Like any other medical instrument, your stethoscope should always be kept clean to ensure it works properly and to prevent the spread of infections.
This is essential for protecting yourself and your patients while preserving the lifespan of your stethoscope for a longer period of time.
But the question remains: How do you clean it?
This article will guide you through the steps to properly clean your stethoscope, so let’s dive in.
How Often Should You Clean Your Stethoscope?
You should wipe your stethoscope down with an isopropyl alcohol solution after every patient you treat. This ensures you avoid passing harmful germs between patients, especially since stethoscopes touch your patients’ chests and backs.
Most medical professionals at least clean the bell of the stethoscope in between patients. It is up to your discretion as to whether you feel you need to clean the entire device every time.
However, it is a good idea to fully wipe down your entire stethoscope at the end of your shift.
Periodically, you may need to disassemble your stethoscope to clean it more thoroughly. This will keep it in top shape and avoid the buildup of dirt, bacteria, oils, or other substances.
This can be done every few weeks as needed, or when the device is visibly dirty.
What Do You Need To Clean Your Stethoscope?
You don’t need any special materials to clean your stethoscope. The most important thing is a solution of isopropyl alcohol with a minimum alcohol content of 70%. This ensures that the solution can kill all or most of the harmful bacteria that can gather on your stethoscope.
Ideally, you should use alcohol wipes or a spray to make sure you clean every part of your stethoscope without oversaturating it.
Getting your stethoscope too wet can cause microbial growth and potentially cause parts of the tool to break down more quickly. Too much moisture can also keep the stethoscope from functioning properly and taking accurate readings.
How To Clean Your Stethoscope
Cleaning your stethoscope is a very simple process. Most of the time, all you need to do is wipe the instrument down with an isopropyl alcohol wipe, or you can use a spray. Again, the alcohol solution should be at least 70%.
Make sure to dry the stethoscope thoroughly after applying the solution, either by letting it air dry or by rubbing it with a rag or towel. If you choose to let it air dry, remember that a solution with a higher alcohol percentage will dry more quickly.
When you do a more thorough cleaning, disassemble the pieces of your stethoscope and lay them out carefully. Clean each one with the isopropyl alcohol, making sure to get in all the crevices.
Note: This includes the stethoscope tubing, eartips, chestpiece, diaphragm, bell, and any other parts of the stethoscope.
Let all the pieces dry thoroughly (or dry them by hand) before reassembling the stethoscope.
Some medical professionals prefer to use disposable covers on the head of their stethoscopes. They can discard the cover in between patients rather than taking the time to sanitize the head every time.
European studies found that a significant percentage of stethoscope earpieces harbor pathogens. Therefore, it is important to make sure you clean the earpieces, as well as the other parts of the instrument (e.g., tunable diaphragms).
Why Should You Clean Your Stethoscope?
There are several reasons why it is important to clean your stethoscope regularly:
- To prevent the spread of infection: Stethoscopes can become contaminated with bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens, which can be transmitted to patients. By cleaning your stethoscope regularly, you can reduce the risk of spreading infections.
- To extend the life of the stethoscope: Stethoscopes can become damaged or wear out more quickly if they are not properly cared for. Cleaning your stethoscope regularly can help extend its life and save you money in the long run.
- To maintain a professional appearance: A clean, well-maintained stethoscope is an important part of a professional appearance. It shows that you take your job seriously and are committed to providing the best possible care for your patients.
What Not To Do While Cleaning a Stethoscope
Here are some things to avoid while cleaning your stethoscope:
- Do not use harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners. These can damage the stethoscope parts, including the tubing and chest piece. Instead, use an alcohol solution or disinfectant specifically designed for use on medical devices.
- Do not soak the stethoscope in water or any other liquid. This can damage the internal components of the stethoscope and cause it to malfunction.
- Do not use hot water to clean the stethoscope. Hot water can cause the tubing to become brittle and crack over time.
- Do not use a dry cloth to clean the stethoscope. Dry cloths can scratch the surface of the stethoscope and leave behind fibers that can be difficult to remove.
- Do not apply pressure or scrub the stethoscope excessively. This can damage the delicate components of the stethoscope, such as the diaphragm and ear tips.
- Do not store the stethoscope in a damp or humid place. This can lead to the growth of mold and bacteria, which can be harmful to patients.
- Do not use hand sanitizer to disinfect your stethoscope. Although it may seem practical, hand sanitizer often contains additives that can damage parts of your stethoscope.
In summary, be gentle and use appropriate cleaning methods and products when cleaning your stethoscope to avoid damaging it and potentially spreading infections to patients.
How Do You Know When It’s Time To Replace Your Stethoscope?
No medical tool lasts forever, and the same is true for stethoscopes. There are several signs that it may be time to replace your device:
- The stethoscope is no longer functioning properly: If your stethoscope is not picking up sounds correctly, or if it is producing distorted or muffled sounds, it may be time to replace it.
- The stethoscope is visibly damaged: If your stethoscope has visible cracks, scratches, or other physical damage, it may need to be replaced.
- The stethoscope is no longer comfortable to use: If the ear tips of your stethoscope are worn or uncomfortable, or if the tubing is stiff or hard to bend, it may be time to replace it.
- The stethoscope is no longer hygienic: If you are unable to clean your stethoscope properly due to visible dirt, stains, or other contaminants, it may be time to replace it.
In general, if your stethoscope is no longer functioning properly or if it is damaged or unhygienic, it may be time to replace it.
However, if you take proper care of your stethoscope and clean it regularly, you can extend its life significantly.
What is the Best Stethoscope for Medical Professionals?
When selecting a stethoscope, it’s important to choose one that is comfortable and durable but also accurate with sound acoustics.
We recommend the 3M Littmann Classic III Stethoscope because it’s made of high-quality materials and provides clear sounds during auscultation. Not to mention, this model offers the best bang for your buck when it comes to quality and affordability.
This is our top-recommended stethoscope for medical professionals.
As an affiliate, we receive compensation if you purchase through this link.
Cleaning your stethoscope doesn’t have to be difficult. But it is important, both for hygiene and for the longevity of this vital tool. Follow the proper cleaning steps and take care of your stethoscope, and it should serve you well for many years.
Reminder: It is important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and maintaining your stethoscope to ensure it remains in good working condition.
Furthermore, don’t forget to replace it when it is time, as a worn-out stethoscope can give inaccurate readings and put patients at risk.
Our stethoscope buyer’s guide can help you find the perfect device for any budget. Thanks for reading, and, as always, breathe easy, my friend.
John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.
- Grais, Ira Martin. “Proper Use of the Stethoscope.” National Library of Medicine, 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3650582.
- Ghahramanifar, M., et al. “A New Stethoscope Design With Unique Characteristics and Development in Medical Device.” National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928306.
- Ribeiro, Maíra Marques, et al. “Efficacy and Effectiveness of Alcohol in the Disinfection of Semi-Critical Materials: A Systematic Review.” National Library of Medicine, July 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4623738.
- Whittington, A. M., et al. “Bacterial Contamination of Stethoscopes on the Intensive Care Unit.” Journal of the Association of Great Britain and Ireland, 2009, associationofanaesthetists-publications.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1365-2044.2009.05892.x.