Urethral (indwelling) catheter care

A urethral catheter is in your bladder. There is a small balloon at the tip that holds it in place. Urine flows from your bladder through the catheter into the bag that is attached.

Reasons to have an indwelling catheter are:

  • Incontinence (leakage)
  • Retention (not being able to urinate)
  • Surgery that made it needed

How do I clean my skin and catheter?

To clean your skin:

  • Keep your bottom clean so you do not get an infection or sores.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and water.
  • Wash your skin with your hand and warm water at least 1 time each day.
    • Use a hair dryer on the cool setting to dry your skin all the way.
  • Use a skin protectant, such as zinc oxide or Vaseline® near your urethra.
    • Do not use other creams, powders, or sprays.

To clean the catheter:

  • Gently hold the catheter. Start washing the end near your vagina.
  • Move slowly down the catheter (away from your body) to clean it.
    • Never clean from the bottom of the catheter toward your body.
  • Rinse and dry well.
    • Gently dry the tubing with a clean towel.

What will I need to clean my skin and catheter?

  • Leg bag with straps
  • Overnight drainage bag (large bag)
  • Device to secure catheter to leg

How do I connect the catheter and drainage bag?

  • Connect the catheter to a leg bag during the day.
  • Connect the catheter to the larger overnight bag at bedtime, or when you are lying or sitting for a long time.
  • Bags should always be below the level of the bladder so urine can drain easily.
  • Check for kinks and move the tubing if it is not draining.
  • Try not to disconnect the catheter more than you need to.
  • Do not clamp the catheter unless your doctor has told you to.

How do I care for the drainage bags?

  • Drain the bag when it is 1/2 to 3/4 full, and when you are not using it.
    • Do not let urine sit in a bag.
  • Clean it every day.
    1. Put a small amount of liquid soap into the tubing of the drainage bag.
    2. Add warm water.
    3. Shake the bag to get all surfaces clean.
    4. Drain the soap and water.
    5. Hold the open end of the tubing under the faucet. Run warm water through the tubing into the bag.
    6. Shake and drain it.
    7. Do this until it is rinsed well.
    8. Wash the outside of the bag and rinse it.
    9. Hang it to air dry with all clamps open.

How do I disinfect drainage bags?

Disinfect your bags to lessen the odor at least 1 time each week. Do this more often if needed.

  1. Mix 1 pint vinegar and 3 pints water in a clean container. Do not use this container for anything else.
  2. Rinse the tubing and bag with warm water as described here.
  3. Drain the water and clamp the drainage spout.
  4. Fill the bag with enough vinegar water to cover all the places touched by urine.
  5. Put the cap on the tubing.
  6. Let the vinegar water soak in the bag for 30 minutes.
  7. Drain the vinegar water from the bag.
  8. Rinse it with tap water. Hang it to dry with the clamps open.
  9. A syringe or irrigation bottle may be helpful when using the vinegar water so it does not spill.

Bags can be reused for 1 month.

Call the clinic if:

  • You have chills and/or a fever over 100.4° F (or 38° C)
  • You have pain near your sides, stomach, or back
  • You have pain near the catheter
  • You have red colored urine that does not go away in a day
  • You have a low amount of urine or if you are not urinating
  • Your catheter seems blocked and is not draining
  • Your catheter comes out
Last reviewed: 
May 2020
Alternative Names: 
Urethral catheter care
Indwelling catheter care

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