Caring for Your Surgical Drains

Careful Attention Can Help You Avoid Problems

If you’ve had surgery, your surgeon may have placed one or more drains in your wound to drain blood or other fluids that can build up at the surgical site. The drain has two parts—a thin rubber tube and a round squeeze bulb. The bulb acts as a reservoir for the fluids and it’s also used to create a vacuum that helps with drainage.

What Should I Know About My Drains?

Emptying the drain and caring for your wound correctly helps you avoid infection and speeds healing. When the amount of drainage decreases to the level your doctor or nurse told you, your provider removes the drain.

These general instructions can get you started:

  • Empty the reservoir at least two times a day, even if it’s not full. You may need to empty it more than twice if it gets full.
  • Change the dressing around the wound at least once a day, or more often if it becomes soaked or dirty.
  • “Milk” the tubing every four hours while you are awake. This is also called “stripping” the tubing, and it prevents the drain from getting clogged.

How Should I Empty My Surgical Drains?

Empty the reservoir bulb in the morning and evening, or if it gets full. First, gather all the supplies you need, including the measuring cup and chart you were given, along with a pen or pencil. Then follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands well in soapy water.
  2. Open the plug on the reservoir without touching the inside of the plug.
  3. Gently squeeze the reservoir to empty the fluid into the measuring cup.
  4. Re-create the vacuum inside the reservoir by squeezing it flat and then replacing the plug.
  5. Observe the amount of fluid and its color so you can write it down later. Then flush the fluid down the toilet.
    Wash your hands again.
  6. Record the amount of fluid for each drain on the chart. Remember to bring the chart with you to your first follow-up visit with your doctor.

How Do I Keep the Tubing Open?

“Milking” or “stripping” the tubing can help prevent clots or other obstructions from clogging the tube. If you’re clearing obstructions that have already formed, you may have to repeat the process several times.

Follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands in soapy water.
  2. Make sure the plug on the reservoir bulb is open, and then grip the tubing close to your skin.
    With your other hand, squeeze the tube and run your fingers toward the reservoir bulb.
  3. Release your fingers from the tubing near your skin first and then at the end, near the bulb.

Putting lotion or liquid hand cleaner on your hands after washing them can help your fingers slide along the tubing.

How Should I Change the Wound Dressing?

If your wound doesn’t have a dressing, make sure to keep the wound and surrounding skin clean and dry. If you do have a dressing, it needs to be changed carefully to avoid infection. Follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands carefully in soapy water.
  2. Gather your supplies. You need gauze pads, medical tape and a trash bag to dispose of your old dressing. If your wound is out of your range of vision, you also need a mirror.
  3. Remove the old dressing carefully and put it in the trash bag.
  4. Wash your hands again.
  5. Inspect the drain site. If you notice any redness, or if the drainage smells bad or is cloudy, pale yellow or yellow-green, call your provider.
  6. Fold two new pieces of gauze in half and place them around each side of the tubing at the drain site.
    Place a full piece of gauze over the first two.
  7. Put two strips of medical tape over the gauze.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Pay attention to your drain and inspect your wound every time you change the dressing. Call your doctor if any of these things happen:

  • The tube falls out or the stitches that hold it in place get loose.
  • You can’t re-create a vacuum in the reservoir bulb.
  • Your skin becomes red or more tender or swollen near the tube.
  • The drainage fluid has a bad odor, is cloudy, pale yellow or yellow-green.
  • You have a temperature of 100.5 degrees F or higher.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.