Every paramedic knows their equipment is only as good as its upkeep. Drugs go out of date, oxygen tanks become depleted, and batteries lose their charge. Unless you remain vigilant, your equipment will fail you when you need it the most. This is especially true of one of your most basic, yet essential tools: your portable suction unit.

There are many portable suction units to choose from these days, and each model has its own specific guidelines for maintenance, which can be found in their user’s manual or online. But there are some general procedures that should be followed, no matter the model. So let’s take a look at some of the routine maintenance you should be performing on your suction equipment.


Preventive Care

As a healthcare professional, you know the importance of preventive care. The same holds for true for EMS equipment, so to keep your portable suction unit running smoothly, here are a few important reminders:


  • Always ensure your batteries are charged – a dead suction unit will be useless to you AND your patient.
  • Test your unit at regular intervals – this should be part of your morning/evening checkout.
  • Make sure your unit is always clean – for the sake of your patient’s as well as your own safety against pathogens.
  • Insure any fluids are contained within the canister and have not worked their way up into the vacuum line – if so, disinfect the unit!


Sanitizing Your Suction Unit

Contaminated equipment has no place in EMS and suction units, by their very nature, can serve as prime reservoirs for biohazardous materials. Blood, saliva, mucous, and tissue are likely sources of infectious pathogens, so sanitizing your unit is just as important as keeping it running. Here are a few guidelines:


  • Sanitize after each use – don’t put it off until the end of the shift!
  • Discard ALL disposable parts – this includes the canister, patient tubing, and catheters.
  • Follow appropriate guidelines for disposal of biohazardous materials.
  • Clean your suction unit using a mild detergent and if necessary, use a mixture of bleach and water (1 part bleach/10 parts water). Be sure to rinse thoroughly!
  • Follow the instruction manual when it comes to disinfecting the mechanics of the unit.
  • NEVER reuse any disposable parts – they are disposable for a reason!
  • Do not submerge your suction unit.

Disinfecting Your Suction Unit

Here are a few reminders for disinfecting your portable suction unit:


  • Always wear personal protective equipment when handling contaminated equipment:
    • Gloves
    • Face and Eye Protection
    • Protective Clothing
  • Disconnect the unit from any power source prior to cleaning.
  • Disconnect the battery from the PC Board when cleaning the interior chassis.
  • Remember to use disinfectant wipes to clean all outer surfaces of the unit, such as control nobs, screens and handles.


There are some outstanding resources available online concerning workplace health and safety. One of the most comprehensive is the Centers for Disease Control, which provides excellent information for EMS providers concerning blood borne pathogens and the numerous hazards associated with your line of work.


Remember: a great rule of thumb in patient care is to always treat the patient as you would want to be treated. And the same can be true of your equipment: always maintain it in the condition you would want it kept if you were on the receiving end of the treatment.


As a paramedic, you have enough to worry about without the added burden of malfunctioning or contaminated equipment. So keep your portable suction unit running smoothly and safely and it will always be ready when you need it.