Caring for Your Jackson-Pratt Drainage System

This information describes how to care for your Jackson-Pratt® drainage system while you’re at home. You may also find it helpful to watch the video below.

Figure 1. Jackson-Pratt drain

The Jackson-Pratt drainage system has flexible tubing attached to a soft, plastic bulb with a stopper (see Figure 1). The drainage end of the tubing, which is flat and white, goes into your body through a small opening near your incision (surgical cut). A stitch holds the drainage end in place. The rest of the tube is outside your body, attached to the bulb. When the bulb is compressed with the stopper in place, it creates a vacuum. This causes a constant gentle suction, which helps draw out fluid that collects under your incision. The bulb should be compressed at all times, except when you are emptying the drainage.

How long you will have your Jackson-Pratt depends on your surgery and the amount of fluid is draining. This is different for everyone. The Jackson-Pratt is usually removed when the drainage is 30 mL or less over 24 hours. To keep track of how much drainage you’re having, you will record the amount in a drainage log. It’s important to bring the log with you to your follow-up appointments.

Caring for Your Jackson-Pratt at Home

In order to care for your Jackson-Pratt at home, you or your caregiver will do the following:

  • Milk the tubing to help move clots
  • Empty the drain twice a day and record the color and amount of drainage on the Jackson-Pratt Drainage Record
    • If you have more than 1 drain, make sure to measure and record the drainage of each one separately. Do not add them together.
  • Care for the area where the tubing enters your skin
  • Recognizing when there is a problem
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Milking the Tubing

These steps will help you move clots through the tubing and keep the drainage flowing. Do this before you empty and measure your drainage.

  1. Clean your hands thoroughly.
  2. Look in the mirror at the tubing. This will help you see where your hands need to be.
  3. Pinch the tubing close to where it goes into your skin between your thumb and forefinger.
  4. With the thumb and forefinger of your other hand, pinch the tubing right below your other fingers. Keep your fingers pinched and slide them down the tubing, pushing any clots down toward the bulb. You may want to use alcohol swabs to help you slide your fingers down the tubing.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as necessary to push clots from the tubing into the bulb. If you are not able to move a clot into the bulb, call your doctor’s office.
  6. The fluid may leak around the insertion site if a clot is blocking the drainage flow. If there is fluid in the bulb and no leakage at the insertion site, the drain is working.
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How to Empty Your Jackson-Pratt and Record the Drainage

You will need to empty your Jackson-Pratt in the morning and in the evening.

Gather the following supplies:

  • Measuring container your nurse gave you
  • Jackson-Pratt Drainage Record 
  • Pen or pencil
Figure 2: Emptying the bulb


  1. Clean an area to work on.
  2. Clean your hands thoroughly.
  3. Unplug the stopper on top of your Jackson-Pratt. This will cause the bulb to expand. Do not touch the inside of the stopper or the inner area of the opening on the bulb.
  4. Turn your Jackson-Pratt upside down, gently squeeze the bulb, and pour the drainage into the measuring container (see Figure 2).
  5. Turn your Jackson-Pratt right side up.
  6. Squeeze the bulb until your fingers feel the palm of your hand.
  7. Keep squeezing the bulb while you replug the stopper.
  8. Make sure the bulb stays fully compressed to ensure constant, gentle suction.
  9. If you’re wearing a surgical bra, feed the plastic loop on the top of the drainage bulb through the Velcro® straps at the bottom of the bra. Do not let the drain dangle. A fanny pack or belt bag may be helpful to hold the drain.
  10. Check the amount and color of drainage in the measuring container. The first couple days after surgery the fluid may be dark red. This is normal. As you heal the fluid may look pink or pale yellow.
  11. Record this amount and the color of drainage on your Jackson-Pratt Drainage Record.
  12. Flush the drainage down the toilet and rinse the measuring container with water.
  13. At the end of each day, add up the total amount of drainage for the 24-hour period and record it in the last column of the drainage record.
  14. If you have more than 1 drain, measure and record each one separately.
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Caring for the Insertion Site

Once you have emptied the drainage, clean your hands again. Check the area around the insertion site. Look for tenderness, swelling, or pus. If you have any of these, or if you have a temperature of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher, you may have an infection. Call your doctor’s office.

Sometimes, the drain causes redness the size of a dime at your insertion site. This is normal. Your healthcare provider will tell you if you should place a bandage over the insertion site.

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Problems You May Have With Your Jackson-Pratt


The bulb is not compressed.


  • The bulb was not compressed all the way because it wasn’t squeezed tightly enough.
  • The stopper is not closed securely.
  • The tubing has been come out and is leaking.

What to Do

  • Compress the bulb using steps 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8 outlined in “How to Empty Your Jackson Pratt and Record the Drainage.”
  • If the bulb is still expanded after following the steps above, call your doctor’s office during business hours.


There is:

  • No drainage
  • A sudden decrease in the amount of drainage
  • Drainage around where the tubing goes into your skin or on the bandage covering the tubing


Sometimes, string-like clots clump together in the tubing. This can block the flow of drainage.

What to Do

  • Milk the tubing as described above.
  • If there is no increase in drainage flow, call your doctor’s office during business hours. If it occurs at night, call the next day.


The tubing falls out of your insertion site.


This can happen if the tubing is pulled. It is rare because the tubing is held in place with a stitch.

What to Do

Place a new bandage over the site and call your doctor’s office during business hours.


You have redness greater than the size of a dime, swelling, heat, or pus around your insertion site.


These may be signs of an infection.

What to Do

  • Take your temperature. Call your doctor’s office and describe what you see around your insertion site. Tell your doctor or nurse your temperature, especially if it’s 101° F (38.3° C) or higher.
  • Keep your insertion site clean and dry by washing it with soap and water and then gently patting it dry.

Once you know how to care for your Jackson-Pratt, you will do it on your own. Your nurse will watch you the first time you empty the drainage to make sure you are doing it correctly. Even after you have begun to care for it yourself, you can always ask for help. If you have any problems while you’re at home, call your doctor’s office.

  • Bright red drainage
  • A temperature of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher
  • Increased redness, tenderness, swelling, or pus at your insertion site
  • The amount of drainage suddenly drops or has increased 100 mL over the past 24 hours
  • The tube falls out
  • You cannot compress the bulb
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Instructions After Your Drain Is Removed

After your drain is removed, follow the instructions below to help:

  • Keep your insertion site and the area around it clean and dry
  • Prevent infection and help your skin heal after the drain is removed


  1. Remove the bandage after 24 hours.
  2. You may shower (no tub bath) after you have removed the dressing.
  3. Wash the site gently with soap and rinse the area with warm, running water.
  4. Pat the area dry.
  5. Inspect the site. Use a mirror if necessary. Expect:
    • Slight redness
    • Swelling
    • Tenderness
    • A small amount of clear or slightly bloody drainage on the bandage
  6. If you were instructed to see your doctor or nurse for a follow-up visit, be sure to write the date and time of your appointment.
  • Increased redness
  • Increased pressure or swelling
  • Skin that is hot to the touch
  • A temperature higher than 101° F (38.3° C)

Jackson-Pratt Drainage Record  JP# _________


Jackson-Pratt Drainage Record  JP# _________

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If you have any questions or concerns, talk with a member of your healthcare team. You can reach them Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at ____________________. After 5:00 pm, during the weekend, and on holidays, please call____________________. If there’s no number listed, or you’re not sure, call 212-639-2000.
Caring for Your Jackson-Pratt Drainage System
©2016 Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center - Generated on April 26, 2016