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What you need (and what you don't) in a family first-aid kit

Consumer Reports News: September 27, 2010 12:00 PM

Everyone should have a first-aid kit at home and in the car, plus a portable kit to take along when traveling. Keep the one at home in an easy-to-access spot, such as your kitchen.

You can make your own with sample-size products tucked into a zippered plastic bag. Or you can buy kits that don’t cost a lot of money but contain everything you might need, just in case. We bought a Johnson & Johnson kit with 170 items for about $15—far less than it would cost to buy all the supplies separately. But we especially liked the red Cross Deluxe Family First Aid Kit (about $25; It’s a compact case that unfolds into individual zippered compartments, each printed with basic first-aid steps for various types of injuries; the appropriate supplies are all tucked inside.
However, just a couple of boo-boos can wipe out those little packets of pain relievers and antibiotic ointment in a premade kit, so stock up on extras of those common items. Be sure you keep your first-aid supplies neatly organized in one place, so that you don’t waste time rounding them up when someone’s hurt. And remember to restock when you use something up. It’s also a smart idea to go through your kits every year to replace out-of-date medications. (See What to carry in a roadside emergency kit.)

Below are checklists of everything you should have on hand, and things you don't need.


  • First-aid handbook.
  • Disposable medical-exam gloves (preferably vinyl; some people are allergic to latex).
  • Mouth-to-mouth device for rescue breathing.
  • Absorbent compress dressings.
  • Adhesive bandages in assorted sizes.
  • Sterile gauze pads.
  • Adhesive cloth tape.
  • Roller bandages.
  • Triangular bandages.
  • Safety pins or bandage closures.
  • Sharp scissors with rounded tips to prevent cuts.
  • Tweezers.
  • Triple-antibiotic ointment.
  • Hydrocortisone cream.
  • Gel cold pack to keep in freezer (or instant cold compress).
  • Thermometer (with extra batteries, if it uses them).
  • Drugs; we recommend having the following medications in adult and child formulations: acetaminophen (tylenol or generic), ibuprofen (Advil or generic), aspirin (brand name or generic), antihistamine (Benadryl or generic), antidiarrhea medicine (Imodium or generic), antacid (tums or generic).
  • Prescription medications and medical supplies.
  • Emergency contact information and medical history of each family member; blank forms avaiable at
  • Sample-size or individual-use packets of meds and ointments you can pack in a travel kit, antiseptic wipes in case you’re not near soap and water, and an emergency blanket.

Things you don’t need:

  • Syrup of ipecac.
  • Chemical preparations to stop bleeding.
  • Smelling salts.
  • Tincture of iodine.

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