Learning to live with a colostomy bag starts with learning about its general care. Changing and maintaining your colostomy bag gets easier with time.

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Like any new task, emptying, changing, and maintaining your colostomy bag can be tricky at first, but it usually gets easier over time. There are general steps to the process, but you will also develop your own system and style.

This article will explore what you need to know about changing your colostomy bag and guidelines for routine care.

The first step in changing your colostomy bag, regardless of what products you use, should be to wash your hands thoroughly and set out all of your supplies so they are ready to use. Once you begin changing your bag, going and grabbing extra materials and supplies will be much more difficult.

After you’ve collected your supplies, follow these steps:

  1. Set up your workspace. This should include an old towel to change your bag over, tissues to wipe up any spills, and a container or bag for soiled materials.
  2. Also, put all of your supplies for your new bag on your workspace. This will include things like a new adhesive piece and collection device, stoma powder or paste, a stoma measuring guide, and scissors.
  3. When you are ready to start, empty your colostomy bag as you usually would. If you have a disposable device, you will remove the entire bag and dispose of the contents. If you have a drainable bag, you can empty it into a waste container, or some people like to sit on the toilet and empty their bag there.
  4. Once the bag is emptied or removed, begin to remove the adhesive device. Pushing in on your skin at one corner of the device is the most gentle for your skin and stoma site. Gently pull the adhesive plate away from your skin until it’s completely off. You may choose to use adhesive sprays or removers to help loosen the seal.
  5. Place the old pouch and adhesive plate, along with any paste residue and cleaning supplies, into a bag for disposal. Sealed plastic bags, like sandwich or freezer bags, work well. Do not throw away the clip that closes the end of your colostomy bag. These are often considered reusable, and a new clip may not be included in your new bag and plate set.
  6. At this point, some people step into the shower, but you can also clean your stoma site with water and a washcloth. You do not need special cleaners — in fact, special soaps and cleaners may cause more irritation. Plain, clean water is best. Let your skin dry completely before replacing your collection device, but take care to pat — not rub — your stoma site dry.
  7. Measure your stoma with the measuring guide, and use the guide to cut an opening in the new adhesive plate. The opening you cut should be about 1/8 inch larger than your stoma.
  8. Apply the skin protectant, adhesive, or paste of your choice as directed by the manufacturer of your colostomy bag supplies. There are many different types of colostomy appliances, and your manufacturer may have specific materials or instructions for that particular device.
  9. Once the plate adheres to your skin, apply your colostomy bag and the tail clip.

How you empty your colostomy bag will depend a bit on the type you have. If you have a disposable-style bag, it can be removed and disposed of in a regular trash can, similar to the way a soiled brief or diaper would be thrown away.

If you have a reusable colostomy bag that is designed to be emptied between changes instead of removed and thrown away, you can unclasp the closure device, unroll the bag, and drain the contents into the toilet or other waste container.

Disposable, or closed, colostomy bags usually need to be changed 1-3 times each day, according to the U.K. National Health Service (NHS). So make sure you bring extra bags with you if you plan to be away from home for a while.

Drainable bags are usually changed every few days, but you will have to empty them several times a day, the NHS says.

Most people choose to empty their colostomy bag when it is one-third to half of the way full. What this means in terms of time will depend on your specific condition and output, diet, and personal preferences.

The manufacturer will outline the specific supplies you need for your device.

There are one-piece colostomy systems and different types of two-piece systems. The materials you need will depend on your specific style and brand of device.

Outside of your device type, the supplies most people need for a colostomy bag change include:

  • towels
  • tissues
  • washcloth
  • water
  • trash bags

There are some optional steps you can take — like shaving your abdomen if you have a lot of hair that may make it more difficult for your colostomy bag to stay in place. Any of those extra supplies needed will be up to you, but there isn’t much else you need for a basic change.

Be sure to keep a good supply of the materials you need for a new bag and collection device, as many of these products are brand- or style-specific.

If you don’t order your ostomy supplies regularly and in advance, it can be difficult — or even impossible — to find a store nearby that will carry exactly what you need.

Some colostomy bags are designed to be emptied rather than replaced when they become full. You may decide that you don’t like emptying your bag, or you may prefer to change the adhesive plate less often if your skin is sensitive.

The type of bag and collection device you use is a matter of personal preference.

You can discuss with your healthcare team or ostomy nurse your preferences and the options available in your area or through your insurance provider.

Emptying and changing your colostomy bag can be a messy task, but with practice, you will develop your own routine. There are basic steps to start with, but you will get a feel for when and how is the best way for you to change or empty your colostomy bag.