How to Stock a Smart First Aid Kit
First aid, 101
If you're like many people, you pretty much never think about first aid supplies until the blood starts flowing.
And then, more often than not, it can be a bit of a panic—where the heck are those Band-Aids?
If you've pawed through your medicine cabinet one too many times, it's time to stock a first aid kit or maybe two (one for the car.)
Here's what you need, or check this
The right bag
Not too big, not too small, this should be big enough to stash some gear, but not so large that you need to stuff it in the back of a closet or give it its own seat in your car.
You can always buy a pre-stocked kit, such as this one from the Red Cross ($27;
redcrossstore.org). But it's also okay to inject a bit of style and choose your own. Because really, who doesn't need a dose of panache to help ease the pain? Travel bags for toiletries are the perfect choice, what with all those cunning (clear plastic) compartments.
Consider the Wally Bags travel organizer ($44;
The Red Cross recommends 25 adhesive bandages in assorted sizes for a first aid kit for a family of four.
It's a cinch to stock up on Dora and SpongeBob Band-Aids at your local drug store for the kids (or even yourself). But feel free to ramp up the fun even more.
FirstAidProduct.com stocks everything from pirate, ninja, and monster bandages to unicorns and fairies. Silly grown ups might like their pickle or bacon bandages ($6; first-aid-product.com).
Keep special fingertip and knuckle bandages on hand, and larger bandages for scraped knees or elbows.
Individually wrapped wipes impregnated with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide are perfect for cleaning minor cuts and scrapes. The Red Cross suggests keeping five packets in a first aid kit for a family of four; try these alcohol prep swabs ($3 for a package of 120; cvs.com).
But if you're scared of the sting—or have kids that are—consider antiseptic sprays, like Bactine, or fun foam products, like Neosporin for Kids Wound Cleanser ($4; amazon.com).
Got a splinter? Rather than rifling through your man-scaping or beauty bag for your trusty eyebrow pluckers, get a pair of special first-aid tweezers.
Handy for splinters, removing ticks, or plucking debris from scrapes, these metal tweezers come in a plastic cylinder ($2;
xfirstaidkits.com), and are easier to handle than the eyebrow kind; they're also fine-pointed enough to use for tiny splinters.
Buy a few (they cost about $1) so you can keep one in your bathroom and one in each of your first aid kits.
With a tube of triple-antibiotic ointment like Bacitracin or Neosporin in your medicine chest, you've got ammunition against infections in scrapes, scratches, cuts and other minor wounds.
Swiping antibiotic ointment onto a clean, minor wound—or even one that's contaminated—will keep bacteria in check and help injuries heal faster.
For your first aid kit, pick up a smaller tube ($5;
drugstore.com) or several single-use packets.
Cold packs can be as simple as a plastic bag filled with ice, or as fancy as these Boo Boo Buddy Instant Cold Packs ($5; amazon.com) featuring Lightning McQueen, Tinkerbell, and more.
There are also kid-size reusable cold packs ($4; first-aid-product.com in the shape of My Little Pony, Scooby Doo, and assorted superheros.
Grown-ups can choose from a wide range of cold packs too. Stow a couple in your freezer, and then keep one or two instant cold compresses—which are activated by squeezing and need no refrigeration—in your portable kit. A two-pack from Walgreens (walgreens.com) is about $3.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Hand sanitizer is a key ingredient of any first aid kit, particularly if it's for your car.
Presumably if you're at home, you can wash your hands with soap and water before treating your own or someone else's injury, which is the best way to kill germs.
However, when you don't have easy access to soap and water, you can fight infection by using an alcohol-based sanitizer to clean your hands before and after treating injuries.
Itchy bug bites, poison ivy, mild skin irritations, and rashes are no match for hydrocortisone. You can buy 0.5% and 1.0% hydrocortisone cream over the counter, and individual use packets also are available for stocking your first aid kit.
The Red Cross suggests two packets for a family of four. It's also good to have a tube on hand for at-home use.
For injuries that a Band-Aid can't cover, sterile dressings are a must, and they're also useful for cleaning wounds and applying medications.
