What Should You Keep in a First Aid Kit?

We all have one – that old box or biscuit tin in the top kitchen cupboard or under the bathroom sink, overflowing with messy old bandages and expired ointments.

You go and grab it in a first aid situation, and it never has the thing you need, does it?

Rummaging around the box, you’ll find eye patches the kids have used for ‘dress up as a pirate day’, safety pins used for clothing emergencies, ointments for conditions you can’t remember having, medications you keep for ‘just in case’ and various lotions and potions that expired when Malcolm Fraser was still the Australian Prime Minister.

But not a Band-Aid or sterile bandage in sight!

A box of miscellaneous junk accumulated over the years isn’t very helpful when you quickly need to stop the blood oozing from a deep cut in your finger after an accident in the kitchen.

And while ripping into that one last oversized pack of swabs covered in brown betadine throat wash solution, you think to yourself: “I must update this first aid kit”! But then you forget. Again.

So let’s do something about that. What should you have in your first aid kit? Well, there are some common basics, but for the rest it really depends what you intend to use the kit for.

For first aid kits in the workplace, you should refer to the First Aid in the Workplace Model Code of Practice (2012) by Safe Work Australia.

Having a first aid kit at home is a must for anyone, especially if you have children (or a husband!). Further down this page are some good reasons to keep a well-stocked first aid kit in your home.

There are many items you may like to have available in your kit (a good deal more than 10 for sure), but here is our top 10 of useful things to keep in your first aid kit at home:

1 – Splinter Probes

Whoever invented these little things should be knighted. I can’t tell you how many times a year I have used these on my kids. They are great for digging out splinters from hands and feet. Single use and sterile, they’re often sold in packs of 5 and will cost you no more than a couple of dollars. Oh, and ladies, these are great for getting out ingrown hairs from hubby’s face as well.

2 – HydoGel (Burn Gel)

The standard treatment for all types of burns, which should always be the first thing you try, is 20 minutes of cool running water. This helps take the heat out of the burn. But you don’t always have immediate access to cool running water for 20 minutes. Hydrogel is fantastic for minor burns. It comes in dressings, tubes, sachets and sprays and is great for pain relief from burns, scalds and sunburn. We all know that feeling when you didn’t fold the tea towel over enough when getting the roast chook out of the oven. But fear not… burn gel is your friend!

3 – Triangular Bandage (Sling)

The sling is one of the oldest, simplest and most versatile pieces of first aid equipment available. Everyone has seen one of these at some point in their life. The triangular bandage can be used to control heavy bleeding, support a broken arm, immobilise legs, apply pressure to a wound or even clean windows (apparently). No first aid kit is complete without at least one of these little beauties. When given the choice between calico and non-woven fabric, always choose the calico. Trust me. It may cost a dollar or two more, but the calico sling is much easier to use.

4 – Elasticated Bandage (Heavy Crepe)

Sprained ankle? Snake bite? Bleeding out? Fear not. Your trusty heavy crepe bandage can help. This elasticated bandage is designed to apply firm pressure to limbs. You can use it for support following ice treatment of a sprain or strain, to reduce the spread of venom following a snake bite, or to help stop a major bleed once a dressing has been applied. They come in widths of 5cm, 7.5cm, 10cm and 15cm. I tend to go for the 7.5 and 10cm bandages. These are the most commonly used and are easy to store. Don’t confuse heavy crepe elasticated bandages with medium crepe bandages. The (cream coloured) medium crepe bandage doesn’t apply as much pressure.

5 – Fabric Strips (Band-Aids)

An oldie but a goldie! The trusty adhesive bandage (Band-Aid) has seen us through our childhood days of learning to ride a bike, trying out scissors for the first time, unloading the dishwasher cutlery tray and finding out what happens when you jump off the see-saw before your friend does. I always go for the fabric strips rather than plastic. Fabric strips stay on much better and provide an extra bit of padding. For people sensitive to fabric, there’s an alternative: the hypo-allergenic strip (your local pharmacy will stock them). For children, I strongly suggest you get some fun character strips. It’s amazing how quickly little ones recover when they see a picture of ‘Olaf’ strapped to their knee.

6 – Low-Adherent Dressing Pads

Sometimes a simple Band-Aid just won’t cut it. For those days when the kids have the ‘big stack’ and remove half the skin from their back, ensure you have some low-adherent dressings to save them sticking to the bed sheets. Low-adherent pads come in many sizes and can be applied directly to open wounds. Simply bandage in place or use some medical tape.

7 – Gloves

It’s like your dad said: always wear protection… gloves that is! You need a pair of gloves for hygiene and safety reasons. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving first aid to your own child, your best friend, a neighbour or the dog, you should always wear a pair of disposable gloves. This is both to protect yourself from bodily fluids and to prevent you transferring germs and bacteria to your patient.

