What Materials are Used to Make Intermittent Catheters?
There are three main materials used to make urinary intermittent catheters, red rubber, silicone, and vinyl, which is also known as PVC.
Pliability and Flexibility of Intermittent Catheter Materials:
- Softest = Red Rubber
- Medium = Silicone
- Firmest = PVC/Vinyl
There are exceptions to the above list, for instance a silicone catheter that is specifically labeled "soft" could be softer than one of the firmer red rubber varieties. For the most part though, this is a good place to start when it comes to understanding which Intermittent catheter is more pliable.
Silicone Catheters Feature:
- Latex-free clear catheter, this is the best choice if you are allergic to latex
- Standard firmness as well as soft varieties are available
- Pre-lubricated hydrophilic or the less expensive non-lubricated variety
- Some companies like to incorporate polished eyelets for ease of use in their silicone catheters
- Available in coude tip, coude olive tip, tiemann coude tip, and straight tip.
Red Rubber Catheters Feature:
- Latex and are not suitable for anyone who is allergic or even sensitive to latex
- Generally red in color but they are also found in reddish brown and orange as well
- Red rubber catheters are not clear, they are opaque, which means you can't see through them
- The entire catheter is one piece of red rubber, the funnel is integrated and it is not color coded
- Soft, pliable, and flexible
- Available in coude, tiemann, and straight tip
- Eyelets are not polished but they are available with one eyelet, staggered eyelets, or the standard eyelet style
PVC/Vinyl Catheters Feature:
- PVC stands for Polyvinyl chloride, which is why it is called "vinyl" for short
- Smooth surface that is available in clear like silicone catheters and red like red rubber catheters. Always read the description to make sure you are getting the catheter you want
- PVC/vinyl tends to be a firmer catheter
- Vinyl warms to your body like red rubber but it isn't as flexible as red rubber
- Some vinyl catheters have color coded funnels that can make it easier to double check that you have the correct catheter
- PVC/vinyl is also available without a funnel end
- Eyelets on vinyl catheters can be fire polished and smoothed or they can be cold pressed, always ask if the catheter you are buying has polished eyelets because the polishing makes catheter insertion much more comfortable
Urinary intermittent catheters can be purchased in the standard non-lubricated manner like the Coloplast Self Cath
, or they can be purchased in a pre-lubricated variety like the Coloplast SpeediCath
, which is known as self-lubricated or hydrophilic catheter. A regular catheter needs lubrication
in order to safely insert the catheter into the urethra. Sterile lubricants are available in gram packs or in tubes. There is nothing at all wrong with using a regular non-lubricated catheter as long as you make sure you are using a sterile lubricant specifically designed for catheter use. The reason people choose to use a hydrophilic or self-lubricated catheter is because of convenience and a smoother and slicker insertion experience. If you have struggled with discomfort during catheterization I would recommend trying a hydrophilic catheter. They are noticeably smoother and they have the added benefit of staying lubricated even when they are removed from the bladder and urethra. Hydrophilic catheters come in a couple of different styles. Some of them have a sterile water or saline packet
inside the catheter packaging that has to be burst before using or opening the catheter. You would break the water sachet by squeezing it and then you allow the water solution to totally coat the catheter.
This takes around 30 seconds and during that time the hydrophilic coating on the catheter is activated and ready for use. The other style of hydrophilic catheter is ready to use as soon as you open the catheter. There is no water packet inside and the catheter just needs to be opened and it is totally lubricated and ready to go. Both styles are extremely slick, so slick in fact that a lot of companies like Bard have added "grippers" to their Magic 3 hydrophilic catheters
, this is a sterile sleeve that comes already in place on the catheter to enable you to hold onto the catheter easily despite the catheter being extremely lubricated. Many people say that hydrophilic catheters are more comfortable to insert and remove.
As always, before changing your catheter or your catheter supplies you should contact your medical team to make sure you are getting information that is specific to you. I hope you never feel like you can't ask your doctor questions or even make suggestions to the people offering you medical care. You are your best advocate!