Pleural effusions occur in 1.5 million patients yearly and are a common cause of dyspnea. For nonmalignant effusions, initial treatment is directed at the underlying cause, but when effusions become refractory to medical therapy, palliative options are limited. Tunneled pleural catheters (TPCs) are commonly used for palliation of malignant effusions, but many clinicians are reluctant to recommend these devices for palliation of nonmalignant effusions, citing concerns of infection, renal failure, electrolyte disturbances and protein-loss malnutrition. Based on the published experience to date, TPCs relieve dyspnea and can result in spontaneous pleurodesis in patients with nonmalignant effusions. The infection rate compares favorably to that for malignant effusions with possible increased risk in patients with hepatic hydrothorax and posttransplant patients. Renal failure, electrolyte disturbance and protein-loss malnutrition have not been observed. TPCs are a reasonable option in select patients to palliate nonmalignant effusions refractory to maximal medical therapy.