What is Povidone Iodine?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2019
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Povidone iodine is an antiseptic product used for surface abrasions and skin disinfection. Developed in the 1960s, this product is usually available at pharmacies and through medical supply catalogs, and it comes in a number of forms for convenience. It is a preferred format for iodine antiseptics because it is fully soluble in water, very effective, and can be used in highly flexible applications. Other antiseptics are also in use for skin and may be preferred for certain procedures or on patients who have allergies to iodine.

This product contains a mixture of polyvinylpyrrolidone, shortened to povidone or PVP, and iodine. The solution can contain varying percentages of iodine, depending on the formulation, and may be blended with sterile water or other fluids like glycerin as needed. Some people may refer to this product as PVP-I for polyvinylpyrrolidone-iodine. It has a reddish to brown color and can stain skin and clothing.

Some companies manufacture dry preparations of this compound for people to mix in solution as it is required. Packaged bottles of povidone iodine are also available. Prepackaged swabs, bandages, and cotton squares can be purchased as well, allowing people to quickly apply the iodine from a sterile package. First aid kits sometimes contain it in this format to make it easy for people to offer first aid, even in adverse conditions.


Before any procedure where the skin will be broken, such as venipuncture or surgery, the skin needs to be sterilized, as there are a number of bacteria naturally present on the skin that can cause infection if introduced into the body. Povidone iodine is one option for handling such disinfections, although alcohol can be used as well. The free iodine in this solution kills microorganisms on contact, and the skin staining can act as a convenient reminder, alerting people to the fact that the skin has or has not been cleaned, depending on the color.

Some patients develop reactions to iodine, and they may experience skin irritation if this product is applied. Ingesting this compound is also not safe, and it is important to keep it out of reach of children and pets, although the flavor can be a significant deterrent to all but the most determined consumers. If someone does ingest it, a poison control center should be called for treatment advice. Sometimes, this product is used as a mouthwash, but patients are expected to spit it out after use.


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Post 7

Chlorhexidine can also be used to disinfect the skin.

Post 6

I have a science lab to create and I am testing Vitamin C amounts in different juices and I need Iodine. My teachers said I need to know the concentration percentage. Basically, I need to mix it in cornstarch and water and I need it to turn blue. So which concentration percentage should I use? Someone please reply.

Post 5

If I accidentally swallowed 10ml of povidone iodine 10 percent, and didn't go for treatment, will there be any effects on me?

Post 4

I have been a paramedic for 20 years and I have seen and dealt with many different emergencies. But mine and my families' were and are the worst. I lost my nephew to severe allergies and I have had to be intubated myself twice, so when I deal with health care providers who either don't understand allergies or are not trained properly in this field, it upsets me.

I have severe allergies to shellfish, povidone, iodine, yellow food dyes and sulfa. Somehow, these all are related. I have almost died a couple of times and many times have not been taken seriously. I know there is some kind of form of crossing between shellfish and all of the above I am allergic to. I have been working on an invention I hope to have developed in the upcoming year.

Post 3

I am a nurse who frequently administers povidone iodine to patients. The good thing about PVP-I is that bacteria never develop a tolerance for it. Also, very few patients are sensitive to it.

We use PVP-I as a surgical scrub and for pre-operative and post-operative skin cleansing. We use it at concentrations between 7.5 and 10%. The brand name of the swabs, scrubs, sprays, and ointments we use is Betadine.

Patients can purchase Betadine for home use without a prescription. It is also sold under the generic name of simply povidone iodine. We recommend it to people who work outdoors or around animals and tend to scrape themselves often.

Post 2

@shell4life – Seafood is very rich in iodine. Sea bass, cod, perch, and haddock are all full of iodine. Even kelp contains lots of iodine.

My mother has an iodine allergy, so she has to be very careful with what she eats. Even though iodine occurs naturally in the human body, a large amount of it from external sources can be harmful. Dairy products and table salt contain iodine, and plants grown in soil rich with iodine contain this nutrient.

Post 1

When I became ill with a virus that caused extreme dehydration, I had to be hospitalized. When the nurse prepared to give me an IV, she asked if I was allergic to seafood. She said that if I had a seafood allergy, then she could not use povidone iodine on me at all.

While I had never had an extreme reaction to seafood, I did mention to her that it often irritated me a bit after I ate it. She said that even a slight irritation meant I should not be exposed to iodine.

Does anyone know what the relation is between seafood and iodine? I was too sick to ask the nurse, but I'd really like to know.

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