Even clinicians who wash their hands on a regular basis rarely, if ever, sanitize their stethoscopes. Fortunately, cleaning the various elements of your stethoscope—tubing, diaphragm, and eartips—is a straightforward process that takes only 60 seconds to disinfect between patients. Continue reading to learn why it's crucial to clean your stethoscope and the best methods for sanitizing this vital diagnostic tool.
Why Should You Clean Your Stethoscope?
Stethoscopes are classified as non-critical patient-care items by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because these objects only come into contact with intact skin, they pose the lowest risk of infection transmission among clinical equipment.
However, stethoscopes should still be washed down between patients to prevent the spread of potentially infectious germs. They should also be disinfected more thoroughly regularly or if they are noticeably filthy. Regular stethoscope cleaning is especially crucial in hospitals, where patients are more likely to be infected as well as vulnerable to them.
Basically, if you'd wash your hands in a particular situation, you should similarly clean your stethoscope–especially before and after a patient exam. (This strategy also applies to other germ-carrying things such as pens, penlights, cell phones, and even clothing sleeves.)
Cleaning a Stethoscope: Dos and Don'ts
Understanding how to clean a stethoscope is almost as simple as knowing how to use one, but a few pointers can go a far way. Follow these recommendations to ensure that you clean your stethoscope without damaging its components:
Step 1: Clean the Stethoscope Tubing
Lay the stethoscope tubing flat after unbending it. Wipe down the tube thoroughly for at least 60 seconds, being careful to cover the full circumference. Be cautious that some disinfectants that are not specifically designed for stethoscope tubing might cause the rubber to discolor, become brittle, or fracture, especially when used frequently. If you observe this happening to your stethoscope tubing, stop using it and look for a new cleaning.
Step 2: Clean Stethoscope Earpieces
While you generally won't have time to do this between patients, if your stethoscope requires a thorough cleaning, you can remove the eartips from the eartubes. Wipe them down completely. If earwax or another substance is caught within, rinse it out with soapy water. Allow them to dry completely before snapping the eartips back onto the ribbed ends of the eartubes and wiggle them to ensure they're securely in place.
Step 3: How to Clean the Diaphragm of a Stethoscope
If you have a normal metal tunable diaphragm, you can wipe it down for 60 seconds with a hand sanitizer or an alcohol wipe without removing it. Remove the diaphragm and wipe it with alcohol or wash it with soapy water for a more thorough cleaning. Before reassembling, carefully dry all the parts. If you have an electronic stethoscope or another specialized diaphragm, clean it according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
Cleaning your stethoscope on a regular basis will assist you and your patients stay healthy and safe. The entire procedure takes only a minute or two, and if you use a good stethoscope cleaner and restorer, you can even extend the life of your stethoscope while cleaning it.