How to Get Rid of Boils

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Portrait of young woman washing her face

Boils—or furuncles—are a form of skin infection. Skin boils causes include bacteria and fungi that are normally present on the skin. The most common is Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. While boils can look like pimples or zits, they are much different. A boils skin infection requires different treatment than acne. If you’re in doubt about what a lump or bump is, see your doctor. If it’s a boil, here’s what you can do to treat it and get rid of it.

Small Boils

You can often treat small boils under the skin or on the skin at home. The goal is to get the boil to open and drain on its own. Don’t try to squeeze it or open and drain it. Attempting to do so can worsen the infection and lead to serious complications. Instead, follow these steps:

  • Apply warm, moist compresses. Soak a washcloth in hot water and put it on the boil. Make sure the water isn’t hot enough to burn the skin. Leave the compress in place for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat this several times a day, using a clean washcloth each time. The heat and moisture will encourage the boil to open, usually within a week.
  • Continue the compresses after the boil opens. The moist heat will help drain the pus. This process can take a few days, so keep the compresses going while it’s draining.
  • Wash and dry the boil twice a day with antibacterial soap. Don't reuse washcloths or towels that have touched the boil. After drying the area, apply a sterile bandage or gauze. Keep the area covered until the boil fully heals. Change the dressing if pus soaks through it or if it gets wet or dirty. Dispose of dressings in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Wash your hands before and after touching or cleaning the boil. Use antibacterial soap and dry your hands with a clean towel that hasn’t touched the boil.
  • Don’t share personal items that have touched the boil. This includes towels, washcloths, sheets, clothing, or anything else that comes in contact with the boil. Wash these items in hot water and use high heat to dry them. Use bleach in the wash if it’s safe for your sheets, towels, and other items.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help relieve pain and tenderness.

If the boil doesn’t heal within two weeks, contact your doctor. You should also call your doctor if the boil is on your face or spine, the boil is growing or worsening despite treatment, or you develop a fever or red streaks.

Large Boils and Carbuncles

Carbuncles are clusters of boils that connect and coalesce under the skin. Your doctor should treat carbuncles and large or deep boils. Complications are more likely with these types of boils. Treatment involves surgically lancing and draining the boil. If it isn’t possible to immediately drain all the pus, your doctor may pack the wound with sterile gauze.

Doctors may also use antibiotics to treat large boils and carbuncles. Typically, a 10- to 14-day course is necessary. Be sure to finish the entire course as your doctor prescribes. Failing to do so can result in a recurrence that is more difficult to treat.

Recurrent Boils

Sometimes boils become a recurrent problem. If you successfully treat a small boil at home and get another one, see your doctor. You may need antibiotics to clear the infection. When boils continue to recur, an extended course of antibiotics may be necessary. Your doctor may also prescribe medicated skin washes to help prevent recurrences.

Some people carry Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in their nose. Having this carrier status may make skin infections, including boils, more likely to recur. For recurrent boils, your doctor may swab the inside of your nose to test for the bacteria. If the test comes back positive, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic cream to put in your nose.

Preventing Boils

It isn’t always possible to prevent boils, but good hygiene can help. Make habits out of the following practices:

  • Avoid sharing personal items that contacts the skin. This includes towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, uniforms, and sports equipment.
  • Clean and cover cuts, wounds, scrapes, abrasions, and open sores with sterile bandages.
  • Shower or bathe daily.
  • Wash your hands often for 20 seconds at a time. Singing “Happy Birthday” twice is a way to measure the time. If you don’t have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Apr 8
  1. Boils. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. https://www.aocd.org/page/Boils
  2. Boils. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001474.htm
  3. Boils and Carbuncles. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/boils-and-carbuncles/symptoms-causes/syc-20353770
  4. Folliculitis, Boils, and Carbuncles. Johns Hopkins University. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/folliculitis-boils-and-carbuncles
  5. Furuncles and Carbuncles. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/bacterial-skin-infections/furuncles-and-carbuncles
  6. How to Treat Boils and Styes. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/injured-skin/treat-boils-styes
  7. How to Treat the Different Types of Acne. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/DIY/types-breakouts
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