Surgical Drain Care Instructions

After surgery, shedding and oozing of cells and bodily fluids continue at the surgical site. To increase healing and decrease the chance of infection, a wound drain is used to help this process.


What should I know about drain care after surgery?

After surgery, there is continued oozing and shedding of cells and bodily fluids at the surgical site. Removal of this fluid speeds healing and decreases the chance of infection. This is done by a wound drain.

These instructions are a guide for properly caring for your drain.


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Procedure Details

How to do drain care on my surgical site

The drain is made up of a piece of tubing with a collection bulb at the end. It is possible for clots to form in the tubing and block the outflow of fluids. To prevent this, it will be important for you to "strip" or "milk" the tubing occasionally. To do this:

  • Hold the tubing between your thumb and index finger at a point where the tubing exits the skin.
  • Squeeze your fingers together to pinch off the tubing.
  • Position the fingers of the other hand in the same way just below the pinched off tubing.
  • While holding the first 2 fingers in place to prevent pulling on your skin, slide the bottom 2 fingers down the tubing. This pushes any clots into the collection bulb. You might need to do this at several points down the tubing.
  • Do 2 to 3 times a day to keep the tubing clear.

You might need to empty the drain 2 to 3 times a day (or more), depending on the amount of output. Here are your steps to do this:

  • To empty, lift the "pop top" on the collection bulb, and squeeze the fluid into a measuring cup with incremental markings (fl oz or cc).
  • Once empty, squeeze the bulb and put the "pop top" back in place to resume suction. If you drain 55 cc or more (as seen on the bulb markings), you may estimate the amount of fluid drained.
  • Record in your chart (see sample chart in next section) the amount of drainage, along with the time of the measurement.

What more should I know about drain care for my surgical sites?

If instructed by your doctor, you may shower with the drains in place. Attach them to an old belt or cloth strap to limit the amount of pulling on the skin and to avoid the risk of pulling the drain out accidentally.

The drain will be removed in the office at your doctor's discretion. Accurately reporting your output will help the doctor's decision to pull or leave your drain in place. Try to record your morning output at about the same time each day.

Make sure to bring your drain output chart to every postoperative office visit.

Note: Using this information, your doctor will let you know when your drains are ready to be removed. Please call your doctor’s office to make that appointment.

Also note: Drains are routinely not left in longer than 2 weeks but if you have questions about your specific case, call your surgeon.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 06/21/2018.

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