Purpose: Tube thoracostomy is frequently used in thoracic trauma patients. However, there is no consensus on whether low pressure suction or water seal is the optimal method of tube management. Against this background, we performed a systematic review of studies comparing suction and water seal management of chest tubes placed for traumatic chest injuries in adults. Evaluated outcomes are duration of chest tube treatment, length of stay in hospital, incidence of persistent air leak, clotted hemothorax, and the need for (re-)interventions. Methods: A systematic literature search according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) guidelines was performed. Included studies were evaluated according to the Cochrane Collaboration’s tool for assessing the risk of bias, and according to Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) guidelines for assessing the quality of evidence. Results: After assessment of 120 identified studies, three RCT’s (randomized controlled trials) were included in this review and meta-analysis. A favorable effect of suction was found for duration of chest tube treatment [MD (mean difference) − 3.38 days, P = 0.005], length of stay in hospital (MD −3.90 days, P = 0.0003), and the incidence of persistent air leak [OR (odds ratio) 0.27, P = 0.001]. No significant difference was found for the incidence of clotted hemothorax and (re-)interventions. The quality of evidence according to GRADE was low, except for persistent air leak (moderate). Conclusions: Suction seems to have a positive effect on duration of chest tube treatment, length of stay in hospital and persistent air leakage in chest trauma. However, available data was limited and the quality of evidence was (very) low to moderate according to GRADE.