Lab Test

Specimen Collection Manual: Sputum, Expectorated


  • Instruct the patient on the difference between sputum and spit. Ideally, expectorated sputum specimens should be collected under the direct supervision of a physician, nurse, or a respiratory therapy technician.
  • Explain that a deep cough done first thing in the morning is most likely to produce a good sputum sample.
  • Patients with dentures should remove their dentures prior to collection.
  • Note: Sputum may not be the best specimen for determining the etiologic agent of bacterial pneumonia because these specimens are usually contaminated with organisms from the mouth and throat. Bronchoalveolar Lavage and Transtracheal Aspirate specimens, or Blood Cultures, usually provide more accurate information.

Specimen Collection Criteria

  • Have the patient rinse their mouth or gargle with water. Discard the water.
  • Instruct the patient to cough deeply to produce a lower respiratory tract specimen, not postnasal fluid.
  • Collect the specimen directly into a sterile container.
  • Do not use any transport medium. Carefully replace the cap and tighten it to ensure the container does not leak. Transport to the Laboratory immediately.

Pediatric Specimens

  • Children are often unable to produce sputum. Tracheal aspirates are usually more appropriate in these patients. Gastric aspirates are also appropriate for Mycobacterial Culture and for young patients unable to produce sputum.


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