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How To Donate Blood

Updated on June 19, 2013

Reasons to Donate/Blood Facts

  • The need for blood is growing faster than the current supply
  • Every 2 seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood
  • Many chronic illnesses (such as Sickle Cell or Cancer) require patients to regularly need blood transfusions
  • Blood can't be "created" or "manufactured." It must come from you!
  • Less than 38% of the population is eligible to give blood

Got Blood?

Of course you do!

Just over 5 liters to be exact. That's about 10 pints or 1.5 gallons for those of us in the U.S.

So why not donate some?

I have been a regular blood donor for just over 10 years. Every 56 days I get a phone call from the American Red Cross and schedule my next donation. But what has become second nature for me, may be entirely new and unfamiliar to others. In this article I am going to explain, STEP BY STEP, how you can donate blood through the American Red Cross.

Note: There are other ways to donate blood and/or blood plasma other than the Red Cross. Local hospitals often have donation centers. However, for convenience and professionalism I have always been impressed with the Red Cross, so my article will explain the process of donating through them.

If you have never donated, or it has been a while, I hope enjoy the following review of HOW TO DONATE BLOOD and consider making a donation!


The following instructions will guide you STEP BY STEP through the whole donation process. Within each step, when applicable, I have added some personal tips from my own experience for your consideration.

My hope and goal is to encourage others to consider donating blood if they have not done so before.

TIP: Don't want to go alone? Email this article to a FRIEND! You can donate together!


Although most Red Cross blood donation centers will say "walk-ins welcome" I don't personally recommend this approach...unless you have a lot of free time and a good book. Sure, you might get lucky and get right in. But ordinarily they take many of the "appointment" donors before calling out for the walk-ins. On a busy day with lots of appointments you can be there for several hours or more. So do yourself a favor and make an appointment.

To make an appointment, first find a local Red Cross donation event going on in your area. Do that by visiting their Blood Donation Appointment page and checking with your zip code.

Alternatively, you can contact the Red Cross by phone at 1-800-RED-CROSS

TIP: Personally, if possible, I like to book my appointment as EARLY as possible within the time frame they are running. For example, if they are running from 2PM - 7PM, I try to get a 2PM or 2:15PM appointment. There is very little chance of a delay with an early appointment.


I highly recommend getting there a few minutes early, and also bring a book (just in case you have to wait a bit).

Someone will be waiting to greet you at the "check in" table. If you have a donor card (don't worry - you don't need one) you can present it now (some sites will scan your card). You will be given some reading materials to ensure you understand the donation process.

TIP: Wear something comfortable, particularly a shirt that is loose enough to easily take your blood pressure and can be pulled above the elbow comfortably. A T-shirt is great, but you may want to have a light coat too just in case it is cool inside the facility.


  1. 30 people per minute need a blood transfusion!
  2. The Red Cross holds over 200,000 blood drives per year!
  3. You can donate blood every 56 days!
  4. All blood donations are tested for HIV, Hepatitis B & C, Syphilis and other diseases.
  5. The American Red Cross supplies 40% of our nations blood supply


After checking in and reading the information provided, you will be given a number and need to wait to be called. If you made an appointment, this shouldn't be too long. Now is the time to pull out that book and get a little reading done. In my experience the wait is less than 10 minutes if you have an appointment. There should be plenty of seats available, and also water is typically offered while you wait.

TIP: Are you wearing a coat or sweater? Now is the time to consider looking for where you can hang it up or put it aside. Once your number is called they will be needing regular access to your arm.


Once your number is called you will be invited to take a seat at a small table with a nurse or blood donation specialist. He/she will ask you your name, date of birth, gender (yes, they have to ask your gender), etc. They will take your blood pressure and pulse. They will check your red blood cell level by means of a small needle prick on your finger tip, It feels just like a quick pinch, then you get a bandage to cover it. Assuming these things are all okay, you will be asked to answer about 50 questions - usually on a computer screen.

TIP: If you have never given blood before, understand that some of the questions are going to be kind of personal with respect to sexual behavior and IV drug use. The questions are designed to keep the blood supply safe for patients who will need it.



Having completed all the questions a nurse will return and gather your paperwork. He/she might, once again, ask you to state your name, address, etc (they tend to be very careful about not mixing up their patients....that is a good thing!).

You will be directed to a table on which to lie down. Before this, the nurse may ask to look at your arms to determine which one they will use to draw the blood. If you have a preference, let them know now.

Your arm, inside the elbow area, will be swabbed with a disinfectant (usually iodine, unless you are allergic). You will feel a brief prick/burn as they insert the needle. It is fast, and the pain is minimal (in my opinion). You don't have to watch. You will be given a small object to squeeze and/or roll in your hand every 30 seconds or so, to help keep the blood flowing freely into the pint-size bag.

The whole process will take only about 15 minutes. You will hear some beeping noises coming from the monitor. Don't worry about these, they won't explode. The nurse may ask you how you feel during this time. This is normal, so don't be alarmed as if they think that something has gone wrong.

When the bag is full they will remove the needle, apply a bandage, sit you up, give you some instructions and send you over to the "canteen" table for a few refreshments. This is not optional, as they need to observe you for about 10 minutes to make sure you are okay to leave and drive home.



You're done!! Well, almost. You just need to visit the canteen area and have a seat for about 10 minutes while they offer you a drink and some snacks. Go deserve it! Also, this is when you may receive any special gifts that have been donated for those who give their time and blood to this worthy cause. T-shirts are pretty common. I have also received ice cream coupons, bottled water, and raffle tickets for MLB games!

Snacks provided tend to include things like:

  • Pretzels
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Raisins


Who CANNOT donate blood? More than 60% of the population is not eligible to donate for one reason or another. Some of these reasons include:

  • Those 16 years of age and younger
  • Those who weigh less than 110 pounds
  • Those who are not feeling well (if you have a cold or flu, you may not donate)
  • Pregnancy
  • HIV Positive patients
  • A variety of more rare conditions or situations may exclude a person from donating. To see the whole list visit the Red Cross website.

What about my medications?

Certain medications may disqualify you from donating, but the list is pretty short, and they are not too commonly prescribed:

  • Isotretinoin products (used for acne)
  • Propecia (for male pattern baldness)
  • Avodart (for Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy - BPH)
  • Plavix, Coumadin, Ticlid (blood thinners)
  • Others such as Human Growth Hormone, Soriatane and Hepatitis B immune globulin

What if I am afraid of needles?

In my experience the staff at Red Cross blood donation centers are VERY understanding and will do all they can to provide you with an atmosphere that minimizes anxiety and discomfort.

How Often Do You Donate Blood?

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    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 

      6 years ago from Southern Nevada

      I not sure if I can donate blood that I have R/A. I'll call the Red Cross to find out. Thank you for a great hub, Joyce.

    • ourforeverisnow profile image


      6 years ago from Maine

      I try to dotate as much as I can. Im o- so everyone needs it. Very informational hub! Voted up!


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