How to Clean a CPAP Machine
There are multiple ways to clean your continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Most of the focus should be on keeping the plastic tubing, mask and nasal pillows clean. Vinegar, cleaning solution, and soap & water are the most effective purification methods.
Cleaning Your CPAP Machine
When it comes to cleaning your CPAP machine, several components are more important to purify than the machine itself. You want to focus on the tubing, water chamber, masks and nasal pillows, all of which are integral to delivering moist air to your nose and throat to help you sleep.
All CPAPs, whether they are a Philips CPAP or an alternative, come with a manufacturer’s recommended cleaning procedure — these are the first set of instructions you should consider. Use water or mild detergent to remove the oils produced by your skin accumulating on the mask. Rinse all tubing and face wear with soapy water.
Use distilled water to rinse the various CPAP parts. Tap water can contain harmful microorganisms responsible for severe conditions such as pneumonia. Tap water can also contain minerals that can cause blockage when they accumulate on the tubing and hoses.
Air-dry the hosing to maintain cleanliness. Do not dry it in direct sunlight because this can cause decolorization of the tubing and connectors.
Some manufacturers recommend using vinegar as a sanitizing agent. Vinegar disinfects the humidifier when added to the water in the humidification chamber. Soak it in warm water for 30 minutes before drying it.
Another popular cleaning method is to use cleaning machines. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration has issued safety communications about CPAP cleaning machines, however, that use UV light or ozone gas. The FDA warned that these cleaning devices are not FDA-approved for marketing in the U.S.
CPAP Cleaning Supplies
When cleaning your CPAP machine, you will need some essential cleaning supplies. These can include:
- Soap: A mild antibacterial soap is preferred. Strong disinfectants containing strong acids and bases can cause respiratory conditions such as allergies when inhaled.
- Vinegar: It acts as a mild disinfectant and causes no irritations when used. Vinegar contains 5% acetic acid, which inhibits the growth of bacteria.
- Cleaning solution: Use mild cleaning products, preferably with antibacterial properties. Avoid products that contain chlorine or alcohol. It is okay to clean the mask using a mild, ammonia-free dish detergent.
- Hot water: It is okay to use tap water, although you want to make sure the water is as pure as you can make it. (Do not use well water.) Consider boiling tap water before mixing with soap. Alternatively, you can warm up distilled water in the microwave to use.
- Wipes: In between water-cased cleanings, you will want sanitary wipes so that you can spot-clean your nasal pillows or inside your mask. You can buy wipes at a CPAP supply store.
Resist any temptation to use bleach. Although it is effective in killing germs and microbes, bleach causes adverse effects for CPAP users. Bleach can worsen your asthma — or even make you asthmatic. Using it can also lead to:
- Irritation in your eyes and mouth
- Corrosion of metallic parts of the CPAP machine
- Toxic gases, when mixed with other disinfectants
Manufacturers discourage using scented soaps and lotions in the cleaning process. Scent-filled soaps sometimes emit volatile compounds such as terpenes, the leading cause of indoor pollution. They can also cause adverse health effects like migraines, headaches and respiratory difficulties. Research also found three-quarters of toxic chemicals in these fragrance products, some of which can cause cancer.
CPAP Cleaning Steps
When cleaning your CPAP, use enough water and soap to clean the parts thoroughly. Here are some steps to follow for proper cleaning.
- Disassemble the mask from the rest of the machine.
- Using a mild soap, wash the parts and rinse them afterwards.
- Dry the nasal or face mask but do it away from direct sunlight.
- Use CPAP wipes if available.
- Make a solution containing one part vinegar and three parts water.
- Soak the masks and cushion pillows in it for 30 minutes.
- Rinse with warm water and air dry
- Empty the water in the humidifier before cleaning it.
- Remove the chamber from the CPAP unit and immerse it in soapy water.
- Soak it for 30 minutes before washing it. Shake it vigorously during the washing process.
- Rinse well with distilled water
Wash your tubing weekly and clean the nose and face mask gear, hanging it on a rod to dry. If the tubing is not yet dry when the time comes to reassemble your CPAP for use, you can run your CPAP without wearing it, allowing the pressurized air to help dry out the tubing.
