A burn from boiling water, also known as a scald, can be superficial (a first-degree burn) or more serious (a second-degree or third-degree burn). You should never treat a serious burn at home. For a serious burn, get professional medical attention. You can go to a doctor for a second-degree burn. Third-degree burns require immediate, emergency treatment at an ER or burn center.

Note: If your scald has blisters, it is a second-degree burn. If you cannot feel any pain or are in intense pain, you likely have a third-degree burn.

How can I treat a burn from boiling water?

How you treat your burn depends on its severity. If you have a small, minor burn, also called a superficial or first-degree burn, you can treat it initially by cooling it. To do so, place it under clean, cool (not cold) running water. Make sure the stream of water is not forceful, as it could injure the skin further. If it is comfortable to do so, keep the burned area in the cool water for 15 to 20 minutes.

Be sure to remove any clothing or jewelry, but do not remove anything stuck to the skin.

If you suffered a second- or third-degree scald burn, you should go to the doctor once you have run your burn under cool water. The doctor will provide emergency care to prevent further damage and can guide you on what to do next.

What should I not do to treat a burn from boiling water?

Do not use any of these to treat your scald:

  • Ice (ice can damage the tissue around the burn)
  • Ice water (if the burn is big enough, ice water can send the person into shock)
  • Butter or oil (can hold in the heat and/or lead to infection)
  • Anything frozen

What should I do after immediate first aid?

After you or a doctor has performed immediate first aid or emergency care, the following can help you care for your burn long-term. You should always check with your doctor to determine whether these would be suitable for your burn care.

Ointments: Although we do not recommend using ointments immediately, as they can hold in heat and make the burn worse, some ointments can provide moisture and topical relief to a minor scald after the burn has cooled. Only apply ointments to a first-degree burn unless your doctor authorizes it.

Dressings: After the heat is gone from the burn, a dressing can prevent further injury to the wound. It can also keep dirt and other foreign matter from coming into contact with the wound. This can help you avoid an infection.

If you choose to use a dressing, make sure it is a clean, sterile dressing, such as gauze or a gauze pad. Do not use household items like rags or washcloths. To keep your burn from drying out, you can apply petroleum jelly to the gauze.

What should I watch for after a scald burn?

Is it really a first-degree scald? If your burn from boiling water has blisters, or develops blisters within a day or two of the injury, it is not a first-degree burn. It is likely a second-degree burn and you should set up an appointment with your doctor. Never pop a blister, as this can lead to infection.

Infection: You might have an infection if:

  • Your burn gets worse
  • The color changes
  • The pain increases
  • You get a fever
  • There is discharge at the site of the wound
  • You simply do not feel right

Infections in burns are serious, and need immediate professional medical attention. An untreated infected burn can lead to sepsis, which can cause major organ damage and even death.

Always trust your instinct. If something seems wrong, call your doctor. If you believe your burn is worsening or it is more serious than you originally thought, make an appointment with your doctor.

Meanwhile, if another party is to blame for your burn, such as if somebody spilled boiling water on you or you suffered your injury at work, call our lawyer referral specialists at 844-549-8774 for help finding a lawyer. You may be entitled to compensation to help pay for your medical care and other damages.