How to Clean a Stethoscope: Caring for your Stethoscope like a Pro

How to clean a stethoscope

The stethoscope is an instrument that is used routinely by health care professionals. Unfortunately, the stethoscope is a common vehicle for infectious disease transmission.

Particularly, it is easy to transfer microbes from a sick person to the stethoscope and then to another person or vice versa.

Therefore, cleaning the stethoscope between patients is imperative. The stethoscope should be cleaned from time to time not only to remove the micro-organisms but also to extend the life span of the instrument.

If you work in the medical field you need to wipe down your stethoscope between patients.

In fact, it is important to wipe down your stethoscope before and after use for each patient. The last thing you want is to carry the microbes from one patient and transfer it to another or worse still bring an unsanitary stethoscope to your home or family.

Items you need to Clean a Stethoscope

To keep your stethoscope clean and shiny you need the following items:

  • Chlorhexidine solution or 70% Isopropyl rubbing alcohol wipes/solution
  • Cleaning bowl
  • Mild soap and water
  • Rag or paper towels
  • Cotton balls
  • Cotton swabs

How to Clean the Stethoscope Tubing

cleaning the stethoscope between patients

Since most stethoscope tubing are made out of polyvinylchloride PVC, it may become hard when exposed to the lipid on the human skin. Also when the tubing is worn around the neck it makes the tubing stiffen over time. Constant cleaning and proper care of the tubing will extend the life. To properly clean the stethoscope tubing without damaging it, use only soap and lukewarm water. Do not use rubbing alcohol as this can damage the tubing by slowly disintegrating the material.

To clean the stethoscope tubing:

  • Have a lukewarm soapy water in a bowl and a rag/paper towel ready
  • Soak the rag/paper towel or rag in soapy water
  • wipe down the tubing until it is clean
  • Use another rag or paper towel to dry the tubing

How to Clean the Chestpiece of the Stethoscope

clean stethoscope between patients

The chestpiece (the bell and diaphragm) is one of the parts of the stethoscope that comes in contact with the patient hence it should be cleaned often.

 

To clean the chestpiece of your stethoscope:

  • Soak a cotton ball in chlorhexidine solution or 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol solution (you can use just the alcohol pads as well)
  • Wipe the entire chestpiece from front to back.
  • Wait at least ten seconds before drying
  • For hard to reach areas (e.g stem) soak an alcohol swab in the chlorhexidine or rubbing alcohol solution and clean in a turning motion.

How to Clean the Headset of your Stethoscope

cleaning stethoscope between patients

To clean the headset of your stethoscope:

  • Use an chlorhexidine or alcohol solution pad or solution to clean around the headset in upward and downward strokes.
  • Dry as needed.

How to Clean the Eartips of your Stethoscope

cleaning a stethoscope

Eartips is another part of the stethoscope that gets dirty easily due to contact with the cerumen wax from the ears.

To clean the eartips of your stethoscope:

  • Use a cotton swab and soak it into a chlorhexidine or alcohol solution
  • Clean in a twisting motion
  • You can also remove the eartips completely and clean underneath and around it.

Tip on How to make Your Stethoscope Last for a Lifetime

Correct care and cleaning of your stethoscope will extend its lifespan and ensure its optimum performance.

1. To prevent scratches and scuff marks

When cleaning your stethoscope, avoid using abrasive cleaning supplies to clean a stethoscope as this can increase scratches on your instrument.

Additionally, do not throw out the box of your stethoscope after purchasing. Save it and use it ito store your stethoscope.

If you have already thrown out the box of your stethoscope, you can still store your stethoscope in an unused kit or backpack to prevent it from being scratched.

 

2. Consider Using Stethoscope Covers

If you want to protect your stethoscope from any stains or marks, you can use disposable stethoscope covers. They are usually designed for single use, after which you can dispose them.

They are made of very thin, noiseless plastic, so you do not have to worry about hearing them move when you listen to bodily sounds.

Most stethoscope covers are available in variety of styles and they are usually made to protect the diaphragm, bell and the tubing.