8 – Sterile Saline

Sand fight? Sunscreen in someone’s eyes? These are some of the most common situations for which I’ve used sterile saline. Saline is a sterile saltwater solution that is great for irrigating eyes and washing out wounds. It’s normally supplied in 15ml or 30ml ampoules. A must-have in any family first aid kit.

9 – Medical Tape

This is the first aid item that gets used up the quickest. The reason? Presents. That’s right, when you run out of sticky tape at Christmas time, where can you be guaranteed to find some tape? Yep: the first aid kit! There are many different types of tape and they all come in different sizes. My favourite is the 2.5cm transparent plastic micro-perforated tape. Waterproof and easy to tear, this tape sticks well and lasts.

10 – Wound-Cleaning Wipes

Sometimes, all it needs is a wipe. Grazed knees and elbows or a stubbed toe, a mild antiseptic wipe is a quick and easy fix for these minor injuries. Normally supplied in a single sterile sachet, no first aid kit is complete without a pack of 10 wound-cleaning wipes.

Bonus Item – Glad Wrap

Say what? That’s right. The good old cling wrap. How can an everyday household item be so useful in a first aid kit, you ask? Glad wrap has been used for many years to cover burns following cooling. I find it really useful to immobilise arm fractures and dislocations. It can even be used as a bandage if you don’t have a fabric bandage available. Cling wrap really has an endless number of uses in first aid, so I suggest you always keep some handy.

Why do you need a First Aid Kit at home?

Injuries can happen anywhere and anytime. Did you know that most accidents and injuries happen in and around the house? And minor injuries can easily be treated – if you have the right gear in your kit. That is, if you even HAVE a kit.

All homes should have a first aid kit – whether you live alone or have a house full of toddlers, tweens and teenagers, and whether you rent a tiny apartment or own a big suburban mansion.

With a first aid kit at your disposal, you can prevent infections that can come from open wounds. You can reduce the severity of an injury and help keep patients safe and stable until further help becomes available.

But why do you need to keep first aid items in a special box? What’s wrong with keeping your Band-Aids in your kitchen drawer, the sling in the bathroom cupboard, the medical tape in the hallway closet and a variety of bandages in the car?

Because in an emergency, you need to know where to go and be able to quickly grab the first aid kit with all the supplies you may need in one go.

Another reason is that it’s much easier to keep stock of your first aid items when they’re all kept together. So you don’t accidentally run out of one thing or another but hadn’t noticed because you don’t keep the medical tape with the dressing pads.

Where to store your First Aid Kit at home

Storing your first aid kit in a central location in the house (that everyone knows about!) and where all family members can get to it quickly and easily, is essential.

You don’t want to waste any time if someone’s bleeding like crazy or has been bitten by a snake. And you definitely don’t want to have to go look for different things in different locations all around the house.

Keep your first aid kit in a cool, dry and accessible place. Don’t forget to check that the box you use is easy to open. And again – make sure everyone in your household knows where the first aid kit lives in your home.

Maintaining your home First Aid Kit

So now that you’ve resolved to keep a well-stocked first aid kit in your home, let’s make sure you don’t let things get out of hand again.

I don’t want to see you rummaging through your kitchen drawers again one year from now because your first aid kit has run out of Band-Aids.

Here are just 2 simple rules to keep your first aid kit up to date:

  1. Promptly replace items when you have used them from the kit. Stick a note on the fridge to buy new bandages of a certain size when you’ve used those. Make this a habit.
  2. Once a year (pick a date for this and put it in your diary as a recurring event), thoroughly inspect the contents of your first aid kit. Check items for expiry dates, ensure packs with sterile items are still properly sealed, and that everything is in good working order. Make a list and replenish everything that’s missing, outdated or no longer in perfect condition.

Knowing how to use your First Aid Kit

It’s a good idea to keep a basic first aid manual with or inside your kit, so you know how to apply bandages in different situations, for example. Applying first aid the right way can be crucial for your patient’s recovery.

It’s always a good idea if at least one person in your household knows how to apply first aid properly. Why not join a first aid course in your area?

You can still keep some instructions in your first aid kit though, in case you need to refresh your memory or the person with the training isn’t on hand when someone is injured at home.

Visit our free first aid course page for further information or attend one of our accredited classes.

Purchasing a First Aid Kit

What ever you do, don’t buy a first aid kit from Bunnings or your local Chemist. Most of these kits are over-priced and poorly stocked. Use a specialist first aid supplier like The First Aid Shop. You can view a large range of kits online which include contents lists and options of different containers.

You can also purchase individual items to restock your kit in the future. Visit www.thefirstaidshopau.com.au

About Andy
Andy is responsible for the overall management of Paradise First Aid. Andy holds a number of Diploma and Certificate level qualifications in first aid and emergency care and has worked in both the private and public health services before making the switch to first aid education. Andy has a passion for Continued Professional Development and is a member of the First Aid Industry Reference Committee and the Australian Resuscitation Council (QLD Branch).

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