How to Care for a Catheter: Step-by-step Guides for Emptying & Cleaning Male & Female Catheters

Sophie Bebeau

Written by Sophie Bebeau on Mon Jan 09 2023.

How to Care for a Catheter: Step-by-step Guides for Emptying & Cleaning Male & Female Catheters

Introducing a catheter into incontinence management can bring some much-needed respite from diaper changes, trips to the toilet, and laundry. Still, there can be a learning curve when it comes to properly caring for them. 

Just like any new skill, practice makes perfect! Follow our step-by-step guides on properly removing, emptying, cleaning, and caring for three different kinds of catheters - an external condom catheter for men, a PureWick™ for women, and an indwelling catheter (for both men and women). 

After following these simple steps a few times, proper catheter care will become another skill you have under your caregiver belt!

External Condom Catheter for Men

An external condom catheter is a flexible latex sheath that fits over the penis and connects to an adhesive collection bag worn around the leg or waist. 

This type of catheter drains urine with fewer risks and greater comfort than traditional internal catheters because it does not require a catheter to be inserted through the urethra to reach the bladder. External condom catheters are also disposable and come in different sizes so that they can be tailored for a comfortable and secure fit.

Emptying & Cleaning an External Condom Catheter

Empty the urine collection bag when it is about half to two-thirds full. Fully remove and clean the condom catheter bag and replace the condom catheter every 24 hours. Empty full-sized bags every eight hours and smaller bags every 3-4 hours.

Ensure to take off the catheter at least once a day and wash the penis with soap and water or perineal cleanser.

*See medical attention immediately if you notice any signs of infection—such as redness, swelling, itching, odor, or discharge. If left untreated, infections can lead to serious and life-threatening complications. 

What you’ll need:

Steps for Removing & Emptying an External Condom Catheter Bag

Step 1: Clean hands with soap and water and put on gloves.

Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing the back and front of your hands and fingers. Completely dry hands before putting on exam gloves.

After hands are completely dry, put on clean disposable exam gloves. You can find disposable exam gloves in various sizes and materials (like vinyl, latex, and nitrile) to fit your needs.

Step 2: Warm a wet washcloth and cover the catheter for 30 seconds.

Most catheter users and caregivers find that holding a warm, wet washcloth over the catheter adhesive for at least 30 seconds makes removing it easier and more comfortable.

Step 3: Gently remove the condom sheath.

Start from the edge at the base of the penis and gently pull the condom away from the skin. Then slowly roll the condom catheter off.

Always carefully inspect the skin on and around the penis for redness, swelling, or irritation. These can be signs of infection and may require medical attention.

Step 4: Empty the urine collection bag.

Hold the collection bag over the toilet or a large container on the floor. Remove the drain spout from the bottom of the collection bag without touching the tip. External catheters have different types of drain valves. Yours may have a sleeve, a clamp that opens to the side, a locking cap, or a twist opening.

Let the urine drain out of the collection bag into the toilet or container, leaving a small amount in the bag to avoid creating a vacuum and stopping urine flow from the catheter sheath.

Step 5: Clean the tip of the drain valve.

Using an alcohol wipe, thoroughly clean the tip of the drain valve and then close it.

If you are replacing a urine collection bag with a clean bag, use a new alcohol wipe to clean the tip of the tubing before attaching it to the new bag.

Wash your hands thoroughly again once you have completed emptying the collection bag.

Steps for Cleaning an External Condom Catheter Bag

Step 1: Fill the empty bag with cold water and shake.

Start by filling the empty bag halfway with cold water. Seal the bag and shake for about 10 seconds. Empty the water into the toilet.

Repeat this step 1-2 times.

Step 2: Fill the bag with a cleaning mixture and let it soak.

The recommended cleaning mixture for a urine collection bag is one to two parts white vinegar and three parts warm water. However, some users prefer a combination of one part bleach to 10 parts water. If you use a bleach mixture, use caution to avoid inhaling fumes or getting bleach on your skin, eyes, clothing, or bathroom fixtures.

Fill the bag halfway with your preferred mixture and let it soak for 30 minutes, then pour it out.

Step 3: Rinse and dry the bag.

After pouring the cleaning mixture out, rinse the bag with warm water. Repeat if necessary until the bag is fully clean. 

