Potassium permanganate soaks for skin conditions or ulcers

Potassium permanganate is a chemical tablet. The tablet must be dissolved and diluted in water to make a soak for skin conditions.

It should only be used on the outside of your body and must never be put in the mouth or swallowed.

The soaks are used for skin conditions that blister or weep (when liquid leaks out of blisters). This can include infected or weeping eczema and leg ulcers. Potassium permanganate soaks work in 2 ways:

  • a mild antiseptic to treat the infection
  • an astringent to dry the weeping skin

It is normally a short term treatment, used regularly for up to 2 weeks.

The healthcare professional administering the potassium permanganate soak will assess your skin before and after treatment. If you have concerns while using the soaks at home, contact the healthcare professional looking after you.

Using potassium permanganate safely

There are 3 different types of potassium permanganate soak: bath soaks, extremity soaks and gauze soaks.

Your healthcare professional will tell you how to dilute and use potassium permanganate at home, if you have been prescribed it to use. Follow the instructions you have been given carefully. If you unsure about the dilution instructions, please speak with your healthcare professional.

Once diluted, the solution should be a light pink colour.

If you get potassium permanganate in your eyes

  • Contact NHS 111 immediately
  • Do not rub your eyes and keep them closed
  • Wash your eyes immediately with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes
  • Remove any contact lenses

If you swallow potassium permanganate

  • Go to your nearest emergency department (A&E) or call 999 immediately
  • Drink a small glass or milk or water

Potassium permanganate can be extremely harmful if swallowed. 

Who can use potassium permanganate at home

Normally potassium permanganate soaks are used in hospital by a healthcare professional. However, sometimes we prescribe potassium permanganate to store, prepare and use at home.

It's very important that you know how to do this safely.

To use potassium permanganate soaks safely by yourself or by your carer at home, we ask if you or your carer can:

  • apply the soaks as they have been prescribed for you
  • safely store the tablets at home, out of reach of children or vulnerable adults and separately to medicines taken by mouth
  • safely manage and prepare the dilution with no risk of anybody in the home accidentally swallowing the tablets or the diluted solution
  • dispose of the diluted solution safely and return any excess tablets to a pharmacy for disposal

If you think the answer to any of these questions is ‘No’ then please discuss this with your healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Side effects

The most common side effect of potassium permanganate is dryness of the skin at the treated area.

Potassium permanganate can cause irritation or burns if the tablet is split or cut, not fully dissolved or the solution is not diluted enough. If you feel pain or stinging, stop the treatment immediately, wash the treated area with water and contact your healthcare professional.

Potassium permanganate is a dye and will stain clothing, fabrics and ceramic basins. It can also stain the nails and skin of the areas not being treated. Your healthcare professional can advise on how to avoid this happening.

Resource number: 5426/VER1
Last reviewed: July 2023
Next review due: July 2026

Trusted Information Creator. Patient Information Forum

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about the use of potassium permanganate, please speak to the healthcare professional looking after you.

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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