What is a Sponge Bowl?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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A sponge bowl is a surgical instrument which is used to hold sponges during surgery. Sponge bowls are usually wide and flat bottomed so that they will be highly stable and easy to use. Many surgical suppliers carry sponge bowls, and they can also be ordered directly through manufacturers. While designed for use in surgery, sponge bowls have other uses in medical practice as well; for example, a doctor can use a bowl to hold materials associated with cleaning and dressing a wound.

As with other instruments used in surgery, it is critical that a sponge bowl be fully sterilizable to prevent the passage of microbes from patient to patient. For this reason, sponge bowls are often made from stainless steel, as it can endure harsh soaps and the high temperatures in the autoclave. Certain plastics may be used as well, depending on the manufacturer. The device usually carries sterilizing directions so that people know what they need to do to sterilize the sponge bowl properly.

Clean sponges, gauze, and dressings can be handed to a surgeon in a sponge bowl, with the surgeon or an assistant using sponge forceps to manipulate the contents of the bowl and select the materials needed for a specific application. Conversely, a surgeon can put soiled sponges and other materials from surgery into a sponge bowl, removing sponges used to soak up blood and fluids as they reach their maximum absorption level.


There are several reasons to use sponge bowls. One is for cleanliness and order in the operating room; by keeping things organized and contained, people reduce the risk of making mistakes while making sure that everything a surgeon needs is accessible. Another reason is for the purpose of logging materials used in surgery to ensure that nothing is left inside the patient. A retained surgical sponge can cause infection and other problems, making it important for operating room personnel to know how many sponges have been used in a surgery, and where all of those sponges are at any given time.

Another reason to use a sponge bowl is to keep track of how much blood and fluid the patient has lost. By putting soaked sponges in the bowl, the surgeon can monitor fluid loss during surgery, taking appropriate steps if the fluid loss appears high. Sponge bowls are also utilized in autotransfusion procedures, with blood soaked sponges from the patient being used to collect blood for transfusion.


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