How to Clean a Catheter
There are many reasons why you might need a urinary catheter. For people with urinary-tract medical conditions, catheters can be essential for maintaining kidney health, preventing urine accidents and even helping the body heal after surgery.
Types of Catheters
There are two types of urinary catheters: intermittent catheters and indwelling catheters.
Intermittent catheters are typically meant for single-use. They’re easy to insert and are a good option if you don’t want a catheter in all of the time and you’re interested in self-catheterization or have someone who can help you catheterize. However, the majority of intermittent catheters are single-use devices that should be disposed of after one use. Used intermittent catheters are not only less efficient but can also be a significant risk to your health, leading to urinary tract infections, (UTIs), urinary tract trauma, and other problems.
Indwelling catheters, also known as foley catheters, are for longer-term use. They are typically inserted through the urethra by a nurse or other healthcare professional, where they are then held in place by a tiny, water-inflated balloon for weeks at a time.
How to clean your catheter
Catheter care is extremely important when it comes to preventing urinary tract infections and other complications in the urinary system. While intermittent catheters allow self-catheterization, and can allow more freedom, they’re not for everyone. Indwelling catheters are a great alternative for those who don’t want to fuss with self-catheterization or use disposable catheters. However, it’s extremely important to keep them clean to avoid infection.
If you have an indwelling urinary catheter, you'll need to clean your catheter every day. Here’s what you’ll need:
— Bleach or White Vinegar
— Paper Towels
— Mild Soap
— Clean Washcloth
— Hot Water
— Alcohol Pads
— Clean Towel
Once you have these supplies, you can use our tips and tricks to keep your catheter clean and bladder healthy. You should always wash your hands with soap and warm water before undertaking any part of the catheter care process. While you can use tap water, if possible, always try to use sterilized water and an unscented, mild soap to prevent infection or irritation. For the best results you should use water that has been boiled. Mild soap is less likely to irritate your skin or the urethral opening through which your catheter enters your body.
1. Empty your drainage bag
If you’re using an indwelling catheter, you’ll have to empty your drainage bag quite frequently, so it’s essential to learn how to do this in the most sanitary way possible.
- 1. Loosen your leg straps and remove the bag from your leg (if you’re emptying during the day).
2. Hold the tubing in place so it doesn't pull too hard and damage the skin. Many people use a stabilization device to prevent the catheter from moving during the process.
3. Free catheter tubing and hold over the toilet, opening the valve to empty. Make sure not to touch the drain spout of the drainage bag to the toilet. This will contaminate it.
4. Once the bag is empty, pinch the end of the catheter with your fingers and clean using an alcohol pad.
5. If you are not using a reusable catheter bag or if you’re changing from your day bag to your night or leg bag, you’ll want to disconnect the used catheter bag and wipe the connector of the new bag with an alcohol pad before connecting to the catheter.
6. Always wash your hands after handling your catheter and drainage bag.
7. You'll want to change your night bag to a leg bag in the morning, and vice versa at night. During the day, you should empty the leg bag every two to four hours, or when it's half full. The leg bag should be worn below the level of your bladder (on your calf when you’re sitting or standing or towards the floor if you are laying down)to maximize draining. The drainage bag should be secured to your body with leg straps, using the method shown to you by your nurse or other healthcare professional.
2. Clean the urethral opening
Once you’ve drained and cleaned your bag, it’s time to the urethral opening , where the catheter exits your body. You should be cleaning the area with soap and warm water at least once daily, as well as after every bowel movement.
Cleaning for men: start at the top of your penis, pulling the foreskin back and using a clean and moist washcloth to wipe the urethral opening.
Cleaning for women: Separate your labia and wipe from the urethra back towards your anus. Always wipe from the front to the back to prevent the spread of germs.
If, instead, you have a suprapubic catheter that goes in through your abdomen, you should wipe the skin of your belly around the catheter entrance. It’s also important to keep in mind that suprapubic catheters should be replaced every month or so.
After cleaning the urethral opening or skin around the catheter entrance, rinse off any excess soap and pat the area dry with a clean towel. Do not, under any circumstances, use lotions or other powders on the area, as these will increase the risk of infection. You should clean and dry the skin around your catheter every day after you shower. You can use a water based lubricant at the urethral opening to prevent irritation. Remember that you should not take baths or submerge under water if you have an indwelling catheter.
3. Check and clean your catheter tubing
It’s good practice to check your catheter tube during every cleaning. If you find kinks, cracks, or clogs, or you can't see into the tube, replace it immediately. Catheter tubing should be changed when you change your catheter drainage bags, which should be about every month or so depending on the catheter and how well you clean it.
To clean the inside of your catheter tubing, use warm water and mild soap. To decrease the risk of infection, make sure you disconnect the catheter from the catheter tubing before you begin cleaning. You should always talk with your healthcare provider when it comes to how and when to clean your tubing.
4. Clean your drainage bag
Like cleaning your catheter tubing, you should clean your drainage bag every day or so. Before you begin cleaning your drainage bag, be sure to have a backup bag ready to hold any urine that drains from your catheter while you’re cleaning your bag. Alternatively you can plug the catheter with a catheter plug if it will just be for a short time
1. Wash your hands and disconnect the catheter tubing from the plastic bag.
2. Connect catheter tubing to your backup bag or catheter plug. Make sure the bag you are cleaning is completely empty before you begin, and there is no urine inside.
3. Then, pour warm water inside the bag and add soap, swishing to clean all corners of the bag. Make sure water isn’t too hot. Very hot water can ruin the bag, in which case you’ll need to replace it.
4. Drain and rinse the bag and then clean using the solution advised by your healthcare professional. Typically this is either:
— 2 parts vinegar with 3 parts water or
— 1 tablespoon of bleach with 1/2 cup water.
— Shake the bag and let sit for 30 minutes before draining and rinsing with cold water.
— You should then hang the bag somewhere it can air dry — remember to let the bag dry completely before using it again.
Ideally, leg and overnight drainage bags should be replaced every month. Consult a healthcare professional if you have any questions about cleaning, replacing your drainage bags, or replacing your catheter tubing.
When it comes to keeping your catheter clean, it’s important to establish a routine. If you can, try to clean your drainage bag, catheter tubing, and the area around your catheter at the same time and place every day. This way, you won't forget to clean regularly, and you’ll be safe from the threat of germs that might lead to infection.
How to store your catheter
If you have any extra unused catheters, catheter tubing, or catheter bags, be sure to store them in their original packaging to keep them sterile and prevent any damage. Before using any of these items, check to make sure they haven't been damaged or contaminated.
Store your catheter, tubing, and drainage bags out of the sun, and never use any of these materials beyond the specified date of their shelf life. During the day, night drainage bags can be stored in a clean and dry place, and vice versa for leg bags during the night.
When you do end up disposing of these materials, rinse them with soap and hot water, then wrap them in a plastic bag to keep from spreading germs.
How to find the right catheter for you
Keeping your catheter clean is extremely important in preventing the spread of germs and urinary infection. You should empty and clean your drainage bag every day, twice a day. When you do so, make sure to clean the area around your catheter as well, and to check and clean the catheter tubing that connects your catheter to your drainage bag. If you experience difficulties with your catheter you should see a healthcare provider and go to your nearest medical center for help immediately.
If you’re looking to try out a different type of catheter, Better Health carries a selection of intermittent and external catheters that are reimbursable through insurance. Take our product selection quiz to find out the best catheter for you, or request free samples through our website.