Tube Feeding

How To: Cleaning Feeding Tube Extensions

The safe and effective way

Feeding tubes that are used for continuous feeds can get super gross with one day of use. When we switched Maddison to j-tube  feeding (into the jejunum, or small intestine) we noticed that her feeding tube extension would get a ton of formula build up. I’ve found a safe and very effective way for cleaning feeding tube extensions using household items.

Regular care

The above picture is Maddison’s feeding tube after 24 hours of feeding at 31mL/hour. Seriously gross. The tube is supposed to be clear, but it had become caked with formula build up in one day of use.

To help reduce this kind of build up we flush Maddison’s feeding tube every 4 hours with lukewarm water as directed by our tube feeding nurse. In addition, the feeding tube extension needs to be disconnected once per day to be cleaned with soapy water.

Watch it on YouTube:

When soap and water doesn’t work

Sometimes warm soapy water just doesn’t cut it when cleaning really stuck on formula residue, even using the pulse method (using a syringe to pull up and push out warm soapy water through the tube). My method works to clean the tube and it also has safe, antibacterial properties as well.

The supplies to clean

  • regular dish soap (I use blue Dawn)
  • 30-60mL of distilled 5% white vinegar (7% if you desire stronger disinfectant properties)
  • microwavable safe dish
  • 10cc syringe (you can use larger if that’s what you have on hand)
  • the dirty feeding tube extension

Start by pouring a small amount (30-60mL) of undiluted white vinegar into the microwaveable safe dish.

Microwave the vinegar for 30 seconds. The vinegar should be quite warm, but not scalding hot. My microwave is 1000 watt, so check your microwave and use your discretion as to the length of time you will microwave your vinegar. I would not recommend microwaving for more than one minute to avoid possible burns.

Next Steps:

Carefully carry your warm vinegar over to the sink area and add a drizzle of dish soap.

Insert the syringe into the medicine port, or feed port. If you are using a larger catheter tip syringe, then you will insert it into the feed port. Submerge the connection piece of the extension into into the warmed vinegar. Unclamp the clamp. Now pull the vinegar and dish soap solution up into the syringe, and push back down again in a pulsing action. This helps mix the two together. Keep pulsing the syringe up and down a couple times.

Finish the cleaning process by running the tube under warm water to rinse away all the cleaning solution. Repeat the process again if there is still some formula residue in the feeding tube, although I’ve never needed to. If necessary, allow the solution to remain in the tube for a couple minutes to help break up extremely stuck on formula, then rinse away.

I believe that using vinegar is a safe cleaner and great for daily use. We reserve the use of bleach for only certain times. There are many articles supporting that vinegar is a safe cleaner, here’s one for reading: Does vinegar really kill household germs.

The [vinegar] kills bacteria and viruses, by chemically changing the proteins and fats that make up these nasties and destroying their cell structures.

From the Does vinegar really kill household germs article, 17 January 2018.

The clean reveal:

The finished product is a freshly clean feeding tube extension, free of formula build up. It also has cleaned without the residue of harsh cleaning chemicals like bleach, so it’s safe for my child. I’ll prime the line with fresh water before attaching it to Maddison’s feeding tube button before her next feed.

I’ve tried many methods of cleaning Maddison’s feeding tube, even the commonly recommended technique of pulling the closed clamp down the tube. Although this technique can aid in removing the visible formula, it doesn’t kill bacteria or clean inside the white connector piece. I have also found that the close clamp method weakens the feeding tube extension and Maddison’s tube was much more susceptible to kinks. A weak tube will kink more and cause the feeding pump to alarm which isn’t desirable.

Before and After

It’s so clear (pun intended) to see how well this method works. Cleaning Maddison’s feeding tube extensions is very easy and it doesn’t take a lot of elbow grease, but I know it’s clean. The results are pretty obvious!

Have you tried this technique before? Leave a comment below on how it worked for you.

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