We select and review products independently. When you purchase through our links we may earn a commission. Learn more.

Everything You Need to Know Before Donating Blood

A person takes blood from a donor.
America Red Cross

While the nationwide blood shortage might be over, that doesn’t mean giving blood is any less important. This simple act can save lives, but if you’ve never done it before, the idea might be a little scary. You might not know where to go to donate either. That’s why we reached out to the American Red Cross to find out everything you need to know about giving blood.

Blood drives are often coordinated through schools or workplaces, but if you just want to donate on your own, you might not know where to go. We spoke with Rodney Wilson, senior biomedical communications specialist at the American Red Cross, about where to go, and what to expect when you donate blood.

Why Is It So Important to Donate Blood?

A person holds an American Red Cross heart emblem.
Lion Day/Shutterstock.com

At this writing, the American Red Cross is no longer in a critical blood shortage as it was at the beginning of 2022. However, that doesn’t mean supplies have been fully replenished—the amount of blood on hand is still vulnerable.

“Blood is perishable and therefore cannot be stockpiled,” said Wilson. “The Red Cross strives to keep enough blood on hand to meet routine and emergency medical needs on any given day.”

According to Wilson, they strive to always have a full, five-day supply, so the Red Cross can ensure all patients have access to blood in a timely manner.

You’ve likely heard people talk about the importance of donating blood, but we got into the nitty-gritty details of why it matters so much with Wilson.

According to statistics, about 97% of the population know someone who’s received a blood transfusion. Even if you don’t know about it, it’s likely that a family member, friend, or even your significant other has depended on the blood supply at some point in their life.

Unfortunately, unlike just about everything else, no one can simply manufacture blood. It must be donated to help those who need procedures and treatments that call for it. In short, blood donations save countless lives, from accident victims and those receiving organ transplants, to cancer patients and those being treated for disorders, like sickle cell disease.

“You never know who your blood might help,” Wilson said. “But each donation has the potential to save more than one life and touch countless others.”

How Do You Begin the Donation Process?

The Appointments menu in the Red Cross app.
American Red Cross

While blood drives conducted through workplaces and schools are common, you can also donate on your own, and the process is pretty simple. You can either download the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit the organization’s website, or call 1-800-Red-Cross (1-800-733-2767) to set up an appointment.

However, do keep in mind that there are eligibility requirements. First, in most states, you must be at least 17 years old in most states (16-year-olds can donate in some locations with parental consent). You must also weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in generally good health.

There are also eligibility requirements surrounding a variety of illnesses and diseases. Those who have recently gotten a piercing or tattoo might also be subject to a waiting period before they become eligible.

Men who have sex with other men also have a waiting period based on celibacy. The Red Cross has called for a re-evaluation of this eligibility standard and is currently engaged in a study to determine if this should be changed.

How to Prepare to Donate Blood & What to Expect

A person greets another at a Red Cross blood drive.

While the blood donation process is simple, and there’s nothing to fear, there are a few steps you can take to ensure it goes smoothly.

First, those who have low iron should avoid caffeine and eat foods rich in iron in the weeks leading up to their appointment.

Wilson also recommends getting a good night’s sleep before your appointment and drinking lots of water starting the day before. Eating a good meal before you go is a good idea, as well.

When you get there, the most important thing to do is relax. For those who are apprehensive, Wilson explained what you can expect when you arrive at a donation center. After all, being forewarned is forearmed!

The first thing you’ll do is register at the drive or donation center. You’ll be asked to provide your name, address, phone number, and ID. You’ll then provide a confidential health history and places you’ve traveled to.

Potential donors then receive a mini-physical, during which a staff member will check your temperature, iron levels, blood pressure, and pulse.

Then, you just sit in a chair where your donation will be collected. A staff member will clean your arm, insert the needle, and the bag will start to fill. This process only takes about 8-10 minutes, which should be a comfort to those who are a bit more squeamish.

After a pint of blood is collected, you’ll be given a bandage and sent to the refreshment area. All done!

Wilson advises that you don’t skip the refreshments. After giving blood, it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseous. Snacks, fluids, and resting for at least 15 minutes will help alleviate these symptoms. They’ll also help your body start replenishing the blood you just donated.

Wilson also recommends that you avoid any heavy lifting or strenuous activities for a few hours following your donation.

Your body should replenish the volume of blood you donated within 24 hours.

What You Should Know If You’re Afraid of Donating Blood

A person has a bandage with a heart on their arm.

There are several reasons why people are a bit fearful of donating blood. First, if they’ve never done it before, there’s just the natural fear of the unknown. Hopefully, as we’ve covered how you can prepare, as well as what you can expect from the actual donation process and afterward, this article has helped allay that fear—at least somewhat.

Then, of course, there’s the incredibly common fear of needles, which, Wilson said is the biggest barrier for most people. However, most donors say they only experience a slight pinch.

“The process itself is relatively easy and only takes a matter of minutes,” said Wilson. “After one donation, most wonder why they ever hesitated to give in the first place.”

After all, a slight pinch that could save a life is well worth it, right?

While the American Red Cross is no longer in critical need of blood donations, the organization can always use more help to keep its supply up to the daily standard. The process is also easier to sign up for than ever and takes less than 10 minutes. Oh yeah, and it saves lives! If you’re looking for an impactful way to give back, schedule an appointment today!

Shea Simmons Shea Simmons
Shea Simmons is the Editor In Chief of LifeSavvy. Previously, she worked as a freelance writer with a focus on beauty and lifestyle content. Her work has appeared in Bustle, Allure, and Hello Giggles. Read Full Bio »
LifeSavvy is focused on one thing: making your life outside of work even better. Want to know more?