How Often Should You Clean Your CPAP Machine?
You should clean your CPAP at every day to ensure it works effectively. Cleaning the mask cushion is especially important as this is the part that comes in contact with your face. Keeping it clean maintains the integrity of the seal of the CPAP machine.
If cleaning it every day is not feasible, clean it at least once a week. That will prevent bacteria and mold buildup on your CPAP machine, which can cause respiratory-related illnesses. It also ensures the CPAP machine works and lasts for a long time.
What Happens if You Don’t Clean Your CPAP Machine?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a CPAP machine is dirty if infected with harmful bacteria and germs. There are different ways this can happen. You expel harmful bacteria from your lungs, throat and mouth as you breathe in and out, which can settle on the nose mask. Some particles, such as molds and allergens, penetrate the tubing and mask.
Germs mix with oils from your skin and eventually cause skin infections. Skin oils can also change the properties of the plastic of the mask cushion, weakening them. This can affect the integrity of the CPAP machine, causing air to leak out.
Moreover, the water in the humidifier chamber can pose a significant health risk. This water is essential in keeping the air you take in moist. If you don’t change this water periodically, it can encourage the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi.
If bacteria get to your lungs, it can lead to CPAP side effects such as reactive airway disease. Research also shows that the water in the humidifier chamber can harbor Legionella bacteria, a harmful microorganism known for causing community-acquired pneumonia.
What Are CPAP Cleaning Machines?
CPAP cleaning machines are automatic cleaners that you can use on your CPAP machines. These help you clean your device within the shortest time possible while using less energy. There are two types of CPAP cleaning machines — ozone gas cleaners and UV light machines.
Philips, the world’s largest manufacturer of CPAP machines, attributed the breakdown of Polyester-based polyurethane (PE-PUR) sound abatement foam inside its machines to the use of CPAP cleaning machines. The possible breakdown of the foam led to a recent Philips CPAP recall.
The degredation of the foam poses a CPAP cancer risk as particles and gases are released, which are toxic if inhaled. According to a 2022 study evaluating 2,571 patient injuries associated with CPAP between 2014 and 2021, 4.62% of patients reported cancer development after use.
The FDA updated its recall information in February 2023, noting that between April 2021 and December 31, 2022, the agency received more than 98,000 medical device reports related to injuries from use of recalled Philips CPAP machines. There have also been 346 reported deaths.
Ozone Gas Cleaner
This ozone gas cleaner employs highly reactive oxygen (O3) to clean the CPAP machine. O3 effectively kills microbes found in CPAP machines.
One difference between water-based cleaning and ozone cleaning is smell. Ozone cleaning leaves behind an ozone odor that lasts for several hours following the cleaning. After one use, the ozone odor is gone.
Some CPAP users filed complaints with the FDA about experiencing headaches, nose irritations and breathing difficulties after using the ozone-based products. The FDA has warned the public about ozone cleaning machines, reporting that the agency’s tests, “…demonstrated ozone-using disinfection devices generated ambient levels of ozone above limits considered safe for human exposure. Ozone levels were also high in CPAP machines and tubing even after waiting the amount of time recommended by the ozone-based device manufacturer after a cleaning cycle.”
Cost for ozone cleaning machines starts at $80 and runs up to $300. Some manufacturers also sell travel-sized cleaners.
UV Light CPAP Machine
The UV light machine uses specific intensity and wavelength rays to kill bacteria found on the machine’s surface. While the manufacturers of these automated machines claim the devices effectively protect against harmful bacteria and germs, the FDA has not approved or cleared any of these home cleaning products. They have not found any evidence for their safety or effectiveness.
Excessive exposure to UV rays can cause eye injury and skin burns, while activated oxygen found in ozone gas cleaners can result in dermatitis. The FDA warned that the agency’s studies found that “…the power of the UV light and time during which CPAP masks and accessories were exposed to this light varied considerably among UV cleaners. If CPAP components are exposed to insufficiently strong UV light or processed for an insufficient amount of time, the CPAP components could be inadequately disinfected leading to safety and performance issues.”
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