Bulb Drain Home Care

A bulb drain consists of a thin rubber tube and a soft, round bulb that creates a gentle suction. The rubber tube is placed in the area where you had surgery. A bulb is attached to the end of the tube that is outside the body. The bulb drain removes excess fluid that normally builds up in a surgical wound after surgery. The color and amount of fluid will vary. Immediately after surgery, the fluid is bright red and is a little thicker than water. It may gradually change to a yellow or pink color and become more thin and water-like. When the amount decreases to about 1 or 2 tbs in 24 hours, your caregiver will usually remove it.


  • Keep the bulb flat (compressed) at all times, except while emptying it. The flatness creates suction. You can flatten the bulb by squeezing it firmly in the middle and then closing the cap.

  • Keep sites where the tube enters the skin dry and covered with a bandage (dressing).

  • Tape the tube to your skin, 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) below the insertion sites, to keep it from pulling on your stitches. The tube is stitched in place and will not slip out.

  • Pin the bulb to your shirt (not to your pants) with a safety pin.

  • For the first 3 days after surgery, there usually is more fluid in the bulb. Empty the bulb whenever it becomes half full because the bulb does not create enough suction if it is too full. The bulb could also overflow. Write down how much fluid you remove each time you empty your drain. Add up the amount removed in 24 hours.

  • Empty the bulb at the same time every day once the amount of fluid decreases and you only need to empty it once a day. Write down the amounts and the 24 hour totals to give to your caregiver. This helps your caregiver know when the tubes can be removed.


Before emptying the bulb, get a measuring cup, a piece of paper, and a pen.

  • Open the bulb cap to release suction, which causes it to inflate. Do not touch the inside of the cap.

  • Gently run your fingers down the tube (stripping) to empty any drainage from the tubing into the bulb.

  • Hold the cap out of the way, and pour fluid into the measuring cup.  

  • Squeeze the bulb to provide suction. 

  • Replace the cap.  

  • Check the tape that holds the tube to your skin. If it is becoming loose, you can remove the loose piece of tape and apply a new one. Then, pin the bulb to your shirt.  

  • Write down the amount of fluid you emptied out. Write down the date and each time you emptied your bulb drain. (If there are 2 bulbs, note the amount of drainage from each bulb and keep the totals separate. Your caregiver will want to know the total amounts for each drain and which tube is draining more.)  

  • Flush the fluid down the toilet and wash your hands.  

  • Call your caregiver once you have less than 2 tbs of fluid collecting in the bulb drain every 24 hours.

If you see a clot in the tube, leave it alone. However, if the tube does not appear to be draining, let your caregiver know. If there is drainage around the tube site, change dressings and keep the area dry. Cleanse around tube with sterile saline and place dry gauze around site. This gauze should be changed when it is soiled. If it stays clean and unsoiled, it should still be changed every 2–3 days.


  • Your drainage has a bad smell or is cloudy.  

  • You have a fever.  

  • Your drainage is increasing instead of decreasing.  

  • Your tube fell out.  

  • You have redness or swelling around the tube site.  

  • You have drainage from a surgical wound.  

  • Your bulb drain will not stay flat after you empty it.  


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.