Gauze is a cotton fabric which is loosely woven compared to the regular material for clothing. When used for clinical purposes, it is referred to as medical gauze, of which there are two types: sterile and non-sterile. Sterilized gauze has been treated with irradiation, chemicals, or heat to kill micro-organisms to make it suitable for dressing wounds and for absorbing body fluids. Non-sterile gauze, which is primarily intended for bandaging to hold sterile gauze in place, does not go through the same process because it is not meant to have direct contact with exposed body parts. In order to have added tensile strength, bandages have a tighter weave than sterilized dressing.
As a wound dressing, sterilized gauze does not only stop the bleeding, but it also protects the wound from additional physical damage and infection. For this reason, a person's hands must be clean and sanitized before using sterile gauze. Since its primary purpose as wound dressing is to promote healing, sterile gauze is non-adhesive, non-toxic, and non-allergenic to avoid additional trauma. It is also common to find sterilized dressing that is treated with an antibiotic or antiseptic. An added convenience is that pre-cut sterilized dressing pads of various sizes are readily available.
An equally important function of sterilized gauze is absorbing body fluids during procedures. As a sponge, sterile gauze comes either as a pre-folded pad, which is commonly used by surgeons, or pre-rolled gauze, which is preferred by dentists. For example, rolled gauze absorbs blood and saliva and temporarily fills the space created by an extracted tooth, but it would not be as helpful for a small abrasion. For minor cases, a regular sterile gauze pad may be sufficient to absorb blood before the final dressing is applied.
Since accidents such as burns, bruises, or cuts can happen almost anywhere, it is important for medical centers to have numerous sizes and forms of sterilized gauze available at all times. For example, a variety of medical cases inside hospitals and emergency clinics will always require an inventory of different plies and sizes of medical gauze to be able to effectively handle any situation, so their first aid kits are usually quite extensive. Paramedics and first response personnel normally carry similar kits for the exact same reason.
For primary care at home or at work, it is normally enough for individuals to keep a few pieces of individually-packed sterilized gauze pads for wound dressing and a roll of non-sterile gauze for bandaging. A pair of scissors should always accompany the gauze bandage since the length required often differs from case to case. Items like medical tape and fastening clips are also sometimes used in conjunction with sterile gauze.