Written by: Lana Adler
Updated February 26, 2021
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines are critical to the health of 25 million Americans (1) who live with sleep apnea. But if CPAP machines aren't cleaned regularly and adequately, they can become the cause of health problems.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea (2) is a sleep disorder in which a person's breathing stops more times than what is considered normal during sleep. There are two types of sleep apnea. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With OSA, soft tissues in the throat and upper airways relax and collapse, causing obstructions that decrease or block airflow completely, creating breathing pauses during sleep.
Sleep apnea can cause dry mouth, daytime fatigue, and headaches due to a lack of oxygen during periods of apnea. People with OSA face an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (3), heart attack (4), and stroke (5). Properly treating OSA with CPAP machine use can potentially counteract the increased risk of developing other health problems.
In some cases, OSA can be treated by lifestyle changes and weight loss. But the most common treatment is CPAP therapy.
What is a CPAP Machine?
CPAP is an acronym for continuous positive airway pressure. A CPAP machine delivers continuous pressure into a sleeping person's airways through a mask that covers the nostrils, the nose, the nose and mouth, or the full face. CPAP therapy is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. A CPAP machine's main components are the motor, a hose that connects to the motor, and a mask. Some CPAP machines also have an attached humidifier and allow humidity, heat, or both to be added to the air they deliver.
Why Is It Important to Keep Your CPAP Machine Clean?
If not regularly cleaned, parts of the CPAP machine may become contaminated by bacteria, fungi, and other organisms (6). When CPAP equipment is not properly cleaned, oils and bacteria on the mask can cause skin irritations or infections.
CPAP machines use water to keep airways from drying out, which can become a breeding ground for mold and bacteria if not cleaned properly. A person using a CPAP machine could breathe in mold or bacteria if they are present in the hose, which could lead to a respiratory infection.
CPAP Cleaning Tools
There are all kinds of CPAP cleaning devices, soaps, and cleaners on the market, so it can be confusing to know which ones to use, how often to use them, and how to clean your device effectively. Let's examine some CPAP machine cleaning options, along with the tools you'll need to clean your CPAP machine.
Some soaps are sold specifically for CPAP machine cleaning. The American Sleep Apnea Association (7) recommends cleaning your machine with a mild dish detergent, so a specialized soap isn't a necessity. Whichever you choose, make sure it's a mild, non-toxic soap, so it doesn't irritate your skin.
There are currently two types of sanitizing machines (8) on the market. Neither sanitizing machine is FDA-approved, which means that the FDA has not determined whether or not they are safe.
One sanitizing machine uses ozone gas (9), which can be dangerous or even toxic to humans. In fact, from 2017 to 2019, the FDA received 11 reports (10) from patients who experienced symptoms after using ozone sanitizing machines to disinfect their CPAP devices. These symptoms included cough, difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, nasal irritation, and headaches.
The other type of CPAP sanitizing machine uses ultraviolet light. The FDA has not determined that these machines effectively kill germs inside of CPAP hoses, nor have they confirmed that ultraviolet light won't damage the CPAP machine.
Other CPAP Cleaning Accessories
Many other CPAP cleaning accessories exist, such as CPAP cleaning brushes, mask cleaners, and cleaning solutions. With all of the CPAP cleaning accessories available, it's no wonder people feel confused about how they should be cleaning their machines. Many times, these extra accessories are unnecessary. When in doubt, follow your CPAP manufacturer's equipment cleaning guidelines.
Which Tools Do You Need to Clean Your CPAP Machine?
To effectively clean your CPAP machine, you need:
- a mild soap (such as a mild dish detergent)
- tap water
- a clean towel
- a sink or tub
How to Clean Your CPAP Machine
To adequately clean your CPAP machine, you need to clean certain parts daily and weekly, take care of the humidifier, and have yearly maintenance provided by a medical supply company.
- Using mild soap, fill a sink or tub with warm, soapy water and soak your mask or nasal pillows, hose, and headgear for about five minutes, stirring them around.
- Clean these CPAP parts in the morning so your equipment will fully air dry by the time you'll use it again. Let your mask and headgear dry on a towel, and hang your hose up somewhere to allow it to drain.
- Wash the filter (on the back of the machine) with tap water and blot with a towel to remove excess water.
- If your machine has a white filter, don't wash it; replace it.
- With a damp cloth, wipe down your machine.
- Disinfect your humidifier by mixing 1 part vinegar to 3-5 parts water and soaking your humidifier in the mixture for 30 minutes, then rinse with water.
- If your humidifier is dishwasher safe (check with your manufacturer), you can clean it on the top rack.
- Replace your filter.
- Have your machine checked by a durable medical supply company to make sure it's working correctly and the pressure is appropriately set.
Are There Special CPAP Machine Cleaning Instructions for COVID-19?
If you have COVID-19, you still need to use your CPAP machine, as long as you can tolerate it with your COVID-19 symptoms. The American Thoracic Society (11) recommends COVID-19 patients do weekly CPAP cleaning on a daily basis instead. Make sure that you're cleaning your machine, mask or nose pillows, headgear, tubing, and filter every day, keeping your humidifier dry and filters clean.
If you have COVID-19 and experience difficulty breathing, do not try use your CPAP machine as treatment for respiratory distress. Instead, go to the emergency room or contact with your healthcare provider.
If you live with sleep apnea, your CPAP machine is important to your health. As long as you keep it clean, your CPAP machine should help you receive restorative sleep and feel your best. Make sure to give your CPAP machine daily, weekly, and yearly cleanings.
- https://aasm.org/rising-prevalence-of-sleep-apnea-in-u-s-threatens-public-health/ Accessed February 18, 2021.
- https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/lung-and-airway-disorders/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea Accessed February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29453905/ Accessed February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27571048/ Accessed February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16282178/ Accessed February 18, 2021.
- https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-99921-0_32 Accessed February 18, 2021.
- https://www.sleepapnea.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/CPAP-BiPAP-Machine-Cleaning-And-Maintenance.pdf Accessed February 18, 2021.
- https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/cpap-machine-cleaning-ozone-uv-light-products-are-not-fda-approved Accessed February 18, 2021.
- https://www.epa.gov/ozone-pollution-and-your-patients-health/what-ozone Accessed February 18, 2021.
- https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2764166 Accessed February 18, 2021.
- https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1164/rccm.2020C6 Accessed February 18, 2021.