Is Your Stethoscope Really Clean?

As a medical professional, you know the importance of keeping your equipment and tools  clean. Whether its your ADC otoscope or your Littmann Master Cardiology stethoscope, proper care must be taken to ensure that it is clean. Unfortunately, many professionals do not know the proper way to clean their stethoscope and could potentially be putting their clients at risk.

Stethoscopes: An Infection Hazard?

Since as early as 1972, many have believed stethoscopes to be possible carriers of bacteria. A medical journal called “The Lancet” reported a study carried out in London that 21 out of 100 randomly chosen stethoscopes from a hospital were positive to have staphylococci, a type of bacteria that’s behind food poisoning.
This wasn’t the only study conducted. There were plenty of other research studies in other parts of the world; all of which pointed to one thing — though a stethoscope is the most useful and frequently used medical instruments, it is also one of the dirtiest.

The Right Disinfecting Process

Any infection risk can be avoided and eliminated by just simply wiping the stethoscope’s diaphragm and bell with a disinfectant in between using it on different patients. However, the sad part is that not all medical practitioners are diligent enough to regularly clean their devices and in some cases, there are even those who do not know the proper way to disinfect a stethoscope.
Generally, there are three types of disinfectants that are recommended for stethoscope cleaning. These are:
1. 70% Isopropyl Alcohol
The widely known and most effective disinfectant is 70% isopropyl alcohol. This is available in various forms. Of course, there are alcohol pads, wipes, and the very typical one in bottles.
When using 70% isopropyl alcohol for cleaning a stethoscope, do not pour the solution directly on the device. Instead, use a moistened cotton ball or gauze pad (in case you’re not using alcohol pads or wipes). The trick in cleaning with 70% Isopropyl Alcohol is first, you apply some friction as you wipe. Then, you leave the residue alcohol to dry; in other words – leave it to air dry.


2. Ethanol-Based Hand Cleaner
If you don’t like to use isopropyl alcohol, you can use the alternative — an ethanol-based foam. It is a type of foam that one can use for hand washing even if there’s no running water or sink. Basically, using an ethanol-based cleaner is the most convenient way to disinfect medical instruments.


3. Antibacterial Soap/Wipes
Another alternative is to make use of antibacterial soap or wipes. However, there still isn’t any sufficient evidence that can really say that antibacterial soap/wipes can thoroughly clean and disinfect medical instruments.

When to Disinfect

The threat of of being a carrier for infections is always there because not many medical professionals actually know when to clean their medical instruments. Ideally, one should disinfect (or should I say clean) his or her stethoscope:

  • In Between Patients – To avoid and eradicate the risk of possibly carrying and transferring bacteria, it is ideal to clean in between patients.
  • Before/After Shift – Medical practitioners are highly encouraged to see to it that cleaning their stethoscopes at the start and end of their day, is made into a habit.
  • As Needed – Naturally, there are really cases that need you to clean your stethoscope right away (e.g. if it has been soiled or contaminated, etc.)

The Don’ts of Stethoscope Cleaning

What’s really the proper way to clean a stethoscope? Here are some points that your should NEVER do:
  • NEVER Sterilize – Most medical instruments are sterilized for proper disinfection. This is not the case with stethoscopes. These instruments should never be sterilized or exposed to any form of heat since doing so will alter a couple of components in the device.
  • DO NOT Soak – Washing with running water is fine; but never soak and leave a stethoscope in a basin or water or any form of disinfectant.
  • DON’T Expose to Heat – Stethoscopes should be left to air-dry. One should never use a blower or expose the unit to any form of heat for the purposes of drying it right after cleaning it.
So using the techniques and guidelines outlined above, you now have the know how to ensure you keep your stethoscope clean and free of bacteria.


  • Marina m

    Marina is an Emergency Nurse based in NYC with a passion for writing. With over 10 years of experience in the field, Marina brings a unique perspective to her writing, drawing from her experiences caring for patients in high-stress situations. Her work has been featured in several publications and she continues to explore her creative side through writing in her free time.

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