Product Guide: How to Choose an External (Condom) Catheter - Express Medical Supply

An external male catheter is typically used to treat urinary incontinence. This type of catheter is considered to be less invasive and carries less risk for urinary tract infections, compared to indwelling catheters.


This product guide will cover:

  • What Is an External Catheter?

  • Why Do I Need a Urinary Catheter?

  • What Are the Different Types of External Male Catheters?

  • How to Choose the Right Size.

  • How to Apply an External (Condom) Catheter.

  • How to Prevent Skin Damage from External Catheter.

  • How to Clean and Empty Your Leg/Drainage Bag.

  • Living with an External Catheter.

What Is an External Catheter?

An external urinary catheter (also referred to as condom or Texas catheter) is a product widely used by men. A condom catheter helps manage incontinence without entering the urethra.


External catheters are sheaths applied over the penis, similarly to condoms, and can be worn discreetly under clothing. When rolled onto the penis, the sheath forms a seal that prevents leakage. With a condom catheter, the tip of the sheath is connected to a tube that leads the urine into a leg or drainage bag.

Why Do I Need a Urinary Catheter?

A urinary catheter is required in cases of urinary retention or incontinence, as well as when there is a present spinal cord injury or a nervous system disorder. Some conditions, such as impaired vision, decreased mobility, or dementia may result in limited access to a toilet, increasing the need for a catheter.


An external condom catheter is a non-invasive treatment, and for many users, condom catheters are the easiest catheter type to apply, wear, and remove.

What Are the Different Types of External Male Catheters?

Not all external catheters are the same. It is advised to try a few different types in order to find the catheter that best meets your individual needs.


Most major catheter manufacturers (such as Coloplast and Hollister) offer condom catheters in various materials, shapes, and sizes. External catheters are typically made out of latex or silicone:


Latex condom catheters are affordable and easy to use, though in some cases, may cause an allergic reaction.

Latex condom catheters

Silicone catheters are a costlier option, but are breathable, have a clear sheath, and offer a tight seal.


Silicone catheters

External catheters can also be divided into self-adhesive and non-adhesive devices:


Self-adhesive condom catheters can be affixed by gently pressing the adhesive backing on the skin.


Self-adhesive condom catheters

Non-adhesive catheters require adhesive strips, foam strips, or medical adhesive skin glue to attach. If you need to change the catheter several times a day – or if you have damaged or irritated skin – a non-adhesive condom catheter is recommended.


Non-adhesive catheters

How to Choose the Right Size

Selecting the appropriate catheter size is essential, so most manufacturers provide a measuring guide.


In most cases, the penis should be measured at the shaft (where the diameter is the largest) to help you determine the right external catheter size.


  1. Measure the circumference of the penis in millimeters.

  2. Divide the result by 3.14 (Pi).


For example:


If penis circumference is 110 millimeters (4.3 inches), divide this number by 3.14::


110/3.14 = 35mm


If you fall between two sizes, opt for the smaller one to avoid leakage. Keep in mind, however, that if the external catheter is too tight, it may fall off.


External catheters can be purchased by the each. It is best to get the closest to the measured size, as well as the size above and below try on and find the best fit.

How To Apply an External Catheter

To experience the full benefits of the product, it is important that your external condom catheter is the right size and fits well.


Prepare the skin before application. Trim any hair present on the penis (or the base) to avoid them sticking to the adhesive. Skin must be clean and dry so be sure not to use any moisturizers or oils. A skin prep wipe or spray may be used for extra protection.


Unroll the condom catheter slowly while pressing against the skin. If you are uncircumcised, ensure the foreskin is in its natural position before applying the device. Once you have the device unrolled, squeeze it around the penis for a few seconds.


When applying a condom catheter, ensure that the end of the device isn’t touching the tip of the penis. Leaving a small gap at the end of the device (about ½ inch) will allow better flow of urine.


To connect the condom catheter to the urine collection bag, insert the drainage tube into the tip of the catheter.

How to Prevent Skin Damage from External Catheters

External catheters need to be changed/cleaned daily. Depending on your skin sensitivity – as well as the type of condom catheter – wear time can vary. Generally, wear time is between 12 and 72 hours.


After each catheter change, clean the skin and inspect for signs of skin irritation. To prevent skin damage and irritation, do not shave pubic hair and allow the skin to breath between changes.


Remove the condom catheter by detaching the device from the drainage tube. You may use warm water or an adhesive remover to ease removal.

How to Clean and Empty Your Leg/Drainage Bag

Urine that drains through the external condom catheter is usually collected in either a leg or a drainage bag. Drainage bags are larger and preferred for nighttime use.


Before and after changing or cleaning the urine collection bag, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Different types of urine collection bags may open in different ways. Typically, the bag will have a clamp or an opening that can be twisted or removed. The contents of the bag can be emptied directly into the toilet.


As leg bags are smaller than drainage bags, they need to be emptied more often. For most people, this should happen when the leg bag is half-full.  


To clean your catheter bag, start by rinsing it with cold water. Drain the water into the toilet and fill the bag with one part vinegar and three parts water. Soak for at least 20 minutes, rinse, and let air dry.

Living with an External Catheter

Having to live with a long-term catheter may seem challenging and overwhelming. With the right catheter equipment and proper care, however, you will be able to quickly get back on track.


When choosing your external condom catheter, consider not only your anatomy, but also your lifestyle. Experiment with different catheter sizes in order to find the best fit. Focus on the material, drainage, and adhesion of your device and you’ll be able to assemble the best system for your personal needs and live a more active life.



Read our blog section for more information about catheter care, supplies, and product reviews!


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