Abstract Wounds have the potential to become infected during any surgical procedure. Gelatin sponges that are commonly used to absorb blood during invasive surgeries would benefit tremendously if they released antibiotics. In this work, we have examined coating a commercial gelatin sponge with degradable polymer multilayer films containing vancomycin. The effect of the film on sponge absorption capabilities and the effect of the sponge on drug release kinetics were both examined. Application of vancomycin containing layer-by-layer assembled films to this highly porous substrate greatly increased drug loading up to approximately 880% compared to a flat substrate. Vancomycin drug release was extended out to 6 days compared to 2 days for film coated flat substrates. Additionally, the absorbent properties of the gelatin sponge were actually enhanced by up to 170% due to the presence of the vancomycin film coating. A comparison of film coated sponges with sponges soaked directly in vancomycin demonstrated the ability of the multilayer films to control drug release. Film released vancomycin was also found to remain highly therapeutic with unchanged antimicrobial properties compared to the neat drug, demonstrated by quantifying vancomycin activity against Staphylococcus aureus in vitro.