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What Happens If You Never Clean Your CPAP Machine

Continuous Positive Air Pressure machines (CPAP) are very effective in helping minimize the symptoms of sleep apnea so your health doesn’t suffer and you enjoy better sleep quality. 

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor will have explained that the condition can’t be 100% cured, but it can be managed. Managing sleep apnea involves being consistent with CPAP therapy and committing to it in the long term, which in turn means that your CPAP machine will get intensive use. 

Cleaning CPAP is essential

Although CPAP machines are quite sophisticated and are generally low-maintenance devices, you still need to have a regular cleaning routine. This will help keep the machine in good condition and prevent health issues that could develop due to using a dirty CPAP machine.

How does a CPAP machine work?

Before we explain why it’s important to clean your CPAP machine, we must first look at how these devices work. 

A typical CPAP setup consists of the machine, which is connected to a mask via a hose or tube. The main machine delivers a stream of pressurized air into your upper airways via the tube and mask setup -- which ensures the airways are kept open and reduces the number of breathing interruptions. 

Some CPAP devices come with a built-in humidifier, while other models can be connected to an external humidifier. Having a humidifier can increase your comfort level while using a CPAP machine, since the extra moisture prevents common problems among CPAP users, such as dry mouth, dry nose, an irritated throat, or chapped lips.

CPAP humidifiers are particularly useful if you live in cold or dry areas, or if your pressure settings are high. The same applies to heated tubes or hoses, which add an extra level of comfort when used alongside a humidifier.

Why do I need to clean my CPAP machine?

Despite the benefits of having a humidifier and a heated tube, there is the risk of germs and bacteria. The constant presence of heat and moisture in these components creates the ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

If bacteria develop in any part of your CPAP system and they aren’t removed, you will be risking your health since the machine will be pumping germs, mold, bacteria or other allergens into your respiratory system. 

Potentially, this could cause serious diseases like pneumonia, bronchitis, or inflammation in the lungs. 

The exterior of a CPAP machine also needs regular cleaning. This is because dust and dirt build-up can get into the machine and affect its efficiency or even cause malfunctions over time.

How do I keep my CPAP machine clean?

Ideally, you should do a quick clean every day, even if it only involves wiping dust off the surfaces and cleaning the tubes, mask, and headgear. If daily cleaning is not possible, set aside one day per week to do the following:

  • Make sure the machine is cool and disconnect it from the power supply. 
  • Remove the tubing from the main machine, and disconnect the mask and headgear from the tubes. 
  • Fill a sink or a container with warm water and mild soap, and let the tubes, mask, and headgear soak for 20-30 minutes. If you want, you can add a small amount of white vinegar to the water, as this helps prevent mold growth.
  • If you have an external or detachable humidifier, disconnect and soak it in warm soapy water too.
  • While the detachable parts are soaking, wipe the machine’s exterior with a damp soft cloth.
  • Rinse the parts with warm water and set them to dry away from direct sunlight.

Critical note:

It’s important to avoid using harsh chemicals when cleaning your machine. Bleach, ammonia, and alcohol have powerful disinfectant properties, but they can damage the equipment and your lungs too if their leftovers are passed onto your respiratory system. 

A few more tips

Other things you can do to keep your CPAP machine clean include:

  • If you use a humidifier, fill it with distilled water. Not only this is better from a safety point of view, but if you live in a hard water area, you will extend the lifespan of your CPAP machine since distilled water does not cause limescale build-up.
  • Make sure you replace the mask, filters, mask cushions, and other external accessories frequently. If you are not sure about how often you should do this, ask your equipment provider or sleep specialist. Replacement frequency varies depending on the equipment and settings. 
  • Don’t let standing water in the humidifier for a long time. If you know that you won’t be using your CPAP for a while, make sure that you empty and dry the chamber before storing it, so that no mold can develop.

Final Thoughts

A CPAP machine can greatly improve sleep apnea symptoms and avoid the development of serious health complications related to this condition. However, to get the maximum benefit out of CPAP treatment, it’s essential that you have a regular cleaning schedule and stick to it. 

If you have any doubts about CPAP equipment maintenance, don’t hesitate to ask the manufacturer or your sleep specialist. 






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