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Uncoated vs. Hydrophilic Catheters: What’s the Difference?

Aug 4, 2022 1:13:14 PM / by Amy Landrum, AGNP-C CWOCN

Amy Landrum, AGNP-C CWOCN


If you have been diagnosed with urinary retention, your doctor may have told you to use intermittent catheters to empty your bladder. Minimizing trauma to the body during insertion is important and may reduce the risk of adverse event.[1] Making the catheter slippery prior to insertion is key to minimizing trauma and having comfortable catheterization experience.[1] There are two general options to choose from when deciding how you want to prepare the catheter and make it slippery: hydrophilic catheters and uncoated catheters.

What is an Uncoated Catheter?

An uncoated catheter is a plain catheter. This catheter does not have any special coating on the surface and lubricant must be added. Some uncoated catheters come pre-lubricated, which means a water-based lubricant was applied to the catheter during packaging. Pre-lubricated catheters are ready to use immediately with no need for additional lubricant. Other uncoated catheters come without lubrication, and the user must apply the lubricant themselves. Some uncoated catheters come with a packed of lubricant and others do not. If the catheter does not come with lubricant, the user must order lubricant separately and apply prior to catheter use. It is important to ensure the catheter is well-lubricated to avoid traumatic injury during insertion. Not using sufficient lubricant can result in small tears in the lining of the urethra, which can increase risk of complications.[2]

Lubricant gel from a single-use container should be used to minimize urethral trauma and infection.[3]

Benefits of Uncoated Catheters

Some individuals may find uncoated catheters easier to grip and handle because they are not slippery until the lubricant is applied. This may be especially true for people with hand dexterity problems. However, application of lubricant to an uncoated catheter also provides more opportunities to contaminate the catheter during preparation. A pre-lubricated uncoated catheter may be a good option for people who prefer uncoated catheters but want to minimize the risk of contamination.

If using an uncoated catheter and applying lubricant yourself, make sure to apply enough lubricant to adequately protect the urethral tissues. If you experience pain or bleeding during catheter insertion, discuss insertion technique with your urologist.

You can view an example of an uncoated catheter here: https://www.abc-med.com/cure-ultra

What is a Hydrophilic Catheter?

A hydrophilic catheter is a urinary catheter with a special polymer coating. When water is applied to the catheter, this polymer coating absorbs and binds water to the surface of the catheter.[4] This causes the surface of the catheter to become very slippery, making use of added lubricant unnecessary. The slippery coating remains in place and does not come off as the catheter is moved. Because of this integrated coating, the catheter remains slippery during both insertion and removal.

Many hydrophilic catheters come with sterile water in the packaging. This water activates the catheter’s slippery coating, making it ready for insertion immediately.

You can view examples of hydrophilic catheters here: https://www.abc-med.com/onli-hydrophilic-intermittent-catheter | https://www.abc-med.com/speedicath-compact-male

Benefits of Hydrophilic Catheters

Hydrophilic catheters do not require application of lubricant. Some may find this desirable, as it reduces the amount of preparation prior to catheter insertion. It also eliminates the need to order lubricant.

Research suggests that there may be additional benefits to using hydrophilic catheters. The journal of International Urology and Nephrology recently published a systematic review and meta-analysis comparing outcomes in people who use hydrophilic catheters versus people who use standard catheters. In this study, individuals using hydrophilic catheters experienced less urethral microtrauma (microscopic tissue tears) and reduced incidence of urethra stricture (scarring) in comparison to individuals who did not use hydrophilic catheters.[5] The reduction of trauma during insertion is thought to be due to the slippery coating on the catheter.[5]

What is the right choice for me?

Ultimately, the right choice is a catheter that you find comfortable and easy to use. For some, this may be hydrophilic catheters and for others, a standard catheter with lubricant. A quality medical supply company such as ABC Medical can provide free samples of both types to try. Be sure to discuss catheter insertion questions with your urologist for additional guidance on what catheter may be best for you.

Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For medical advice, please speak with your healthcare provider.


  1. Igawa, Y., Wyndaele, J. J., & Nishizawa, O. (2008). Catheterization: possible complications and their prevention and treatment. International journal of urology : official journal of the Japanese Urological Association15(6), 481–485. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-2042.2008.02075.x
  2. Health Quality Ontario (2019). Intermittent Catheters for Chronic Urinary Retention: A Health Technology Assessment. Ontario health technology assessment series19(1), 1–153.
  3. Use of lubricant gels in urinary catheterization. (2006). Nursing older people17(10), 33. https://doi.org/10.7748/nop.17.10.33.s14
  4. Medical Advisory Secretariat (2006). Hydrophilic catheters: an evidence-based analysis. Ontario health technology assessment series6(9), 1–31.
  5. Liao, X., Liu, Y., Liang, S., & Li, K. (2022). Effects of hydrophilic coated catheters on urethral trauma, microtrauma and adverse events with intermittent catheterization in patients with bladder dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International urology and nephrology54(7), 1461–1470. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11255-022-03172-x


Amy Landrum, AGNP-C CWOCN

Written by Amy Landrum, AGNP-C CWOCN

As a nurse practitioner and WOCN specializing in wound, ostomy, and continence care, Amy brings a wealth of clinical experience in hospital, rehabilitation, and home health settings. Amy is passionate about helping patients navigate the healthcare system and obtain the resources they need.

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