Abstract Background Abdominal surgical site infections are among the most common complications of inpatient admissions and have serious consequences for outcomes and costs. Different risk factors may be involved, including age, sex, nutrition and immunity, prophylactic antibiotics, operation type and duration, type of shaving, and secondary infections. This study aimed to determine the risk factors affecting abdominal surgical site infections and their incidence at Imam Khomeini, a major referral teaching hospital in Iran. Methods Patients (n = 802) who had undergone abdominal surgery were studied and the relationships among variables were analyzed by Student's t and Chi-square tests. The subjects were followed for 30 days and by a 20-item questionnaire. Data were collected through pre- and post-operative examinations and telephone follow-ups. Results Of the 802 patients, 139 suffered from SSI (17.4%). In 40.8% of the cases, the wound was dirty infected. The average age for the patients was 46.7 years. The operations were elective in 75.7% of the cases and 24.7% were urgent. The average duration of the operation was 2.24 hours, the average duration of pre-operative hospital stay 4.31 days and the average length of (pre- and post-operation) hospital stay 11.2 days. Three quarters of the cases were shaved 12 hours before the operation. The increased operation time, increased bed stay, electivity of the operation, septicity of the wound, type of incision, the administration of prophylactic antibiotic, type of operation, background disease, and the increased time lapse between shaving and operation all significantly associated with SSI with a p-value less than 0.001. Conclusion In view of the high rate of SSI reported here (17.4% compared with the 14% quoted in literature), this study suggests that by reducing the average operation time to less than 2 hours, the average preoperative stay to 4 days and the overall stay to less than 11 days, and approximating the timing of shaving to the operation and substituting cefazolin for cefaluthin when prophylactic antibiotic is to be administered, the SSI may be reduced to a more acceptable level.