Urinary incontinence is a problem that affects between one-third and one-fourth of the adult population. Though common, without intervention, involuntary leaks can affect an individual’s quality of life and increase the risk of potentially serious health problems. Here are our tips for choosing the best catheter:

One of the easiest ways to combat urinary incontinence is with the use of a catheter. But if you don’t come from a medical background or have experience using them, it can be difficult selecting a product that aligns with you or your loved one’s needs.

Knowing a little bit about the different types of catheters, their uses, and their benefits, can help you make an informed decision. This article answers the following questions:

What Is a Catheter?

A catheter is a thin, hollow tube made of rubber, plastic, or silicone that helps drain urine from the bladder. If someone is unable to urinate on their own, waste builds up in the bladder, placing pressure on the kidneys. Without the ability to relieve that pressure, life-threatening conditions may occur, including kidney failure.

Why Use a Catheter?

Why use a catheter? There are a variety of medical conditions that can benefit from the use of a catheter, including:

  • Urinary incontinence (the inability to control urination)

  • Overactive bladder

  • Urinary retention (the inability to empty the bladder)

  • An enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia)

  • Dementia

  • Spinal cord injuries

  • Nerve damage

  • Spina bifida

You might also benefit from a catheter if you take one or more prescription medications that impair the muscles in the bladder affecting your ability to urinate.

What Are the Types of Catheters?

Catheters fall into four primary categories –– external, intermittent, indwelling, and suprapubic.

External catheters

External catheters were originally designed for men and look similar to a condom. They fit comfortably over the tip of the penis and draw urine from the bladder into a collection bag. Over the course of the last decade, a number of companies have developed similar devices for women.

Intermittent catheters

Intermittent catheters are removable and allow for self-catheterization several times a day. They eliminate the need for a urine collection bag, encouraging a more active lifestyle. In addition to being convenient, intermittent catheters often minimize the symptoms of urinary incontinence.

Indwelling (Foley) catheters

Indwelling catheters are designed for overnight use. They’re inserted through the urethra and have a small inflatable balloon on the end that prevents the catheter from slipping out. During sleep, urine drains into a collection bag that’s hung on the bed or an end table.

Suprapubic catheters

Suprapubic catheters are for long-term use. They’re inserted into a small incision in the abdomen during an outpatient procedure. Once placed, suprapubic catheters drain the bladder for up to a month. These catheters are ideal for individuals who are immobile or wheelchair-bound.

What Factors Should I Consider When Buying a Catheter?

To ensure a catheter meets you or your loved one’s needs, it’s important to consider several factors, including length, size, tip design, and lubrication.


The length of a catheter depends on who it’s designed for. Male catheters are typically 16 inches or longer, while female catheters are between six and eight inches. 


Catheters are sized using the French gauge (Fr). One increment on the French gauge equates to ⅓ millimeters. The higher the Fr number, the greater the catheter’s diameter. 

If you’re new to wearing catheters, it may take some trial and error to find a comfortable fit. Your primary care physician can also make recommendations that align with your needs.

Tip design

There is a wide range of catheter sizes, but most men wear size 14-16 Fr, and most women wear size 10-12 Fr. 

Catheter tips come in two styles –– straight or coudé. 

Straight catheters are the most common type and slip comfortably into the urethra. 

Coudé catheters have a slightly curved tip. This unique design makes it possible to slide the catheter past obstructions like scarring or an enlarged prostate.


Inserting a dry catheter into the urethra isn’t just uncomfortable, it also increases the risk of cuts, friction, and catheter-associated urinary tract infections. To prevent these and other issues, it’s important to use a lubricant. 

Some people choose to self-lubricate their catheters with over-the-counter products like K-Y™ or Surgilube®. Others use pre-lubricated catheters, of which there are two types: 

  • Hydrophilic catheters have a thin plastic coating that becomes smooth when dipped in water. 

  • Silicone oil-coated catheters are enveloped in a thin layer of antimicrobial oil

How Do I Keep a Catheter Clean?

How do I keep a catheter clean? To prevent catheter-associated urinary tract infections, it’s important to clean you or your loved one’s catheter on a daily basis. The cleaning process depends on the type of catheter used.

Cleaning an intermittent catheter

Before inserting an intermittent catheter, wash your hands and genitals with warm soap and water. After you finish urinating, remove the catheter, dispose of it in the trash, and wash your hands again.

Cleaning an indwelling, external, or suprapubic catheter

If you use an indwelling, external, or suprapubic catheter, try and clean it once in the morning and once at night. To do this, you’ll need a clean washcloth, mild antibacterial soap, warm water, and a towel.

First, wash your hands with soap and water. Then, get the washcloth wet and lather it with soap. Run the soapy washcloth along the catheter tube from where it enters your body to the point at which it connects to the drainage bag.

Afterward, carefully wipe down the skin around your genitals and gently pat them dry. When you’re finished, place the towel and washcloth in the laundry and wash your hands again with soap and water.

What Are Some of the Best Catheters?

What are some of the best catheters? We carry a number of catheters on the Carewell website. Below, we’ve listed a handful of our most popular offerings:

Bardia Foley Catheter, 30 cc Balloon
Bardia Foley Catheter, 30 cc Balloon

Price: $1.45 - $23.65

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Designed for extended care use

  • Sterile

  • Straight tip

  • Packaged in a peel pouch for easy access

  • Secured with a 30 cc balloon

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Sterile

  • Easy to insert and remove

  • Coudé tip

  • Secured with a 5 cc balloon

Coloplast Conveen Optima Male External Catheter

Price: $19.99 - $51.79

This self-sealing external male catheter from Conveen features an anti-kink bulb to prevent urine backflow and a push ring that securely attaches to a drainage bag. It’s made of PSX silicone and has a diameter of 25 mm.

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Transparent design for easy monitoring of the skin

  • Stays in place with an integrated skin-friendly adhesive

  • Includes a pull tab for easy application

Cure Catheter Urethral Catheter, Female

Price: $0.60 - $136.16

This latex-free female catheter is six inches long and made of uncoated PVC plastic. It has polished eyelets and a straight tip, allowing for hassle-free insertion and removal.

Key Benefits & Features:

  • Sterile

  • Straight tip

  • Disposable

  • Packaged with dual openings for easy access

SpeediCath Urethral Catheter, Unisex
Coloplast SpeediCath Urethral Catheter, Unisex

Price: $3.99 - $64.99

The SpeediCath is designed for men and women alike. It’s a pre-lubricated hydrophilic catheter that’s packaged for immediate use. Each SpeediCath is made of polyurethane and free of potentially harmful chemicals like DEHP.

Key Benefits & Features:

  • 14 inches long

  • Pre-lubricated no soaking or pre-preparation required

  • Sterile

  • Comes with a pull ring that makes opening the package easy

What if I have additional questions about catheters?

Researching catheters is a lot of work. If you still have questions or need help making the right choice for you or your loved one, reach out to our friendly Care Team. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to support@carewell.com.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.