CPAP Cleaning Tips for New Patients
The proper care and cleaning of CPAP equipment is an important part of the therapy experience. In order for the machines and masks to operate effectively, they need to be kept clean without exception. For most models, this means daily cleaning of at least some of the components, such as the mask and tubing, and weekly or monthly cleaning of others, such as the PAP device itself. Each product includes its own specific instructions for care and cleaning, and most have become fairly easy to take care of, requiring only a brief scrub with soft soap and a few hours of air drying for the next use. The important thing is that CPAP users, whether new or experienced, maintain a steady schedule of proper care for their products. This not only ensures product effectiveness and minimizes the chance for harmful dust or germs, but also keeps patients involved in the routine tasks of treatment compliance. Overall, PAP therapy is a very safe treatment option, but it does require some standard upkeep for best results. And if you are depending on your device for life-supporting airflow, it is strongly advised to keep it as clean as possible at all times.
The Dangers of Unclean Equipment
To begin, let’s take a look at the reasons why keeping a clean device is so important for effective therapy. Number one: it’s a breathing mask. Any oral appliance is going to collect some amount of bacteria, debris, and saliva. Furthermore, the air you breathe through the mask is circulated. This is where the filtering and humidification systems help to keep the air clean and moist. But if these components are not cleaned and/or replaced properly, residue can build up. And if nothing is cleaned over long periods of use, mold can develop as well, increasing risks for sinus problems, allergies, and associated infections. This can also include foul or musty odors in the tubing and mask, something you do not want to breathe at any time, but especially when you’re trying to sleep.
In addition to the health risks, an unclean system can also cause premature breakdown and reduce product lifespan. For this reason, companies and retailers often void warranty benefits if proper cleaning and maintenance is neglected. This is because mineralization, or calcification, can cause damage to the materials. Keeping products clean and well maintained will ensure proper functioning and reliability for all years under warranty.
Now the cleaning of PAP therapy devices and accessories vary from one product to another, and some doctors or equipment providers may have cleaning recommendations of their own. But it is generally accepted that the daily cleaning of masks, tubing, and in some cases, water chambers is a good habit to get into. While some products may recommend weekly cleanings of some of these components, this is a minimum requirement and does not ensure the best possible results.
If you become sick or have an oral or upper respiratory infection, you will want to clean all your equipment after each use. This includes any daytime or napping therapy as well as after each night of sleep. This will keep the infection from spreading or causing further illness.
It should also be noted that the sharing of PAP therapy equipment is never advisable, whether or not there is risk of sharing an illness or infection. This is generally not a good idea. Not only is it a risk to the health of each person, but each product choice should be tailored to one specific patient, and may not match the conditions of others.
The Basic Cleaning Steps
The following steps will guide you through the basic cleaning processes for standard CPAP systems –
One: Begin by disassembling the parts of the machine. But make sure to unplug the machine from any power source to avoid electric shock. Disassembly will include the mask, tubing, headgear if included, and water chamber if the model includes a humidifier.
Two: Using a soft cloth dampened with warm water, gently wipe all external surfaces of the CPAP machine. Do Not submerge the machine in water.
Three: Place the mask, tubing, and headgear into a sink of warm water and mild soap. Allow to soak for roughly 20 minutes. After the components have soaked, wipe the mask with a soft cloth and scrub the tubing, both inside and outside, using a soft cloth or brush. Everything should be allowed to air dry on a clean surface, but not in an area exposed to direct sunlight. When drying is complete, follow the instructions for reassembly.
Caution: Do Not Use fragrant soaps, perfumes, or heavy chemicals such as bleach. A small amount of mild liquid soap should be used for best results. Mineral or chemical soaps will damage the equipment and cause them to break down prematurely. And Never use automatic dishwashers for CPAP components.
Cleaning Kits can also be purchased for gentle but effective cleaning. These products are particularly effective for hard to reach areas such as the inside of the CPAP tubing.
For a visual guide, WebMD has a general CPAP cleaning video that covers the basics of proper care. For more specific product cleaning tips, search for your model on the manufacturer’s website.