These individually wrapped pieces of gauze come in several different sizes. Jeffrey Pellegrino, PhD, a volunteer health and safety instructor with the Red Cross in Portage County, Ohio, recommends having at least eight pieces in four-by-four inch and two-by-two inch sizes.
The Red Cross also recommends having two roller bandages (one three-inch wide and one four-inch wide) as well as a couple of absorbent compress dressings (5x9 inches).
Adhesive cloth tape
"Adhesive tape can be used for adhering small and large bandages; it can also help create pressure over a wound to free hands for other first aid," says Pellegrino.
"Tape is also valuable for putting things together likes newspaper for a splint and/or adhering the splint to a digit or long bone. It can also be used to adhere objects to people if going to the hospital, for example, a used epinephrine injector or health history."
For a family of four's first aid kit, the Red Cross recommends a 10-yard roll of one-inch wide adhesive cloth tape.
With all that tape and bandages, don't forget a pair of scissors. And really, don't just pull a pair from your arts and crafts cupboard.
Bandage scissors, also known as trauma shears, have an angled blade that allows you to neatly cut a strip of adhesive tape to size without cutting your patient at the same time.
You can buy a professional-grade pair (amazon.com) or other pair (amazon.com) with the handle color of your choice for around $5.
While it's a no-no for kids, low-dose aspirin can help grown ups who are having a heart attack.
The Red Cross recommends keeping two packets of 81-milligram aspirin tablets in your kit. If you or someone you know seems to be having a heart attack, call 911.
The 911 operator may recommend that you take the aspirin, after making sure you don't have a condition or other reason you shouldn't take it.
Reusable thermometers are tough to keep clean, and they tend to disappear when you need them most. For households with small children, especially during flu season, single use thermometers might be a better option, and they're perfect for first aid kit use.
3M's Tempa Dot Single Use Clinical Thermometers (
healthykin.com) cost less than $15 for a sterile box of 100.
Even better, you can tell your kids that this is the thermometer the astronauts use; they're flown on board all NASA space shuttles.
Gloves made from nitrile, a thin, stretchy, strong material, are an important addition to any first aid kit. They are latex- and vinyl-free, and very inexpensive; you can buy a box of 40 for about $5, or a box of 100 for around $10. Choose gloves that are universal-sized and ambidextrous so anyone in your family can use them, and always keep two pairs in your first aid kit. We like these cool purple ones.
**This product is no longer available. Try these cobalt nitrile gloves ($18;
The iconic three-cornered kerchief ($6; sears.com) serves double duty as a "cravat bandage," and Boy and Girl Scouts learn to use them as an arm sling, bandage, and more.
Pellegrino advises keeping a couple in your first aid kit. "They are really quite handy."
Ready-made first aid kit
To keep it simple, you can just purchase a pre-made first aid kit. Just be sure that it fits your needs.
"It should be resourced appropriately for the context that it's going to be used in," says Pellegrino.
The Deluxe Family First Aid Kit ($27;
redcrossstore.org) from the Red Cross contains everything on this list, and more, along with the American Red Cross Emergency First Aid Guide.
If you're a hiker and camper, Adventure Medical Kits offers dozens of different specialized first aid kits, including this Family First Aid kit ($30;
adventuremedicalkits.com) with enough supplies for a family of four for one to four days.
First aid instruction
Pretty much anyone can put a Band-Aid on a boo boo. But would you know how to handle a sprain, bee sting, heat cramps, or worse?
Sure, you might be able to Google it or look it up on your phone.
But it's not a bad idea to have a good old-fashioned paper guide stashed in your kit, in case technology or shaky fingers fail you.
You can consider this First Aid Mini Flip Chart ($2;
firstaidstore.com) or this First Aid & Emergency Preparedness Quick Reference Guide**.
**This product is no longer available. Try this American Red Cross Emergency First-Aid Guide ($4;
What to skip in your first aid kit
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) used to recommend that parents keep a bottle of ipecac syrup at home to induce vomiting if a child swallowed poison.
But in 2003, the AAP reversed this recommendation, given a lack of evidence for any benefit, the potential for harm, and the possibility that it could interfere with other poison treatments.
So what should you do? Skip the ipecac and call the
poison control hotline at 1-800-222-1222, stat.
Be sure you have this phone number (and any other emergency numbers) stashed in your kit.