The Consequences of a Dirty Suction Machine

Whether you’re a doctor, nurse, or EMS professional, treating patients in an emergency scenario is stressful and exhausting work. Competent, compassionate care often requires working as quickly as possible while minimizing needless distractions. Many providers skip lunch and breaks, ignore their own personal needs, and work hour after hour in frigid temperatures or on empty stomachs.


So it’s understandable that you might skip cleaning your suction machine, especially if you feel burdened by rules and regulations that seem to do little to help patients. But a dirty suction machine is more than just a technical violation of the rules. It poses a serious threat to vulnerable patients, so proper cleaning is essential.


New: Ultimate Guide To Purchasing A Portable Emergency Suction Device




A dirty suction machine contains bacteria, viruses–including COVID-19–and other contaminants from first responders, patients, and sometimes the surrounding environment. These contaminants can easily be transmitted to subsequent patients, increasing their risk of infection. Because patients requiring suction are often very sick, what may be a minor infection for a healthy person can prove life-threatening. 

In some cases, using a dirty suction machine may expose patients to serious illnesses like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or tuberculosis. This is entirely preventable for providers who follow manufacturer instructions and take a few moments to clean the machine before each use.


Inhalation of Contaminants 


The single biggest predictor of death from aspiration is the volume of the aspirate. This is because the more a person inhales, the more contaminants enter their lungs. When you suction a patient with a dirty suction machine, you increase their exposure to aspiration-related contaminants, thereby increasing their risk of serious illness and mortality.


Provider Illnesses 


Patients aren’t the only people who are vulnerable to contamination from dirty suction machines. Providers may also get sick when they use dirty suction machines, particularly if they fail to wash their hands or use protective gear. No one wants to get sick, but a sick emergency responder poses a unique challenge. Sick providers should avoid patients, and so getting sick may mean that your agency is short on staff. Despite this, some providers try to work through illnesses. This presents even more serious patient concerns, because you may spread your illness to sick children, ailing seniors, and other vulnerable people. 


Unusable Machine


A very dirty machine may become clogged or damaged, making it impossible to treat patients when every second counts. Prolonged use of a dirty or clogged suction machine may damage its motor, shortening the life of the machine and costing your agency time and money.


Professional Consequences


Most providers become emergency responders because they want to help people. So the guilt of injuring a patient with a dirty suction machine can be overpowering. The challenges don’t end there, though. You could also face serious professional consequences, including: 


  • Negative publicity
  • Malpractice lawsuits 
  • Professional discipline, including the loss of your license 
  • Being fired or demoted 
  • Loss of good, trusting relationships with colleagues

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Cleaning Your Machine 


To keep your machine clean, follow the manufacturer’s instructions each and every time you clean and disinfect it. This usually requires disassembling the machine to ensure that each component is free of contaminants. Never reuse disposable components, even if you wash them, because these single-use parts are a common disease vector.


All suction machines need to be cleaned, but higher-quality suction machines make the process easier, while ensuring consistent and reliable suction even when you treat numerous patients each day. For help choosing the perfect suction machine for your agency’s needs, download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Device.


Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in January 2020. It has been re-published with additional up-to-date content.