CPAP Cleaning Tips: A Step-By-Step Maintenance Guide

Keeping CPAP equipment clean will ensure optimal function and health

Learning how to clean CPAP equipment can ensure optimal function and health
Brandon Peters, MD

When one first begins to use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for sleep apnea, there is often a degree of information overload. After learning about the diagnosis, one is usually sent to a private company or provider of durable medical equipment to get a CPAP machine and other associated items.

At this time, instructions should be given on how to clean this equipment. In case you missed it, here are some simple step-by-step instructions on how to clean CPAP to maintain your device and health without needing a sanitizer device.

How Often Should CPAP Equipment Be Cleaned?

Your equipment provider or sleep medicine physician may recommend routine cleaning of your equipment. Daily cleaning of the mask, tubing, and water chamber is often suggested by durable medical equipment suppliers and manufacturers. This may seem excessive. Fortunately, the risk of any sort of infection or mold exposure is extraordinarily low. 

For optimal hygiene, it is recommended that the equipment be cleaned at least on a weekly basis. If you are sick with an upper respiratory infection, you may want to clean up the equipment at this time. It is further recommended that you not share the equipment with others as this may cause an infection to be shared.

What You Need

  • CPAP equipment (mask, headgear, tubing, humidifier water chamber, CPAP machine)
  • Soft cloth
  • Warm water
  • Dish soap (mild antibacterial is preferable)
  • Small sink, tub, or basin
  • Towel

10 Simple Steps to a Cleaner Machine

  1. Unplug your CPAP machine from its power source, as there may be a danger of electrical shock if you do not.
  1. Although there are many types of masks that can be used with CPAP machines, these generally deliver air through the nose or mouth. Rather than providing separate instructions for each type, all of these shall be generically called a “mask.” Disconnect your mask from the CPAP tubing. If your mask has a headgear, remove or detach it. If there are other pieces that are easily reattached, these also can be separated.
  1. Remove the CPAP tubing from any connectors, the humidifier output, or from the CPAP machine itself, if it connects directly.
  2. If you have one, remove the water chamber from the humidifier unit of the CPAP machine, and separate it into its pieces if these are present (and if this is easily done). Most modern water chambers open but may not separate into different parts.
  3. Take a soft cloth and wet it with warm water. Gently wipe down the external surface of the CPAP machine to remove dust. (Again, make certain it is unplugged while cleaning.)
  4. Fill a small sink, tub, or basin with warm water. Add a small amount of gentle dish soap. Some will even use a little vinegar in the water (diluted to a ratio of 1:1 with water), but this is optional.
  5. Submerge the mask, headgear, tubing, and any connectors in the warm soapy water. Allow it to soak for a short period of time (about 30 minutes). Alternatively, wipe out the mask with a soft cloth and warm water, and swish soapy water through the tubing. Allow everything to air dry on a towel or by hanging (such as over the shower curtain rod in the bathroom). These items should ideally be cleaned every day, but make an effort to do it at least weekly.
  6. The humidifier's water chamber should be cleaned with hot water and mild soap. It should also be allowed to air dry. Remember to only put distilled water in the humidifier. If you do not, there is potentially an increased risk of illness as well as the probability that hard minerals will build up on your equipment. The humidifier should ideally be cleaned weekly.
  1. Some CPAP machines have filters in place. It will be important to review your manufacturer’s instructions or ask your equipment provider about how these should be maintained. Some can be rinsed but others must be replaced, and the timing of this will vary depending on the environment you use the machine in. The replacement of disposable filters should generally be done at least monthly and perhaps as frequently as every 2 weeks.
  2. Finally, after everything has been allowed to air dry, reassemble the various parts. Apply the headgear to your mask, hook the mask back onto the tubing and any connectors, and connect the tubing back to the humidifier or directly to the CPAP machine. Turn the machine on briefly and listen for any air leaks that weren’t there previously.

    If you find that your sleep apnea symptoms ​have returned or you feel like your machine isn’t working right, bring it in to your equipment provider or sleep specialist and have things checked out.

    Additional Tips

    • It is important to keep your equipment clean. Remember that you are breathing whatever might be growing inside there.
    • If you have been sick recently, clean your equipment more often.
    • Remember to always follow the advice of your medical and equipment providers as well as the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning your CPAP.
    • Never use any perfumes or cleaning solutions other than gentle soap on your equipment. These can irritate your lungs and make you sick. The humidifier must only contain distilled water to avoid the accumulation of minerals in the water chamber.
    • It is not advisable to clean your equipment in a dishwasher or washing machine as it could become damaged.

    ​Do I Need to Use a CPAP Cleaner or Sanitizer?

    Though heavily advertised, it is not necessary to use a CPAP cleaner or sanitizer device to keep your CPAP equipment clean. These units often reportedly use ozone to clean the equipment and are typically sold for hundreds of dollars and add little additional safety or cleanliness beyond the instructions provided here. There is virtually no risk of infection from using CPAP equipment.

    A Word From Verywell

    The risks associated with CPAP therapy are minimal, but keeping your equipment clean with these instructions may help to ensure your long-term health and benefit from the therapy.

    Sources:

    Caring for your equipment. ResMed

    Philips sleep apnea therapy equipment cleaning instructions. Philips Respironics.

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