When’s the last time you cleaned your stethoscope? Do you always give it a quick wipe with an alcohol wipe between patients to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other HAIs (hospital-associated infections) between patients?
Many nurses and healthcare professionals that (hopefully) are religious about washing their hands between patients might not even think about cleaning their stethoscope. After all, it’s a noncritical patient care item and only comes into contact with intact skin.
But that stethoscope you have hanging around your neck and are sticking in your ears all day might not only be swarming with infectious bacteria – it probably also has all kinds of gross organic matter, ear wax. dirt and grime hiding in all those little nooks and crannies.
Now before you nuke your stethoscope in an autoclave or go out and buy a new one – wait – there are some very simple steps you can take to effectively and safely clean your stethoscope.
We’re going to first tell you why and then show you how to clean your stethoscope to keep it as sterile as possible, preserve its performance and extend its life.
Why You Should Clean Your Stethoscope
The most obvious answer as to why you should clean your stethoscope is to reduce infections between patients and cross-contamination.
A 2018 study that assessed cleaning practices with stethoscopes found a number of different infectious bacteria on as many as half of the stethoscopes they swabbed. These included coagulase-negative staphylococci, Bacillus species, diphtheroids, S. aureus, Acinetobacter, and Klebsiella pneumoniae.
While the risk of a patient getting sick from a dirty stethoscope is considered lower since it only touches intact skin, nurses and healthcare professionals still have to use them all day.
You’re touching it, using it, sticking it in your ears. If you haven’t been wiping your stethoscope or haven’t given it a good deep cleaning recently, you’re using a dirty piece of equipment that may not only be putting your patients at risk – it could pose a risk for you as well. And besides – that’s just gross.
Aside from the bacteria and all the gunk that gets into the diaphragm, on the tubing, and into the earpieces, keeping your stethoscope clean helps to keep it working properly.
So let’s recap the 3 reasons why you need to regularly clean your stethoscope:
- To prevent the spread of infectious diseases
- To keep your stethoscope working properly
- To extend the life of your stethoscope
Alright, are you convinced that you need to be a little more vigilant in how often you’re cleaning your stethoscope?
Great. Then let’s get to the Dos and Don’ts of how to properly clean your stethoscope that won’t damage it or affect its performance.
How Often Should You Clean Your Stethoscope?
For daily use, you should clean your stethoscope as often as you would wash your hands. That means, for the most part, after every patient you see. A deep cleaning, where you take the stethoscope apart, is recommended at least once a week.
Proper Care And Cleaning Of Your Stethoscope
You may be surprised to learn that even the best stethoscopes for nurses and doctors need a little extra care when cleaning them.
It was quite long but the history of the stethoscope is pretty interesting. And in those long years of use, the healthcare professionals that use them every day have also been cleaning them regularly using a variety of different methods and cleaners.
However, there are some things you can’t use on your stethoscope and things to keep in mind. So here’s everything you need to know about cleaning your most trusty piece of medical equipment:
First, the things you should NEVER do when cleaning your stethoscope:
- Don’t use hand sanitizer – it has ingredients that may damage your stethoscope.
- DO NOT put your stethoscope in an autoclave or other sterilization process.
- Don’t immerse it in any kind of liquid, soapy water, or cleaning solution.
- Don’t expose it to extreme heat or cold, oils or solvents.
Here are the things you can safely clean your stethoscope with:
- 70% isopropyl alcohol
- Mild soap and water (Best for cleaning the tubing)
- 2% bleach solution (But may discolor the tubing)
Ok, now you know what to clean your stethoscope with, let’s talk about how to take it apart so you can clean all the places where cooties and gunk can hide.
How To Give Your Stethoscope A Quick Clean
If you just need to give your stethoscope a quick clean between patients or at the end of the day, simply take a 70% alcohol wipe and thoroughly wipe down the chest piece and headpiece. If you want to clean the tubing, mild soap and water is the best.
How To Clean Stethoscope Parts For A Deeper Cleaning
NOTE: After you clean each part, make sure that they’re completely dry before putting your stethoscope back together.
- Pinch the rim of the diaphragm
- Pull and lift it from the chest piece
- Clean thoroughly, making sure to get into all the small places
- Reassemble by inserting the flexible end into the rim groove, then slowly and gently roll it over the edge.
- Firmly pull them off the headset.
- Clean thoroughly – cotton swabs work great.
- Push the small end onto the ear tube until it snaps back into place.
Non-Chill Bell Sleeve
- Pull and lift from the chest piece
- Place one side onto the bell.
- Stretch it over and around the edge of the bell.
- Simply scrub the tubing with mild soap and water. Using anything stronger like alcohol or bleach may discolor the tubing or make it sticky.
Though it may be something that’s easy to forget about since a stethoscope is a non-critical piece of equipment, proper care and cleaning of this vital tool is important.
Remember, it’s not just about protecting your patients from a possible infection – you’re also protecting yourself and making sure that that stethoscope you use day in and day out is more sterile, working the way it’s meant to, and will last a lot longer.