A Word About Masks
CPAP masks often include pillows or cushions made of soft silicone, a comfortable material that requires a gentle touch to maintain its ideal condition. Regular cleaning keeps the soft materials free from abrasive debris, oils, or residues, but if cleaned too vigorously can begin to show signs of wear from daily handling. For best results, masks should be worn after cleaning or wiping the face. Lotions or moisturizers should be avoided, and special CPAP Wipes can be purchased for effective and convenient preparations.
In addition to cleaning, replacement schedules should be kept for removable pillows or cushions. This is usually recommended on a bi-weekly basis. The masks themselves can last from 4-6 months before needing replacement, but may depend on the specifics of the model. Always check the recommendations in the product manual or user’s guide and make a note of the expected date of replacement on your calendar.
A Word About Humidifiers
Most modern CPAP units include humidifiers to improve therapy comfort and reduce dryness from the airflow. It is often recommended to clean humidifiers on a weekly basis, but some suggest that daily washing is ideal for both safety and longevity.
To include this process in your daily cleaning, start by removing the chamber. This must be done carefully to avoid any spillage of water onto the machine. Once the chamber is open, wash as described above, using warm water and mild soap. The chamber, like all CPAP components, will only require warm water and mild soap. Again, avoid any abrasive substances or hard-bristle brushes. In addition to regular cleaning, some product manuals suggest a weekly soaking in a solution of water and vinegar (2 parts vinegar to 3 parts water). This should be done no longer than 30 minutes, and should be washed after the soaking is complete.
Water used for the humidifier chamber should be filtered as well as distilled or sterilized. As with the masks, humidifier chambers will last up to 6-8 months, but always check the product instructions and keep track of the expected date of replacement.
A Word About Filters
Often, CPAP systems will include filters. These often include both disposable and reusable filters, so your product instructions should be read carefully to determine which types are included. Often located in the back of the CPAP device, disposable filters are usually white in color, while the internal gray filters are washable. Disposable filters should be replaced every two weeks, while the reusable filters should be cleaned regularly, at least on a weekly basis. In the case of filters, environments may make a difference as well. If a home has pets, children, or a lot of activity, there may be more dust or debris in the air.
While studies have found CPAP systems to be highly safe in terms of infection rates or allergens, they have also noted the presence of several forms of bacteria and known pathogens in random samples of device components. It is always best to err on the side of optimal safety and efficiency when using a breathing apparatus on a daily basis. Missing a day will not necessarily put you in danger, but making a habit of skipping daily cleanings can definitely pose risks for you as well as the machine. If cleaning or general maintenance ever becomes a problem, contact your physician or sleep specialist to seek professional advice and recommendations.
New CPAP sanitizers such as SoClean and Lumin have shown some positive results, but are fairly new products and should be used carefully. These sanitizing units use ozone gas or ultraviolet light to sanitize the equipment, often advertising a 99.9 percent reduction in germs. For those products that use ozone, there are some precautions to consider. If using such a cleaner, make sure to avoid using the CPAP system for at least two hours after the cleaning. Some recommend longer waits, as the residual gas can cause irritation of the sinuses and other problems if used too soon. For those cleaners that use ultraviolet light, there are limitations to consider, as the light may not penetrate internal surfaces such as the inside of the CPAP tubing. These are new products, and more will be known about them in time, but their use should be supplemental and not as a replacement for standard cleaning as instructed. To use a sanitizer, simply exercise caution and make sure to clean the device with soap and water in addition to the sanitizing treatment.
Remember to always follow the advice of a medical professional when beginning CPAP therapy. In addition to the manufacturer’s instructions included with your device, most companies will have cleaning tips and helpful advice available on their company websites. If there is any problem with a PAP therapy device, the company or medical equipment provider should be contacted first to ensure that the product is in good shape and operating correctly. These people can answer any questions about product functioning or setup, and refer you to specialized equipment services if necessary. While this may seem like a lot to remember, it is really just a matter of a quick scrub at some scheduled time of the day. As long as you keep a steady routine of proper cleaning and maintenance, your therapy will remain as comfortable and effective as it can be.
Alaska Sleep Clinic – https://www.alaskasleep.com/blog/cpap-equipment-cleaning-maintenance-best-practices-tips
Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3716664/
Sleep Review Mag – http://www.sleepreviewmag.com/2018/03/cpap-cleaner-no-ozone/
SoClean – https://www.soclean.com/efficacy