Background Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) are among the most common healthcare-associated infections. Antiseptic cleaning of the meatal area before and during catheter use may reduce the risk of CAUTIs. Aim To undertake a systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis of studies investigating the effectiveness of antiseptic cleaning before urinary catheter insertion and during catheter use for prevention of CAUTIs. Methods Electronic databases were searched to identify randomized controlled trials. Pooled odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated and compared across intervention and control groups using DerSimonian–Laird random-effects model. Subgroup analyses were performed. Heterogeneity was estimated using the I2 statistic. Findings In total, 2665 potential papers were identified; of these, 14 studies were eligible for inclusion. There was no difference in the incidence of CAUTIs when comparing antiseptic and non-antiseptic agents (pooled OR 0.90, 95% CI 0.73–1.10; P=0.31), or when comparing different agents: povidone-iodine vs routine care; povidone-iodine vs soap and water; chlorhexidine vs water; povidone-iodine vs saline; povidone-iodine vs water; and green soap and water vs routine care (P>0.05 for all). Comparison of an antibacterial agent with routine care indicated near significance (P=0.06). There was no evidence of heterogeneity (I2=0%; P>0.05). Subgroup analyses showed no difference in the incidence of CAUTIs in terms of country, setting, risk of bias, sex and frequency of administration. Conclusions There were no differences in CAUTI rates, although methodological issues hamper generalizability of this finding. Antibacterial agents may prove to be significant in a well-conducted study. The present results provide good evidence to inform infection control guidelines in catheter management.