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How To Surgical Drains - How To Manage Your Surgical Drains


Updated June 16, 2014

Jackson-Pratt Surgical Drain

Jackson-Pratt Surgical Drain

Illustration © Pam Stephan
If you're going to have breast surgery, you can most likely plan on having one or more surgical drains in place near your incisions. Having a surgical drain prevents blood and lymphatic fluid buildup under your skin and encourages healing and recovery. Here's how to measure the fluid daily and keep the drain clean, preventing infection. When the drainage fluid is 30 ml or less in a 24-hour period, it can be removed.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 5 to 10 Minutes

Here's How:

  1. Prepare: Wash your hands before you touch your drains. Unpin the drain from your clothing, and rest it on a clean towel. Don't put the drain down on a surface that may have bacteria -- you want to avoid infections. Get out your log sheet and measuring cup.
  2. Milking (Stripping) the Tube: Firmly hold on to the drainage tube where it comes out of your skin. With your other hand, squeeze the tube flat and slide your fingers down the tube until you have pushed all the fluids into the drainage bulb. It's okay for the tube to stretch while you're doing this.
  3. Measuring the Fluid: If your drain is marked with volumes, hold it at eye level and note the fluid volume. If you're using a measuring cup, open the drain over the measuring cup and squeeze all the fluid into the cup. Try not to leave any fluid in the drain. The fluid will be pinkish or yellowish in color.
  4. Keep a Log of Fluid Volume: On your log sheet, record the fluid volume each time you empty the drain. Your doctor will need to know the daily total fluid. After you've written down the fluid volume, open the drain, pour the fluid down the toilet and flush it away.
  5. Cleaning the Cup: If you're using a measuring cup, rinse it out and dry it well. Keep it in a clean, dry place. Keep it away from children.
  6. Suction and Seal: With the drain still open, fold it over on to itself to flatten it and press out as much air as possible. Use your other hand to close the drain, and then let the drain unfold. Doing this creates suction that helps remove extra fluid from your surgical site.
  7. Wrap-Up: Pin or secure the drain back in its place. Wash your hands one more time.
  8. Calling for Help
    If you develop one of these problems, call your doctor for help:
    • a temperature of 101 degrees or more
    • drainage fluid volume increases or suddenly stops
    • tube stitch or tube comes out
    • drainage fluid is bright red, has pus or smells really bad
    • skin around the drain tube becomes red and swollen
    MedicineNet.com. Definition of JP drain. Updated: 2/15/2004.

    University of California San Francisco, Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center. Surgical Oncology. Jackson-Pratt Drains.


  1. You can use a Q-tip to put a mixture of peroxide and water on the skin where the tube comes out of your incision.
  2. You can use a mixture of peroxide and water to wash the opening of the drain, if you want to ensure that no bacteria accidentally gets inside the drain.
  3. Keep your log sheet, pen, measuring cup, clean towel, Q-tips and peroxide together in the same place, so it's easy to do your drain routine.
  4. Be patient, and remember that the drain will come out when your fluid volume is down to 30 ml or less in a 24-hour period.

What You Need

  • Drain log sheet and pen
  • Measuring cup
  • Clean towel
  • Peroxide
  • Water
  • Q-tips
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Breast Cancer
  4. Life During Treatment
  5. Reconstructive Surgery
  6. How to Manage Your Surgical Drains

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