Drain Care

What is a "drain"?

After your surgery, you will have one drain put into the area of your surgical incision (cut).

  • The drain should stop fluid from collecting in the surgical area.
  • The drain is held in place with 1 or 2 stitches.


A drain will be used to collect fluid from your surgical site.

What nursing help will I get?

  • Your surgeon's office will make a referral for you to get help with drain care from a nurse.
  • A nurse will call you after you leave the hospital.
    • A nurse will see you either in your home or at a community clinic.
    • The nurse will continue to see you while your drain is in place.
    • The nurse will receive instructions from your surgeon when to remove the drain.

What does emptying the drain mean?

Emptying the drain means draining fluid out of the container (the bulb) that holds the fluid which comes out of the wound.

  • Empty your drain every 8 hours once you are at home.
  • You will be given a "drainage record" sheet in your post-operative (after-surgery) information package to help you keep track of the amount of fluid in your drain.
  • Write down the amount of fluid that you empty from the drain and the time of day.
  • The nurse will look at the drainage record sheet.
  • The fluid will be red at first and then will become pink in colour.
  • Over time, the fluid will look like the colour of apple juice.
  • It is normal to see small clots of blood or tissue in the drain.

How do I empty the drain?

You will be shown how to empty the drain by a nurse before you leave the hospital.

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. Dry your hands with a clean towel.
  2. Take the plug (cap) out of the top of the bulb.
  3. Empty the fluid from the drain into a measuring cup.
  4. Squeeze all the air out of the bulb.
  5. While squeezing the bulb, put the plug back in the top.
  6. Once you have recorded the amount, empty the fluid from the cup into the toilet to be flushed away.

What if there is no fluid to empty from the drain?

Some of the reasons why there may not be any fluid include:

  • The drainage bulb has lost its suction.
  • The drainage tubing is blocked.
  • There is no more fluid to drain.

To create suction in the bulb, open the plug on the bulb — and while squeezing the bulb with your hand — re-close the plug.

How do I "milk the drain?"

To stop the tubing from getting blocked, you will need to "milk the drain."

  • "Milking the drain" helps to clear fluid, tissue and clots from the tubing so that the drain continues to work properly.
  • You will need to "milk" the drain every 3 to 4 hours only while you are awake.
  • A nurse will show you how to milk the drain before you leave the hospital.
  • Be sure when "milking" to secure the drain at the skin site.
  • A family member may be able to help you.

What do I do if fluid is leaking around the drain?

  • This means the drain is blocked.
  • Try milking the drain again to get out the clot.
  • If this does not work, call the Melanoma Site Nursing Team at 416-480-5000.

When will my drain be removed?

  • You will have the drains for at least 3 weeks.
  • Your drains will come out when the drainage is less than 30 millilitres (just over 2 tablespoons) in 24 hours for 2 days in a row.
  • Your surgeon will remove the drains.
  • You may have a small amount of fluid come out of the hole where the drain was in your body. This will stop in 24 to 48 hours. You can put a small gauze dressing over the hole.

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