How Should I Take Care of My Indwelling Urinary Catheter?

Medically Reviewed by Nazia Q Bandukwala, DO on December 13, 2022
4 min read

An indwelling urinary catheter helps drain urine from your body when you can’t do it on your own. You may need one for any number of reasons: After surgery, with some cancer treatments, or if you have a blocked urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder to outside your body).

One of the more common ones is a Foley catheter. It’s a thin tube that goes in through your urethra and up to your bladder or lower stomach.The bladder end of the catheter has a balloon filled with water to help keep it in place. At the other end, outside your body, a drainage bag collects your urine.

If you have a damaged urethra, you might need a minor procedure to get a suprapubic catheter instead. This one goes in through a small opening in your lower belly.

Because the catheter goes from the outside world into your body, it’s important to keep it clean. Germs that get inside your body can cause infection.

Follow the tips below, along with your doctor’s instructions, to care for your catheter.

It’s best to clean your catheter twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. You’ll need:

  • Clean washcloth
  • Clean towel
  • Mild soap
  • Warm water

Then, you can follow these seven steps:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  2. Hold the catheter where it goes into your body so you don’t tug it too hard while you clean.
  3. With your other hand, use a soapy washcloth to wipe the catheter tube. Start from where it goes into your body and wipe down toward the drainage bag. This helps keep you from wiping germs from the tube into your body.
  4. Use a soapy washcloth to clean the area around where the catheter goes into your body. (For men with a Foley catheter: Start from the top of your penis where the catheter goes in, making sure to pull back the foreskin, and wipe back toward your anus. This keeps you from spreading germs into your urethra). (For women with a Foley catheter: Start from where the catheter goes into your urethra, making sure to separate the labia, and wipe back toward your anus. This keeps you from spreading germs from into your urethra). (For a suprapubic catheter: Wipe the area of your belly around where the catheter goes in).
  5. Rinse any soap off, then pat yourself and the catheter dry with a clean towel. If you have a suprapubic catheter, put on a new bandage.
  6. Put the washcloth and towel in the laundry and don’t use them again until you’ve cleaned them.
  7. Wash your hands again.

As you clean, look for signs of infection around where the catheter goes in, such as swelling, redness, pus, or pain. Call your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.

You’ll wear a leg drainage bag during the day and a night drainage bag when you sleep. To change bags, you’ll need:

  • A clean drainage bag
  • Soap
  • Two alcohol pads

To change bags, follow these nine steps:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Empty urine from the bag into the toilet.
  3. Pinch the catheter closed between your fingers.
  4. Remove the bag.
  5. Wipe the end of the catheter with a fresh alcohol pad.
  6. Wipe the tip of the new bag with the second alcohol pad.
  7. Connect the new bag -- you can stop pinching the catheter now.
  8. Make sure there’s no bends or kinks in the catheter tube.
  9. Wash your hands again.

Once you’ve emptied and removed a bag, you have to clean it before you can use it again. You’ll need:

  • Cool water
  • Mild liquid soap
  • White vinegar

Then, you can follow these nine steps:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  2. Wash the inside of the bag with soap and cool water (hot water may damage the bag).
  3. Rinse the bag with cool water to get all the soap out.
  4. Mix 1 cup cool water with 1 cup white vinegar.
  5. Fill the bag halfway with the vinegar solution, then shake it up.
  6. Let the bag sit for 15 to 30 minutes.
  7. Empty the bag and rinse it with cool water.
  8. Hang the bag to let it dry.
  9. Wash your hands again.

Follow these tips to keep your catheter working and lower your chances of getting an infection:

  • Avoid taking baths, but shower daily. For the first few days after getting a suprapubic catheter, use a waterproof bandage when you shower. Once the wound heals, you can shower as usual, but avoid scented soaps.
  • Check the tube once in a while for bends or kinks that keep pee from flowing out.
  • Don’t use any lotions or powders around where the catheter goes into your body.
  • Empty the leg bag twice a day or when it’s half full.
  • Keep the drainage bag below your bladder so it drains well.
  • Wash your hands before and after touching the drainage bag.

Call your doctor if your catheter comes out. Don’t try to put it back in on your own.

Also, check with your doctor if you have:

  • Blood clots or bright red blood in your pee
  • Cloudy pee with a strong odor
  • Fever over 101 F
  • Little or no urine
  • Pain in your belly
  • Swelling, redness, pus, pain, or burning where the catheter goes into your body

Show Sources

Cleveland Clinic: “Care of the Urine Drainage Bag and Leg Bag.”

National Health Service (U.K.): “Urinary Catheterisation.”

UCLA Health: “Catheter Care FAQs.”

University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine: “Urinary Tract Management in Spinal Cord Injury: Urination and The Urinary Tract in SCI: Indwelling Catheter.”

California Department of Social Services: “Foley Catheter Care.”

Cincinnati Children’s: “Foley Catheter Home Care.”

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: “Caring for Your Urinary (Foley) Catheter.”

The British Association of Urological Surgeons: “Management of a Urethral Catheter.”

Children’s Minnesota: “Urinary Catheter (Indwelling): Care at Home.”

The Ohio State University, Wexner Medical Center: “Home Care for Your Foley Catheter (Male).”

Bladder and Bowl Foundation: “Suprapubic Catheter.”

The University of Toledo: “Care of an Indwelling Urinary Foley Catheter.”

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