How to Care for the Jackson-Pratt Drain

Top Surgery Post Op Care

Top Surgery Post Op Care

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The Jackson-Pratt (JP) drain is a special tube that prevents body fluid from collecting near the site of your surgery. The drain pulls this fluid (by suction) into a bulb. The bulb can then be emptied and the fluid inside measured and recorded on the attached form below.


Right after your surgery, this fluid is bloody. Then, as your wound heals over the next several days, the fluid changes to light pink, light yellow, or clear. The drain will stay in place until less than 30 cc (about 2 tablespoons) of fluid can be collected in a 24-hour period, which usually takes about one week.


Caring for the JP drain is easy. Depending on how much fluid drains from your surgical site, you will need to empty the bulb every 8 to 12 hours. The bulb should be emptied when it is half full. Record the amount of fluid using the measuring cup each time you empty the drain. Before you are discharged from the hospital, your nurse will show you how to:


  • empty the collection bulb 

  • record the amount of fluid collected 

  • squeeze the bulb flat and plug so that the suction works again 

  • keep the drain site clean and free of infection

How to Empty the Drain

1. Wash your hands well with soap and water.


2. While the bulb is squeezed flat, strip the tubing with an alcohol swab or wet paper towel in order to get all of the liquid into the bulb. Strip the tubing 2-3 times before you empty the drain.​​


3. Pull the plug out of the bulb.


4. Gently squeeze the bulb to empty the fluid into a measuring cup.


5. Clean the plug with alcohol. Then squeeze the bulb tightly until completely compressed and flat. While the bulb is flat, put the plug back into the bulb.

The bulb should stay flat after it is plugged so that the vacuum suction can restart. If you can’t squeeze the bulb flat and plug it at the same time, use a hard, flat surface (such as a table) to help you press the bulb flat while you replug it.


6. Measure how much fluid you collected in milliliters. Write the amount of drainage, and the date and time you collected it, on the JP drainage chart at the end of this document.


7. Flush the fluid down the toilet.

8. Wash your hands.

How to Care for the Drain Site

1. Wash your hands well with soap and water.


2. Remove the dressing from around the

drain. Use soap and water or 0.9 percent

normal saline (on a gauze or cotton swab)

to clean the drain site and the skin around

it. If the drain bandage gets bloody or wet it can be changed. 


3. When the drain site is clean and dry,

put a new dressing around the drain. Put

surgical tape on the dressing to hold it

down against your skin.


4. Place the old dressing into the trash. If

it is bloody, wrap it in a small plastic bag

(like a sandwich bag).

5. Wash your hands. 

How to Check for Infection

Watch the skin around the drain for these signs of infection:

• increased redness

• increased pain

• increased swelling

Other signs of infection:

• fever greater than 101 ºF

• cloudy yellow, tan, or foul-smelling drainage

Report any of these symptoms to Dr. Hazen as soon as possible. If you have questions or concerns, please call Dr. Hazen’s office at


Drainage Around Drain Site:

My drain bulb will not hold suction: If the drain will not remain flat when fully compressed with the plug correctly in place, it will not provide the amount of suction needed to remove the fluid away from your surgical site. If this happens, attempt to strip the drain tubing several times and try compressing the bulb again. If the bulb continues to not stay flat, notify your provider.


My drain site is leaking fluid: Occasionally fluid may leak from around the drain site, making the gauze dressing or your clothing wet. If this happens, remove any wet dressings and use soap and water to clean the area. Verify that the bulb drain is secured and “flat” to provide the needed suction.

I see blood clots in the drain tubing/bulb: The possibility of a small blood clot forming within the tubing or bulb is common. It appears as a dark, stringy lining. It could prevent drainage from flowing through the tube. Attempt to strip the drain to move the clot into the bulb. If drainage is completely blocked from getting into the bulb, notify your provider.

My skin where the drain enters is red and tender: The drain tubing can irritate the skin at the drain entrance site. This is normal and will resolve once the drain is removed. You may apply bacitracin ointment to the drain site once daily and/or use gauze to create a “pillow” around the drain site. Also, anchoring the tubing to your skin with an additional band-aid can help secure the drain better, causing less irritation.


Sometimes, a large amount of fluid may leak from around the drain site, making the gauze dressing completely wet. If this happens, use soap and water to clean the area. Verify that the bulb drain is secured and “flat” to provide the needed suction. Another potential side effect is the development of a clot within the drain. This appears as a dark, stringy lining. It could prevent the drainage from flowing through the tube. Be sure to notify Dr. Hazen if either of these complications occurs. 



  • You suddenly stop draining any fluid or think the tubing may be completely clogged

  • You have sudden swelling, redness, bleeding, and/or foul drainage from incision or drain site.

  • You have sudden increased pain that cannot be relieved by pain medication

  • You have a fever of 100°F or greater

  • Persistent nausea and/or vomiting

  • Calf pain or tenderness, shortness of breath





For any clinical questions, please call our office at 917-301-6563 or email