Central venous catheters (CVCs) are widely used in critically ill patients in intensive care units. However, infectious complications are common and may limit their utility. We critically review the literature to determine the impact of CVC design and composition, insertion site selection, insertion procedures, care and removal of temporary CVCs on infectious complications. Relevant articles were identified and selected for review using a database search (Medline and manual of the English language literature) based upon study design and sample size with an emphasis on prospective randomized trials. To minimize infectious complications and maintain a reasonable cost-benefit ratio, we recommend: i) use a single lumen catheter unless clear indications for a multi-lumen catheter exist; ii) insert the catheter via the subclavian vein if no relative contraindication exists (bleeding diathesis, positive pressure ventilation); iii) disinfect the insertion site employing sterile technique; iv) apply a dry, sterile dressing and change the dressing every other day; v) inspect the insertion site for signs of infection and remove the catheter if pus is present; vi) if a catheter-related infection is suspected, change the catheter over a guidewire and culture the distal segment. The replacement catheter should be removed if an original catheter segment culture is positive.