How to Empty a Colostomy Bag

colostomy bag and clipColostomy bag and clip

For one reason or another, a patient may be required to have a colostomy bag. This device gives them an alternate way to expel feces if through the rectum is no longer an option.

The bag itself goes around a stoma, which is a hole in the patient's abdomen somewhere in the large intestine. Whenever this procedure is done, the patient is no longer able to control when they have a bowel movement. This is why the bag stays on them at all times.

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How to Empty the Colostomy Bag

Emptying this bag is a fairly simple process. Emptying an ileostomy bag is very similar to this process as well. Some bags require different methods but the most common would be the bags with a clip. The bag is attached with an opening at the bottom. The clip goes on the end of the opening.

Grab a few washcloths or paper towels and a graduate cylinder before you begin. Place the paper towel underneath the clip just in case the bag drips during the process. Then place the graduate right on top of the paper towel.

Lift the opening of the bag up so its contents don't spill out immediately after the clip is taken off. While holding the bag with one hand, un-clip it with your other hand and place the clip to the side.

I personally roll the opening back towards the outside of the bag so the contents don't get stuck to the opening as much. It keeps the edges of the opening cleaner which reduces clean up afterwards.

Slowly tilt the bag down into the graduate emptying the contents at a slow and steady pace to avoid splashing. Depending on how loose or formed the contents are, you may have to help push it out of the bag like a tube of toothpaste.

After you have emptied out as much as you can, unravel the opening and put the clip back on about an inch from the edge. Make sure you hear the clip snap back into place. You may need to use the paper towels to wipe the inside of the opening leading to the clip.

Just like you would with a foley catheter, measure the amount and flush the contents down the toilet.

colostomy bagColostomy bag
alternate colostomy bagAlternate colostomy bag

Having Trouble Emptying The Bag?

If the contents are simply too formed and won't come out through the opening, there are a few things you can do.

One would be to change out the bag. This needs to be done every few days anyway. Many people do this instead of emptying it however, I do not recommend you do this unless you are trained to do so. It can be a very delicate task and should be done with much care and caution.

You have to make sure that the bag is the right size and it is recommended that you clean the area between changing bags which is another cautious task. There is also a skin barrier cream that many people use to protect their skin and use as an adhesion for the bag.

The other option would be to loosen up the contents a little. You can do this by pouring a cup of water in the bag. Just make sure the water is not too cold or too hot and don't overfill it. Mix it around as best as you can and then pour it out into the graduate.

Just remember that measuring the contents will now be inaccurate unless you measure how much water you put in the colostomy bag and subtract that from the total amount.

colostomy bag clip closedColostomy bag clip closed
open colostomy bag clipOpen colostomy bag clip

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Question: How full should a colostomy bag get before emptying it?

Answer: It should be emptied when it is 1/3 to 1/2 full. Any fuller and you risk it popping off or bursting open. This includes burping the bag as well when it gets full of gas.

Q: Will colostomy bag contents clog a toilet?

A: Generally speaking, no. But just like stool that is excreted normally, there are times when the size and amount are too much for some toilets to handle.

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