Caring for a Closed Suction Drainage Tube

A drainage tube removes fluid from around an incision. This helps prevent infection and promotes healing. The collection bulb at the end of the tube is squeezed and plugged to create suction. The bulb should be emptied and reset when half full to maintain adequate suction. You need to empty the bulb and clean the skin around the drain as often as your healthcare provider tells you to. Follow the steps below.


What you’ll need

Have the following items ready:

  • Disposable gloves

  • Measuring cup

  • Record sheet

  • Gauze or paper towel

  • Sterile cotton swabs or 4" x 4" gauze pads

  • Sterile saline or soap and water


Closeup of gloved hand pouring fluid from drainage bulb into measuring flask.

Step 1. Empty the bulb

  • Wash your hands and put on a new pair of disposable gloves.

  • Point the top of the bulb away from you and remove the stopper.

  • Turn the bulb upside down over a measuring cup. Squeeze the fluid into the cup. Make sure the bulb is totally empty.

  • Put the cup to one side. You can record the volume of liquid in the cup after you clean and reconnect the bulb in step 2.

Gloved hand squeezing empty drainage tube bulb while other hand cleans top of bulb.

Step 2. Clean and reconnect the bulb

  • Clean the top of the bulb with clean gauze or a paper towel, if needed.

  • Squeeze the bulb tight, and put the stopper back on the top.

  • Record the amount of fluid in the cup. Then, empty the cup as directed.

Closeup of gloved hand cleaning skin around drainage tube near surgical incision.

Step 3. Clean the site

  • Remove your disposable gloves and wash your hands before cleaning the site.

  • Put on a new pair of disposable gloves.

  • Wet a sterile cotton swab or 4" x 4" gauze pad with sterile saline or soap and water.

  • Gently clean the skin around the drain. Always wipe away from the incision.

  • Apply an antibacterial ointment if directed.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you notice any of these changes:

  • The amount of fluid increases or decreases suddenly

  • Large amount of blood or a clot in drainage

  • Color, odor, or thickness of the fluid changes

  • Tube falls out or the incision opens

  • Skin around the drain is red, swollen, painful, or seeping pus

  • You have a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider


If the tube isn't draining

Here are tips to drain the tube:

  • Uncurl any kinks in the tube.

  • With one hand, firmly hold the base of the tube between your thumb and index finger. Do not touch the incision.

  • Put the thumb and index finger of your other hand on the tube, next to the first hand. Pinch your fingers together. Then pull them along the tube toward the bag. This will help push any clogged fluid through the tube. This is called "stripping the tube." You may find it helpful to hold an alcohol swab between your fingers and the tube to lubricate the tubing.

  • If the tube still does not drain, call your healthcare provider.