Overview of Female Intermittent Self-Catheterization

Intermittent self-catheterization is a safe and effective method of completely emptying the bladder at regular intervals. Self-catheterization should be done every 3 to 8 hours, or as recommended by your physician. Never stop self-catheterization unless instructed by your physician.

The following may be an indication that it is time to catheterize:

  • Distended bladder
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Restlessness
  • Perspiration
  • Chills
  • Headache

How to clean your catheter

  1. Always wash hands before and after procedure.
  2. Wash catheter after use in warm soapy water.
  3. Run tap water through the catheter. Place the catheter on a paper towel to air dry.
  4. Alternating catheters is a good idea.
  5. Replace your catheter in a clean container.
  6. Catheters should be discarded when they begin to lose their flexibility, or become brittle or discolored.
  7. An option to cleaning your catheter is to soak it in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts tap water once each week to keep urine crystals from forming inside the catheter.

Self-Catheterization Equipment

  • Catheter—#14 French or the size specified by your physician
  • A container to carry the catheter
  • Cotton balls moistened with soap and water
  • Water soluble lubricant

Do not use mineral oil or petroleum lubricant.

Intermittent Self-Catheterization Procedure

  1. Prepare equipment.
  2. Wash hands with soap and water.
  3. Urinate if you can.
  4. Stand, sit or lie down, whichever is easier for you.
  5. Spread labia and lift up.
  6. Cleanse the urethral opening using downward strokes, front to back, with a cotton ball soaked with soap and water.
  7. Remove catheter from clean container.
  8. Squeeze lubricant on tissue lubricating the first 2-3 inches of the catheter (the end that will be going into the urethra).Lubricant must be water-soluble.
  9. Spread labia apart and gently inset the catheter into the urethra in and upward and backward direction approximately 2 inches, until urine flows.
  10. Allow bladder to empty completely.
  11. Remove the catheter slowly rotating it as you withdraw. Stop each time more urine drains out.
  12. To completely remove the catheter pinch off the end and pull it out. This prevents urine from flowing back into the bladder.
  13. Check for any unusual odor and/or cloudy hazy urine. Be aware of any changes that need to be reported to your physician.

Important Reminders for Intermittent Self-Catheterization

  • Catheterize regularly, every 3 to 8 hours to keep urine volumes low.
  • Do not skip a catheterization for any reason.
  • Always wash your hands before and after the procedure.
  • Fluid intake is directly related to urine output and the frequency of catheterization. Normal intake is six to eight 8-ounce glasses per day.
  • If the catheter is accidentally dropped and cannot be washed properly, it may be wiped off to remove any possible grit and then used to catheterize. It is more important to empty your bladder—you are more likely to get an infection from a full bladder than an unwashed catheter.

Call your physician if you have any of the following:

  • Fever (check with your doctor to find out at what temperature he of she wants to be notified)
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the back
  • Cloudy urine
  • Urine with a foul odor
  • Blood in urine
  • Sudden pain or bleeding when inserting the catheter
  • Inability to keep urine volume within recommended amount
  • Inability to urinate of presence of abdominal distention
  • Absence of urine for 6 to 8 hours

People with spinal cord injuries should call their doctor if they have a severe pounding headache (this may indicate unresolved autonomic dysreflexia) and immediately catheterize themselves to empty their bladder.

Publication Review By: David M. Kaufman, M.D., Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2015