Let the bag air dry by hanging it with the drain valve open and pointing it down. Do not hang the bag over a heat source, as this could melt the plastic.

After the bag is dry, close the drain valve until the next use.

Apply protective barrier cream to the skin before placing the external catheter back on the penis. Barrier cream can help protect the skin from irritation caused by the adhesive.

PureWick™ External Catheter for Women

PureWick™ External Catheter for WomenThe PureWick™ catheter is an external catheter and urine collection system designed for women as an alternative to incontinence pads and indwelling catheters. It is designed to wick urine away from the body, which helps to reduce the chance of skin breakdown and irritation due to moisture. The catheter, or wick, is placed against the user’s perineum (the area between the vaginal opening and anus) and between the labia.

Many caregivers note that placement of the catheter is crucial for successful use, so if you notice leaks, you may need to adjust its placement until you’ve found the perfect fit. 

The device can be used when lying down or reclining in a chair, which makes it very popular for nighttime use. Many caregivers find that using the PureWick™ catheter allows their loved ones to sleep more comfortably through the night without diaper changes or trips to the bathroom.

Emptying & Cleaning and PureWick™ External Catheter for Women

The PureWick™ catheter should be replaced at least every eight to 12 hours and immediately if it has been soiled with blood or feces. The catheter, or wick, should be thrown away after each use, and the collection canister, canister lid, and all tubing should be cleaned. The canister and tubing should be replaced every 60 days.

*Seek medical attention immediately if you notice any signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, itching, odor, or discharge. If left untreated, infections can lead to serious and life-threatening complications.

Steps for Removing & Emptying a PureWick™ External Catheter

What you’ll need:

Step 1: Clean hands with soap and water and put on gloves.

Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing the back and front of your hands and fingers. Completely dry hands before putting on exam gloves.

After hands are completely dry, put on clean disposable exam gloves. You can find disposable exam gloves in various sizes and materials (like vinyl, latex, and nitrile) to fit your needs.

Step 2: Remove the PureWick™ catheter.

Keep the device plugged in and on to make sure all urine has made its way through the tubing and into the collection canister.

Fully separate the legs, gluteus, and labia. It is usually easiest to do this with the user on their back and their legs apart. 

Gently pull the catheter outward, careful not to drag it against the skin, which can cause irritation and contamination.

Discard the used PureWick™ catheter.

Step 2: Check for skin irritation and breakdown.

Before placing a new PureWick™ catheter, check the skin around the perineal and genital area for signs of skin breakdown or irritation. If you notice signs of infection, like redness, swelling, itching, odor, or discharge, seek medical attention immediately.

If you notice skin irritation or breakdown, take a break from using the PureWick™ and treat the compromised skin. Try body shield cream or perineal lotion to soothe irritated skin. Do not continue using the PureWick™ until any skin irritation has improved.

Step 3: Clean the perineal and genital area before placing a new PureWick™ catheter. 

Before placing the new PureWick™ catheter, thoroughly clean the perineal and genital area. We recommend using a single-use antiseptic towelette for a quick and effective clean. Thoroughly wash your hands when you have completed this step.

Step 4: Empty the canister.

The collection canister can hold up to 2000 MLS, but it is recommended that you should empty it before it gets to 1800 MLS.

To empty the canister, turn the device off and disconnect the power cord from the outlet and the back of the PureWick™ device.

Disconnect the collector tubing from the top of the canister and the pump tubing from the back of the device.

Carefully lift the canister from the device base with two hands. Do not lift the canister by the lid.

Take the canister into a bathroom and pour the urine into the toilet. Remove and discard gloves.

Steps for Cleaning a PureWick™ External Catheter

Step 1: Rinse the canister, lid, and tubing.

Before rinsing, put on a new, clean pair of disposable exam gloves.

Rinse the PureWick™ canister, lid, elbow connector, and tubing under cool tap water. Ensure water goes through one end of the tubing and out the other for a thorough clean. 

Step 2: Prepare cleaning solution in a large container and soak.

Prepare a cleaning mixture of one teaspoon of dish soap and one gallon of cool tap water in a large container. 

Submerge the canister, lid, elbow connector, and tubing into the cleaning mixture and let them soak for at least 10 minutes.

Step 3: Use a small brush to clean the surface of each part.

