Penrose Drain

A penrose drain is a straight, flexible tube that drains fluid from a surgery site. It channels blood, lymph and other fluids that can collect in a wound outside your body. This prevents infection and can help you heal. It’s important to care for your drain properly to prevent infection.


A penrose drain held in place with a safety pin.
A penrose drain is a flexible rubber tube beneath your skin that drains fluid away from your wound.

What is a penrose drain?

A penrose drain is a soft, flexible rubber tube that drains fluid away from a wound. After surgery, blood, lymphatic fluid (lymph) and other fluids can collect at the surgery site or wound. These fluids can become infected if bacteria aren’t drained. A penrose drain directs the fluid collecting inside the wound outside your body. It can reduce the risk of infection and help you heal faster.

You may also hear your healthcare provider call it a “straight” or “open” drain. Imagine a soft straw. A penrose drain is so soft it compresses against your wound right away. It keeps your wound open (preventing skin from closing over it), allowing fluid to drain.


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How does a penrose drain work?

It’s a type of passive drain, which means its design relies on gravity — not a suction feature — to draw fluid out of your wound. Your surgeon will place most of the drain inside the cut and leave a small part sticking out. Usually, they suture (stitch) the drain so it doesn’t slide out. Sometimes, they’ll attach a safety pin to the end of the drain to ensure it stays outside your body.

Gravity naturally pulls the fluid outside your body. The drain just provides the route.

When would you need a penrose drain?

A penrose drain can keep you from getting an infection after surgery. It can also drain infected fluid away from your wound. Infection is one of the most common avoidable complications after surgery.

Your surgeon may place a penrose drain to:

  • Drain an abscess on your skin. An abscess is a collection of infected pus.
  • Drain abdominal fluids. Surgeons use penrose drains to channel fluids away from your abdomen after surgeries to fix hernias. An abdominal hernia happens when part of your insides (usually an organ) bulges through your abdominal wall.


How do I care for my drain?

Penrose drain care involves changing the dressing. The dressing includes a piece of gauze on your skin that collects the fluid that seeps from the drain and a piece of gauze that covers the drain.

Your surgeon may ask you to log information about the drainage, including how much fluid the gauze absorbs and what it’s like (its color and smell). These notes provide important information about how you’re healing.

What materials will I need?

Plan to change your dressing near a sink because you’ll need to wash your hands to keep bacteria out of the wound. It’s a good idea to gather all the materials you’ll need beforehand, including:

  • Two gauze squares. One piece will go beneath the drain to catch the fluid, and one will go on top.
  • Two pieces of surgical tape (to hold the dressing in place).
  • Clean scissors (optional: if you need to cut the gauze to fit around the drain better).
  • Non-sterile gloves (this is the type providers use for wound care).
  • A washcloth.
  • A clean towel (or two).
  • Soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

How do I change the dressing?

Here’s what you do:

  1. Clean your hands. Wash your hands with soap and running water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. Pat dry with a clean towel. Use the towel to turn off the faucet so you’re not reintroducing bacteria after you’ve washed your hands. You can also clean your hands with sanitizer.
  2. Remove the dressing. Gently remove the tape and old gauze, taking care not to pull on the drain. Take note of how the wound looks and how much fluid is on the gauze. Is it just a little wet? Moderately wet? Fully saturated? What color is the fluid? Does it have an odor? Take notes to share with your provider.
  3. Rewash your hands and wash the wound and drain. This time, put on non-sterile gloves after your hands are clean. Use soap, water and a washcloth to clean under and around the drain. Rinse and pat dry with a clean towel. (Alternatively, your surgeon may tell you to shower after you’ve removed your dressings, allowing soap and water to run over the drain.)
  4. Apply the clean dressing. Slide the clean gauze underneath the drain so it’s flat on your skin. The safety pin in the drain should rest on top of the gauze where the center cut is. Place a piece of gauze on top of the drain and tape it.

Throw away the gloves, old dressing and tape. Wash your hands again.

How often should I change my dressing?

Most people need to change it at least twice a day, but follow your provider’s instructions. You’ll need to change the dressing if it comes loose or gets too wet. Keeping your skin dry reduces your risk of infection.

It’s a good idea to change it at the same time each day and log when you do it so you can share this information with your provider.

How long do penrose drains stay in?

It depends on your procedure, how big the wound is and how much drainage there is. Often, fluids drain for a few days following surgery.

Follow your provider’s instructions on when you need to return to have your drain removed.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider if your drain slips or comes loose. They may need to secure it. Contact your provider immediately if you notice signs of an infection, including:

  • A fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or more.
  • Redness, swelling, warmth or increased pain at the site.
  • Red streaks coming from the site.
  • Drainage from the site that’s smelly, green or thick. (Uninfected drainage usually starts off red, fades to pink, pale yellow and then clear).

Contact your provider if you have questions about caring for your drain or whether your wound is healing properly.


Additional Common Questions

What is the difference between a Jackson-Pratt (JP) drain and penrose drain?

A Jackson-Pratt drain also drains fluid away from a wound. Unlike a penrose drain, a Jackson-Pratt drain is an active drain. It has a squeezable bulb that hangs outside your body. Squeezing the bulb creates pressure that pulls the fluid from your wound. Often, the bulb has markings that let you know exactly how much fluid has drained.

Instead of describing drainage based on how wet the gauze is (as with a penrose), a Jackson-Pratt drain shows how many cubic centimeters (CCs), milliliters (mLs ) or ounces (oz) of fluid you’ve lost.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions while caring for your drain and wound. Many details, including how often you should change the dressing and when you should return to have the drain removed, depend on your surgery and healing progress. In the meantime, note how much fluid you’re losing and how the wound looks. Share this information with your provider to help them monitor your recovery.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 09/19/2023.

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