 

3. Disinfecting your stethoscope properly

Cleaning the stethoscopes between patient’s is highly recommended. Disinfect or wipe down your stethoscope between patients with a chlorhexidine solution because studies show that it is more effective in disinfecting equipments for a longer time and it kills more microbes including viruses, fungi and bacteria.

However, if you do not have access to chlorhexidine solution you can use 70% isopropyl alcohol wipes or solution.

Avoid using a hand sanitizer as a cleaning agent as there are additives that may damage parts of the stethoscope. For the tube cleaning, use soap and water only.

 

4. Removing Ink Stains and stain marks

To remove ink stains from your stethoscope, use hydrogen peroxide and a cotton pad and the stain should come off.

If you do not have hydrogen peroxide use a disinfectant solution such as chlorhexidine or 70% rubbing alcohol and that should do the trick as well as.

 

5. Do not Immerse your Stethoscope in Liquid or Solution

It is important not to immerse the stethoscope in any liquid or subject it to any sterilisation process as this can seriously cause damage to it.

 

6. Keep your stethoscope away from Harsh Environments

To promote the shelf life of your stethoscope it is important to avoid extreme hot and cold temperatures, oils or solvents as they can wear out your stethoscope and damage it.

 

7. Always Wipe down your stethoscope before and after use

starting at the earpieces (which helps prevent the spread of ear infections among the staff), continuing down the tubing, and ending around the bell and diaphragm.

Take the diaphragm apart to remove dust, lint, or debris and be sure to dry all the parts properly before reassembling it.

 

8. Wear a Shirt with a Collar

Most health care professionals wear their stethoscope around their neck and by doing so they expose the tubing to lipids from their skin.

Since most stethoscopes have tubing that are made from PVC, continual exposure can damage the tubing and reduce the shelf life.

Hence, if you must wear your stethoscope around your neck, it is recommended to wear a shirt that has a collar that way the stethoscope stays on the collar instead of your neck.

If you have any feedback, questions or concerns about this article. I would love to hear from you. Kindly leave your comments in the comments section below.

Thank you for reading!

About Pam 9 Articles
Pam is the founder and author of InfoWatchNurse and ThinkStethoscopes. Pam is an award-winning leader. In 2017, She pioneered the first ever peer tutoring program for nursing students at York University. She was also a Peer Tutor and Mentor for nursing students. Today, Pam creates posts and articles on health topics to give back to the nursing community.  She blogs about nursing, health, nursing skills and other health-related topics on her websites. You can connect with Pam on Linkedin and Instagram.

11 Comments

  1. About how much longer would you say that it improves the life of the stethoscope from cleaning vs not cleaning it? It is amazing how we can miss the little things like cleaning a stethoscope! This is a tool that is used often and is also overlooked because it isn’t used like a needle or thermometer. Thank you for the walk-through of how to properly clean it!

    • Hi Veronica,

      it really depends on so many factors and on the type and the brand of the stethoscope and how we handle it so its hard to say but most stethoscope will last you for a lifetime if taken care of properly. I hope this answers your question. Have a great day!

      Regards

      Pam

  2. What a thorough and helpful article Pam. You covered a lot more helpful tips than I was expecting. Adding the video was appreciated to tie everything together. Thanks so much.

  3. When removing the stain I think a disinfectant solution is quite effective but can you recommend a good brand which can be bought online?

  4. I work in a Men’s Residential Drug and Alcohol Rehab with a detox unit that holds 8-beds. We have a person there that is supposed to check vitals but never uses the stethoscope. It just sits around that person’s neck so they can look like a physician and irritates me to no end! I need to show this site and in particular, this page to show that person it’s not a toy to look good and just clean and put it away!

  5. I really appreciate your work, as a doctor I have to struggle to tell my staff to clean things properly especially stethoscopes they use. I will share this amazing post with all of them, thank you so much for sharing this very very important post.

  6. Hi Pam

    Thanks for another informative article. With the amount of nasty staff infections, bacteria and virus around today keep your equipment clean and sterile is a priority.

    Regards
    Steve

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