COVID-19 Precautions: How to Properly Clean Your Stethoscope

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stethoscope

There’s a lot that health professionals have had to endure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The emotional and physical strain of being overworked at a time of staff shortages and a global pandemic, cannot be underestimated. It has not been a good time to be a nurse.

Anywho, I seem to be taking a detour on what I really wanted to talk about today.

Essentially, the enormous amount of pressure on the frontline these days means little things such as hygiene and looking after our instruments, can understandably fall by the wayside.

Even at the best of times, (i.e, pre-pandemic), a 2018 study where medical students were asked about their stethoscope cleaning practices, almost a quarter (22.4%) said they never clean their stethoscopes. Alarmingly, only 3.9% reported cleaning their stethoscopes between every patient examination.

In this short guide, we’ll take a look at the best and most efficient way of keeping a stethoscope clean during these Covid times.

Stethoscope Cleaning between Patient Examinations

While it is tempting to quickly wipe the stethoscope down with hand sanitizers, this is not the recommended way of cleaning your instrument.

You cannot guarantee the removal of harmful bacteria using this method. Furthermore, the additives used in the formula for the cleaning agent can actually damage parts of the stethoscope over time, (the tubing is especially susceptible).

However, as we know, during the pandemic it is very important that the stethoscope is thoroughly cleaned between patient exams.

So what is the best way to do this?

If you own a Littmann stethoscope (which, let’s be honest, is by far the most popular brand of stethoscopes available today), there is actually specific guidance on their website.

They recommend the following cleaning solutions for all their models:

Essentially, the healthcare institution that you with or for, should provide isopropyl rubbing alcohol. If this is not the case, find out why and request it, or you can simply order bottles from Amazon.

Avoid the temptation to immerse your stethoscope into a liquid of any kind in an effort to sterilize it. The end result will be a damaged instrument.

Cleaning Stethoscope Components

stethoscope components

While using the correct wipes to clean the stethoscope between patient examinations is par of the course, periodically, you should spend more time cleaning the instrument, by taking it apart as you do so.

This basically means removing the various components so a more thorough cleaning can be carried out.

You should always refer to the owner’s manual of your stethoscope for detailed instructions on parts removal and reassembly. However, the following parts are generally removable and can be subjected to cleaning.

  • Tunable diaphragms
  • Non-chill bell sleeves
  • Ear tips

Again, 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol is recommended when cleaning these components.

After you have finished, you should allow all parts to dry thoroughly before you attempt to reassemble the stethoscope.

Storing your stethoscope

stethoscope storage

Another precaution you can take during these covid times to ensure that your instrument does not become contaminated is to store it safely when not in use.

Essentially, the less contact it has with a potentially dangerous environment, the better.

Correct storage will also increase the lifespan of the stethoscope as it helps prevent damage to its parts.

If possible, you should store the stethoscope in the box it came in. If you do not have this anymore, try to get hold of a suitable container that is used solely for storing your instrument.

This container (original or otherwise), should then be kept inside a cool and dry cupboard, drawer, or locker.

It is important that you do not subject your stethoscope to extreme hot or cold. Direct sunlight is another big no, no.

Other more general tips on storage are basically common sense. Keep it away from harmful liquids, do not cram it in the back pocket of your jeans, and do not leave it under any objects.

It is a delicate and vital tool. Pandemic times or otherwise, it is something that needs to be cleaned regularly and properly looked after.

But then, I am sure you all know this already… Enough of the lecture… Have a great day. 🙂

References

  • Napolitani M, Bezzini D, Moirano F, Bedogni C, Messina G. Methods of Disinfecting Stethoscopes: Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(6):1856. Published 2020 Mar 13. doi:10.3390/ijerph17061856
  • Boulée D., Kalra S., Haddock A., Johnson T.D., Peacock W.F. Contemporary stethoscope cleaning practices: what we haven’t learned in 150 years. Am J Infect Control. 2019;47(3):238–242. doi: 10.1016/j.ajic.2018.08.005
  • Patel L, Gandhi D, Beddow D. Controversies on the Stethoscope During COVID-19: A Necessary Tool or an Unnecessary Evil?. Am J Med Sci. 2021;361(2):278-280. doi:10.1016/j.amjms.2020.07.006
  • Stethoscope Cleaning and Care Littmann 3M Website
About Hannah Drake

Hannah Drake, RN, CSP is a registered nurse and owner and founder of Nurse Focus. Her nursing career spans almost two decades, and in that time she has developed her skill base across a variety of settings, including med surg nursing, clinical informatics system administration and implementation, and healthcare community management. Contact Hannah.

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