When it comes to cleaning open wounds, saline water does a better job than soap and water, a recent study suggests.

Researchers from McMaster University and McGill University Health Centre say it's standard practice to clean a wound with soap and water before surgery.

But in a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the scientists say simply using salt water might be more effective.

"There has been a lot of controversy about the best way to clean the dirt and debris from serious wounds with bone breaks," Dr. Mohit Bhandari, a principal investigator and a professor of surgery at McMaster University said in a statement.

"All wounds need to be cleaned out – a process known as debridement – but evidence shows that cleaning wounds with soap was not better than just water, which was unexpected."

To come to this conclusion, researchers studied 2,400 patients with open arm or leg fractures.

Some of these patients had their wounds cleaned with soap and water, while other wounds were cleaned with saline.

Researchers also tested different levels of water pressure when cleaning the wounds.

Then, following surgery, researchers monitored the patients' health for the next 12 months.

During this time, they found that patients whose wounds were washed with soap and water were more likely to need an additional operation because of an infection or problems with the wound healing.

Researchers also found that very low water pressure was an acceptable alternative to using more expensive high-pressure treatments when washing out fractures.

According to the researchers, these findings could lead to better and more cost-effective ways of cleaning wounds – especially in low or middle income countries.

The study looked at patients around the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway and India, and the majority of patients were men who suffered a fracture because of a motor vehicle accident.

And because road traffic fatalities and injuries are more common in the developing world, study co-author Edward Harvey said their research could make a significant difference there.

"These findings may have important implications for the care of patients with open fractures worldwide," Harvey said. "(Because) developing countries deal with a disproportionate number of cases."