appearance of the boil, try covering it up with long clothing. If necessary, you can use a little concealer to hide the boil, though be careful as this may lead to infection.


  • Avoid squeezing a boil, as this may spread the infection.

Article Info

Categories: Skin Conditions