A Foley catheter is a medical device that helps drain urine from your bladder. Healthcare providers use Foley catheters if you have a condition that makes it difficult or impossible to pee. You may also need a Foley catheter while your body heals after surgery. A provider can teach you how to insert and clean a Foley catheter.
A Foley catheter is a device that drains urine (pee) from your urinary bladder into a collection bag outside of your body when you can’t pee on your own or for various medical reasons. Another name for a Foley catheter is an indwelling urinary catheter.
It consists of a thin, flexible rubber or plastic tube that goes through your urethra into your bladder. There are two separate pathways (channels) that run the entire length of the tube. One pathway is a drainage port. It allows pee to drain from your bladder into a collection bag. The other pathway connects to a balloon at the tip of the tube in your bladder. Healthcare providers use this channel to fill the balloon with sterile water. The full balloon holds the Foley catheter in place in your bladder.
While you’re awake, the catheter connects to a collection bag that attaches to your leg. While you’re sleeping, you may wear a larger collection bag that hangs from a hook or rests on a flat surface near your bed.
Foley catheters are safe. They come in different sizes so that people of any age or size can use them.
Healthcare providers most commonly use Foley catheters to drain pee from your bladder when you can’t pee on your own. This may result from:
Other Foley catheter uses include:
Healthcare providers regularly use Foley catheters. They’re the most common type of urinary catheter.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
A healthcare provider will first clean your genital area with an antiseptic to help prevent infection. They’ll then apply a numbing gel and lubricant to minimize discomfort.
Once you’re numb, they’ll insert the Foley catheter. Once it enters your bladder, pee will drain out of the catheter and into the collection bag. They’ll secure the Foley catheter in place by filling the balloon at the tip with sterile water.
Finally, they’ll use adjustable straps to secure the Foley catheter tube and collection bag to your leg. They’ll allow for some slack in the tubing so it doesn’t pull or cause discomfort.
If you need to use a Foley catheter over a long period, the provider will teach you how to catheterize yourself (self-catheterization).
It’s important to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling a Foley catheter and collection bag. Washing your hands helps prevent the spread of germs that can cause an infection. You should also clean the catheter tube at least twice a day with soapy water and a wet paper towel or washcloth. Gently pat the tube dry.
Empty your collection bag every two to three hours. If you have a larger collection bag, empty it every eight hours.
To empty the bag:
To change the bag:
If your Foley catheter is going to be in longer than a week or if it smells, it’s a good idea to wash the used bag with soap and water. You can also rinse the bag with a solution of 1-and-a-quarter cups of white vinegar in 2 quarts of water to help reduce odor and prevent infection.
It depends. You may only need to use a Foley catheter while healing from a treatment or condition. Once you recover, you no longer need to use it. However, if you can’t pee naturally, you may need to use a Foley catheter for weeks or months.
In some cases, you may need to use a Foley catheter permanently. A healthcare provider will teach you how to insert and care for the catheter so it doesn’t stop you from participating in your normal activities, including going to work, bathing, swimming, traveling and having sexual intercourse.
You should change your Foley catheter at least every three months.
Yes, you can use a Foley catheter while you’re sleeping. You can sleep in any position as long as the collection bag is below your bladder.
Before going to sleep, arrange the tube so it doesn’t twist. A twisted or kinked tube won’t allow pee to drain into the collection bag. Hang or rest your collection bag beside your bed.
The primary benefit of a Foley catheter is that it allows you to drain your bladder continuously. Not being able to fully empty your bladder can cause:
The primary risk of using a Foley catheter is a urinary tract infection. The longer you use a Foley catheter, the higher your risk of developing a UTI. You shouldn’t use a Foley catheter longer than three months.
Other Foley catheter complications include:
Inserting a Foley catheter can be uncomfortable or painful. Using a numbing gel can help reduce pain during insertion.
Removing a Foley catheter may feel uncomfortable or painful. It may sting or feel like something is slithering through your urethra.
The following tips can help reduce discomfort or pain when you use a Foley catheter:
Reach out to a healthcare provider if you have any problems or questions regarding your Foley catheter.
Call a healthcare provider right away if:
A urinary catheter is a tube that healthcare providers use to quickly drain your bladder, usually if something is blocking your urinary tract. You shouldn’t use a urinary catheter over a long period.
A Foley catheter has a small balloon at one end to hold it in place in your bladder. You can use Foley catheters over a long period.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you have difficulty peeing or can’t pee, you may need a Foley catheter to empty your bladder. It can feel strange or surreal to know you’re using it or that you’re carrying your pee in a bag outside your body. You may even feel apprehensive about doing your normal activities because you’re worried you might hurt yourself or accidentally pull it out. Talk to a healthcare provider about any of your questions or feelings. They’ll teach you about the Foley catheter, answer any of your questions and help put you at ease. It may take some time to adjust. But a Foley catheter shouldn’t prevent you from participating in many of your normal activities.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/20/2023.
Learn more about our editorial process.