Steam is about 212 F (100 C), so even brief exposure can burn your skin. Steam burns often occur in the kitchen, such as when you lift the lid off a pot of boiling liquid or open a dish you've just taken out of the microwave. Steam burns are often superficial and minor, primarily because reflexively pulling away from the heat source limits the time your skin is exposed to the high temperature. Small, superficial steam burns can often be treated at home. Large or more severe burns and those involving the face, feet or genitals require immediate medical evaluation and treatment.
Immediately cool the burned area with gently running tap water. Keep the burned area under the cool running water for 20 minutes. This will arrest the burning process, ease your pain and limit swelling. The water should be cool but not extremely cold. Alternatively, you can serially apply towels soaked in cool water for 20 minutes.
Do not apply ice or a frozen cold pack to the area as the extreme cold could further damage the burned skin.
After cooling the burned area, assess the size of the burn. If the burned area is larger than the palm of your hand, gently cover the area with a clean, dry cloth and seek urgent medical care. For smaller burns that do not involve the face, feet or genitals, home care is usually safe and effective. See warnings for other situations that require urgent medical care.
Gently dry the burned area. Minor, superficial steam burns usually do not need to be covered. However, you might want to bandage the area for comfort. Loosely apply a sterile gauze pad to avoid putting pressure on the burn. If the area is blistered, use a nonstick pad to prevent the bandage from sticking to the burn.
If the skin is intact, you might consider applying a lotion containing aloe to the burned area for additional pain relief. Do not apply butter or oil to the burn.
If you are in pain, you might consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Check with your doctor if you are uncertain whether an over-the-counter pain reliever is safe for you.
Change the dressing daily until the area is no longer painful. Minor, superficial steam burns usually heal within 5 to 6 days.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.