How to Troubleshoot Foley Catheters

Updated July 20, 2017

Patients with urinary tract disorders may have a catheter placed to empty their bladders and collect urine. Typical conditions in which catheters are used include incontinence or urine retention, prostate or gynaecological surgeries, spinal-cord injuries, and conditions that affect bladder control such as dementia or multiple sclerosis. Urinary catheters are available in several sizes, designs and materials. Foley catheters are small tubes made of soft rubber or plastic. An indwelling Foley catheter is one that stays in place for as long as catheter use is required. Daily care can keep the Foley catheter in good working order.

Wash your hands with an antiseptic, antibacterial soap and warm water. Put on sterile gloves. Wash with soap and water the area where the catheter enters the body. Wipe with an antiseptic or alcohol wipe.

Wash the catheter tube with soap and water; rinse thoroughly with clean water. Wash with soap and water after every bowel movement to avoid contamination of the Foley catheter.

To avoid leakage, use the smallest Foley catheter and balloon approved by your physician. Inspect the catheter tube for any blockages that may cause the catheter to leak. Attach the cannula to a syringe filled with warm sterile water. Insert the cannula into one end of the catheter and flush the catheter with the water. Manually manipulate the Foley catheter to help remove the blockage. Inspect the catheter for kinks.

Foley indwelling catheters have a small "balloon" on the end to keep the catheter from coming out of the patient's body until it is time to remove the catheter. Catheter removal is typically done in a clinical setting; however, it is possible for the patient to remove a Foley catheter when warranted. If the balloon will not deflate, attach a syringe containing sterile water to the catheter inflation valve or port, but do not pull back on the plunger or clamp the catheter. Move or manipulate the syringe to change the position of the catheter and port, which may have become compressed or twisted.

If manipulation doesn't cause the balloon to deflate, inject 1 to 2ml of sterile water into the valve. The pressure of the water moving through the valve may dislodge any obstructions or straighten out a twisted catheter. If this does not cause the balloon to deflate, consult your physician. Do not cut the inflation device off of the catheter.


To avoid bacteria being transmitted from your hands to the catheter and equipment, always wash your hands and put on gloves before handling supplies. Also wash your hands after handling catheters and supplies.


Basic daily care and troubleshooting can be done by the patient or patient's caregiver after instructions for procedures are thoroughly explained by medical professionals. More involved troubleshooting should be done by trained medical professionals. Contact your doctor immediately for problems such as blood in urine, swelling, undue discomfort or fever.

Things You'll Need

  • Antibacterial soap
  • Sterile gloves
  • Antiseptic wipes or alcohol wipes
  • Syringe
  • Blunt cannula
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About the Author

KW Schumer is an award-winning newspaper editor, reporter and writer with more than 15 years of experience working for large, mid-sized and community newspaper companies. She also writes the food blog Chef HJ's Table with her husband, a professional chef and the director and chef-instructor of a culinary school.