Silver Nitrate Sticks - What They Are & How They Work

Posted on August 29 2018

Silver Nitrate Sticks are a firm wooden stick that contain 75% silver nitrate, and 25% potassium nitrate that are used to chemically cauterize the skin. Silver Nitrate Sticks activate when these two ingredients are mixed with moisture, such as a drop of water, and cause a chemical reaction when applied to the skin. The chemical reaction permanently destroys unwanted tissues, such as warts, skin tags, aphthous ulcers, canker sores, or over production of granulation tissue.

Also known as Caustic Pencils, Silver Nitrate Sticks are not used as a treatment for minor skin cuts, and should not be confused with a Styptic Pencil. Uses include: non-genital warts and verrucas, granulation tissue, wound healing, stoma maintenance, umbilical stumps, cautery, anterior epistaxis, vasomotor rhinitis, post-biopic cervical nicks, skin tags, and pain relief for aphthous stomatitis.


Silver Nitrate is commonly known as a caustic antiseptic and an astringent. Potassium Nitrate has been used as a topical antiseptic on mucous membranes. The degree of action depends upon the concentration used, and the period of time during which the compound is allowed to act. The Silver Nitrate is precipitated by chloride, thus washing with a sodium chloride solution can quickly neutralize the actions of the silver ions.

The Silver Nitrate and Potassium Nitrates in a caustic stick is in a dried, solid form at the tip of a wooden or plastic stick. When the material is applied to a wound or lesion, the tissue moisture or blood dissolves the dried nitrate salts, which then chemically burn the tissue. This does require moisture for activation.

How to Apply Silver Nitrate Sticks

Use one drop of water, as it is sufficient enough to treat two square inches of the tissue. Place a single drop of water, or more if required, on a clean, non-absorbent surface. Moisten the applicator tip with sterile, distilled water, and apply the silver nitrate to the affected area by holding, rubbing, or rotating the tip along the affected tissue.

Gently stir the tip of a pencil or applicator in the drop of water for 20 to 30 seconds. The strength of the action is controlled by the dilution with distilled water. One silver nitrate applicator is generally enough for each application.

 Note: Silver salts stain tissue black due to deposition of reducing silver. The stain gradually disappears within a period of 2 weeks.

Silver Nitrate Sticks are also used for minor bleeding where patients are not under general anesthesia, and where electrocautery pens would be painful and inconvenient. One common use of Silver Nitrate Sticks is in Emergency Medicine, to control nose bleeds. The stick is rolled on the affected mucous membrane or visible blood vessel in the nostril, where the chemical cauterization stops the minor bleeding.

If the bleeding is too copious, the chemical cautery may not be effective, as the flowing blood can wash away the chemical before it can react with the tissue. It can also be accidentally spread to undesirable locations where it can cause skin staining and tissue burns. This is especially important to note, as it is often used in the nose where accidental aerosolization can occur - splattering the clinician or other parts of the patient, causing accidental burns. Accidental application to unintended tissue is treated with copious water irrigation. 

For more information on our Silver Nitrate Sticks, please visit our website at or give us a call at 1-888-687-4334 to speak with one of our medical supply specialists!

*WARNINGS: KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN. Ingredients are poisonous and may be fatal when ingested in sufficient doses. Only use on treated area, and avoid all contact with eyes. If there is contact with the eyes, hold eyes open and immediately flush thoroughly with water for at least 15 minutes and consult a physician. When using this product, always wear protective gloves, and never use around eyes.