BACKGROUND: Approximately 15% to 25% of all hospitalised patients have indwelling urethral catheters, mainly to assist clinicians to accurately monitor urine output during acute illness or following surgery, to treat urinary retention, and for investigative purposes. OBJECTIVES: The objective of this review was to determine the best strategies for the removal of catheters from patients with a short-term indwelling urethral catheter. SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Incontinence Group specialised register (searched 16 December 2002), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library Issue 2, 2004), MEDLINE (January 1966 to 12 October 2004), EMBASE (January 1980 to 12 October 2004), CINAHL (January 1982 to 12 October 2004), Nursing Collection (January 1995 to January 2002) and reference lists of relevant articles and conference proceedings were searched. We also contacted manufacturers and researchers in the field. No language or other restrictions were applied. SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared the effects of alternative strategies for removal of short-term indwelling urethral catheters on patient outcomes were considered for inclusion in the review. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Eligibility of the trials for inclusion in the review, details of eligible trials and the methodological quality of the trials were assessed independently by two reviewers. Relative risks (RR) for dichotomous data and a weighted mean difference (WMD) for continuous data were calculated with 95% confidence intervals (CI). Where synthesis was inappropriate, trials were considered separately. MAIN RESULTS: Eighteen trials involving a total of 1964 participants were included in the review. One trial included three treatment groups. In eight RCTs amongst 1020 people, removal at midnight was associated with large volumes of urine at first void, longer times to first void, and shorter lengths of hospitalisation. There was no significant difference in need for recatheterisation, although recatheterisation after removal at night was more likely to be during working hours. In eight trials amongst 822 participants early rather than delayed catheter removal was associated with shorter hospitalisation, but the estimates of other differences were all imprecise. In three trials involving 234 participants the data were too few to assess differential effects of catheter clamping compared with free drainage prior to withdrawal. No eligible trials compared flexible with fixed duration of catheterisation, or assessed prophylactic alpha sympathetic blocker drugs prior to catheter removal. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is suggestive but inconclusive evidence of a benefit from midnight removal of the indwelling urethral catheter. There are resource implications but the magnitude of these is not clear from the trials. The evidence also suggests shorter hospital stay after early rather than delayed catheter removal but the effects on other outcomes are unclear. There is little evidence on which to judge other aspects of management, such as catheter clamping.