Use a small, soft brush, like a toothbrush, and scrub the surface of the canister, lid, elbow connector, and tubing. Scrub each part for at least one minute, then rinse all the parts with cool tap water. Next, flush the inside of the tubing with cool tap water until it is fully cleared of any soap.

Step 4: Soak parts in isopropyl alcohol.

Fill a large container with 70% isopropyl alcohol and fully submerge the canister, lid, elbow connector, and tubing. Soak for ten minutes. Then once again, rinse the parts thoroughly.

Dry the parts with a soft, clean towel and let the tubes air dry for 30 minutes.

Thoroughly wash hands after the task is completed.

How to Care for an Indwelling Catheter

How to Care for an Indwelling CatheterAn indwelling catheter is a catheter that is inserted into the bladder through the urethra. Because the catheter is a pathway from the inside of your body to the outside of your body, it is extremely important to practice good catheter hygiene and skincare.

Good catheter hygiene will help to prevent skin irritation and infection. You should clean your catheter twice a day.

*Seek medical attention immediately if you notice any signs of infection—such as redness, swelling, itching, odor, or discharge. If left untreated, infections can lead to serious complications and even death in some cases. 

What you’ll need:

Steps for Cleaning an Indwelling Catheter

Step 1: Clean hands with soap and water and put on gloves.

Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing the back and front of your hands and fingers. Completely dry hands before putting on exam gloves.

After hands are completely dry, put on clean disposable exam gloves. You can find disposable exam gloves in many different sizes and materials (like vinyl, latex, and nitrile) to fit your needs.

Step 2: Wash the part of the catheter where it leaves the body through the urethra.

Many caregivers and catheter users find it easiest to clean catheters while taking a daily shower, but it is simple and easy to do if that is not possible. 

Prepare a dampened washcloth with warm water and gentle soap

Hold the catheter near the urethra where it enters the body to limit any tugging on the tube while you clean.

Use the soapy washcloth and gently wash the catheter where it enters the body, as well as around the genital area. Wipe the catheter downwards towards the drainage bag. 

For men

Begin washing at the tip of the penis, pulling back the foreskin, and wiping back towards the anus. Return your foreskin to its starting position afterward. Rinse the washcloth and apply more soap. Gently wash thighs and buttocks.

For women

Separate the labia and wipe back towards the anus. Rinse the washcloth and apply more soap. Gently wash thighs and buttocks.

Step 3: Rinse and dry.

Rinse the soap off the catheter and body with warm water and gently dry the area with a soft, clean towel.

Important Tips for Hygiene & Skincare with an Indwelling Catheter

1. A daily shower is needed to keep the catheter clean, thoroughly cleaning the catheter and genitals each time. Do not take baths with an indwelling catheter, as it increases the risk of infection.

2. Use a no-rinse perineal cleanser to clean, moisturize and deodorize the skin around the catheter.

3. Do not apply lotions or powders near where the catheter enters the body.

4. Thoroughly wash your hands before and after handling the collection bag.

Need more information about urinary incontinence?

Browse Carewell’s resources to learn more about managing incontinence and choosing the right catheter. 

No More Accidents: Tips for Choosing the Best Catheter

The PureWick™ Female External Catheter, What Is It? How to Use it? And FAQ

Carewell’s Essential Checklist for Urinary Incontinence Care

Hygiene, Health, and Incontinence

How to Choose the Best Incontinence Pads

2022 Roundup of the Best Leak Proof Adult Diapers

Checklist for Traveling with Urinary Incontinence

7 Inside Tips to Save Money on Incontinence Products

6 Things Your Loved One Might Not Tell You About Their Incontinence Issues

Have questions? Talk to a Carewell Care Specialist.

Finding the right catheter can take a lot of research. If you need help determining what will work best for your loved one, browse Carewell’s selection of catheters or talk to a Carewell Care Specialist today. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we are happy to answer your questions and make recommendations.

Reach out to our Care Team by calling (855) 855-1666, emailing support@carewell.com, or clicking the live chat icon on the website.

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Sophie Bebeau
Sophie Bebeau

Sophie Bebeau is a writer, graphic designer, poet, and multidisciplinary artist living in Green Bay, Wisconsin. When she’s not writing or making things for the internet, she can be found cross-stitching, writing poetry, and snuggling on the couch with a cup of tea and her husband, son, and dog, Buttercup.