Cleaning suctioning equipment and troubleshooting problems

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead

Find out how to care for your child's suctioning equipment and troubleshoot any suctioning problems.

Key points

  • It is very important to clean suctioning equipment and supplies regularly to prevent bacteria growth.
  • If you have questions about troubleshooting issues with the equipment or about suctioning that are not covered below, please contact your child's health-care provider.

Suctioning involves removing excess secretions (mucus) from the nasal cavity (in the nose), mouth, throat and trachea. It is usually done with a device called a suction machine.

Your child's suction machine and equipment will need to be cleaned regularly. There may also be issues that come up during suctioning that you will need to know how to fix.

How often should I clean the suctioning equipment and supplies?


  • Empty the canister into the toilet.
  • Wash the canister in warm, soapy water and rinse well.
  • Leave a little water in the bottom of the canister. The water will prevent mucus from sticking to the bottom.
  • Check that the suction pressure is set correctly.
  • Check that the filter tubing and canister are clean.
  • Check that the battery is charged.


  • Replace the tubing.


  • Check the outlet filter. Change it when it looks dirty or at least once every two months.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

How do I clean the canister?

  1. Gather your equipment and supplies:
    • one container filled with warm, soapy water (use mild dish-washing soap)
    • second container filled with 1 part white vinegar and 3 parts water
    • clean cloth
    • clean towel
  2. Remove the short tubing from the lid. Remove the canister, take the lid off, and empty the contents into the toilet.
  3. Wash all parts in the container of warm, soapy water.
  4. Rinse all parts with tap water.
  5. Place all parts in the container of vinegar and water and soak for 30 minutes.
  6. Rinse all parts with tap water again.
  7. Place all parts on a clean, dry towel and allow to air dry.
  8. Once dry, re-assemble the tubing and canister.
  9. Look for any cracks or tears. Replace any cracked or broken parts. Replace the tubing weekly or when dirty.
  10. Wipe the machine down with a damp cloth.
  11. Wash your hands.

Please check your suction machine manual for additional information on how to clean the canister.

Troubleshooting suctioning problems

Why does my child feel short of breath while being suctioned?

Your child will feel short of breath because suctioning removes oxygen from their airway.

  • Try to keep the suction time to less than 10 seconds and allow your child to take a few breaths between suctioning attempts.
  • Your child may need oxygen before suctioning if they usually feel short of breath while being suctioned. Have oxygen available in case your child cannot recover on their own.

There is a lot of mucus in my child's airway and it is difficult to get it out. What do I do?

  • Wet the suction catheter with sterile, distilled water and try suctioning again
  • Ask your child to cough
  • Reposition your child
  • If suctioning from the nose, try other nostril (nare)
  • If suctioning from the mouth and you are using a catheter, try a larger sized catheter or Yankauer
  • Make sure the tubing is rinsed and canister not full to maximize allowable pressure
  • Make sure suction machine is set with the correct pressure
  • Check for aspiration
  • Ensure good hydration to avoid mucous from getting thick

The suction machine does not seem to be working. What do I do?

If the suction machine does not turn on:

  • check the power source and connection
  • ensure the wall outlet is working
  • check the power cord for damage

If you are still having issues, contact the respiratory vendor where the machine was purchased to inquire about inspection and repair.

If the motor runs, but there is no suction pressure:

  • ensure the tubing has not become disconnected
  • check for leaks or kinks in the tubing
  • ensure the filter is not wet (keep a backup filter with your supplies)
  • ensure the float shut-off is not activated (if this is part of your suction machine)
  • check for canister leaks and cracks

If the suction machine has a low pressure:

  • use the suction machine pressure gauge to increase the pressure level
  • check the system for leaks

If the motor overheats and the motor overload protector shuts off:

  • turn the ON/OFF switch to OFF, allow the motor to cool for about five minutes and then turn it back to ON
  • contact the vendor
Last updated: February 20th 2020