For people who use catheters, safety is important to avoid infection. When getting a catheter inserted or removed at the doctor's, safety measures have already been taken to prevent injury or infection. Here are some tips for avoiding infection from home:

What is a Catheter?

Before inserting or removing a catheter, we first need to go over what a catheter is. Indwelling catheters are long hollow, flexible tubes that are inserted into the urethra to drain urine from the bladder into a bag or vial held at the leg. These catheters are meant to stay in the urethra for only a few weeks, although some can last up to a few months depending on the material they’re made from. Some catheters are made only for one-time use, and these do not come with a balloon to hold them in place.

A catheter stays inside the urethra via a small water-filled balloon, which needs to be drained before removal. On the other end of the catheter is typically a valve for draining the balloon, and the part of the tube that attaches to the urine receptacle.

Inserting and Removing a Catheter

Catheters are typically inserted by a trained professional, and in some cases, they are removed as well. For people who use catheters during the long term, however, they may need to insert and remove their catheter on their own.

Catheter users cannot insert an indwelling catheter themselves and will need to visit a doctor for indwelling insertion. Single-use catheters, however, can be inserted at home, and do not have a balloon to hold them in place. To insert a catheter, make sure you sanitize the urethra using clean water and gentle soap. Sometimes, doctors recommend using sterilizing wipes to clean the area around the urethra as well. Make sure your catheter is lubricated. For people with vaginas, open the labia with your fingers to insert the catheter, similar to how you would insert a tampon. For people with penises, hold the head of the penis slightly upward toward the body to insert the catheter.

To remove a catheter, you’ll need to first empty the urine receptacle. After that, it’s time to drain the water from the balloon holding the catheter in place. To do so, use a syringe to carefully drain the water from your catheter drainage valve. If your catheter does not have a drainage valve, ask your doctor for their preferred method of drainage. Whatever you do, do not remove the catheter without deflating the balloon. When the balloon is fully drained (you may have to drain the balloon several times for it to be completely empty), slowly pull out the catheter. To dispose of the catheter and your supplies, follow the disposal instructions provided by your doctor.


Catheter insertion and removal comes with its own set of complications, the most common being urinary tract infections. The longer a catheter stays in the urethra, the higher risk the user has of contracting a UTI, so it is always best to remove your catheter as soon as your doctor says you can remove it. Other ways you can prevent a UTI with your catheter include washing your hands before and after insertion or removal and wearing medical gloves. When cleaning a catheter, always boil water and let it cool in a heat-safe container before washing, and use a gentle soap. If you have a history of urinary tract infections, speak with your doctor before using a catheter.

Another major problem that can occur when removing or inserting a catheter—especially an indwelling catheter—is urethra damage. If a catheter is inserted too fast or at the wrong angle, or if a catheter is removed too quickly or before the balloon is drained, the urinary tract may be damaged or ruptured. To best avoid this from happening, be sure to go over any questions you may have with your doctor, and fully discuss the possible self-insertion and removal of your catheter.

To browse catheters and catheter accessories, visit the Medical Supply Depot.


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