Emergency advice

Severe chemical burn:

  1. Check area is safe.
  2. Flood burn with cool running water for at least 20 mins.
  3. Call 999.
  4. Remove contaminated clothing.

What are chemical burns?

Chemicals can irritate and burn the skin causing damage that can sometimes be fatal. These burns can occur in industry or in the home from common household products. They can also occur from malicious acid attacks. Anyone with a chemical burn will need emergency help as soon as possible.

Signs and symptoms

Look for:

  • intense stinging pain
  • evidence of the chemicals near by.


  • blistering, peeling, discoloration or swelling of the affected area.

What to do

  1. Chemical burns first aid - wear protective gloves

    First make sure that the area around the casualty is safe. Wear protective gloves, this will prevent you from coming into contact with the chemical.

    • If inside, ventilate the area such as opening windows or doors to disperse any fumes.
    • If the chemical is in powder form, it can be brushed off the skin.
    • If it is safe to do so seal the chemical container.
  2. Chemical burns first aid - flood the burn with cool running water for at least 20 minutes

    Flood the burn with cool or lukewarm running water until the ambulance arrives, to disperse the chemical and stop it burning. When cooling, pour the water away from yourself to avoid being hit by any chemical splashes. Ensure any contaminated water does not collect near the casualty.

    • Do not delay starting treatment by searching for an antidote.
    • Never attempt to neutralise acid or alkali burns unless you are trained to do so.
  3. First aid - call 999 or 112 for emergency help

    If the burn is severe, call 999 or 112 for emergency help. Pass on any details you may have of the chemical to ambulance control.

    • If possible, ask someone else to call so that you can continue to cool the burn.
  4. Chemical burns first aid - remove contaminated clothing

    Carefully remove any contaminated clothing.

    • If there is someone else available to assist you, who has protective gloves on, they can do this while you continue to cool the burn.
  5. First aid - call 999 or 112 for emergency help

    If the burn is minor and you have not yet called for help, send the casualty to hospital. Monitor their level of response while waiting for help.

Related first aid advice

Eye injuries - chemical burns

Splashes of chemical substances to the eye can cause a serious injury if not treated quickly. Find out what to look for and what to do.


Shock - not to be confused with emotional shock – is a life-threatening condition. It happens when the body isn’t getting enough oxygen to the vital organs. Find out what to look for and what to do.

How to handle difficult first aid situations

When responding to an emergency, it is important to recognise the emotional and physical needs of everyone involved, including your own.

St John Ambulance volunteers providing support