|CPAP therapy typically includes a unit with
a humidity chamber, tubing, a CPAP mask
and its headgear, all which need regular
cleaning and maintenance in order to
preserve function, hygiene and value
So you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. And now you have this monstrosity at your bedside that is supposed to help you sleep. You know you have to use it every night, it is essential to keeping you healthy. But did you know you have to clean it every morning too?
Cleaning and maintaining your CPAP and accessories properly not only makes it work better, but it helps it lasts longer, and also keeps you healthier.
After using the CPAP all night, you have to clean the mask every morning. The mask is made with very delicate silicon material that must be cleaned every morning to prevent decay and breakdown of the material. Masks typically last six months to a year with proper maintenance. Cleaning the mask removes the oils that your skin released as well as germs and dirt and dead skin cells that were picked up during the night. This is especially important if you are fighting a cold or otherwise sick. If you fail to properly wash your mask in the morning, the cold may last much longer than it would have normally.
In the morning, fill the sink with warm water. Add some mild dish washing soap (like a Palmolive for example) or a mild antibacterial hand washing soap. Let the mask soak in this solution for a few minutes. You can also gently rub the delicate membrane to help clean it. After 5-10 minutes, rinse it with clean water and let it air dry.
There are also one-time-use disposable wipes specifically made for CPAP masks. You just clean the mask with these wipes and let it air dry. Dispose of the wipe in the garbage.
I will also add that, before you put on the mask at night, wash your face well–remove dirt, sweat, oil from your face. If you moisturize, avoid the areas of the mask. This will limit the accumulation of dirt and oil throughout the night.
Also, check your mask for tears in the silicon or broken plastic parts. If the mask is defective, replace it immediately. A tear can result in excessive air leakage, reducing the pressure required to keep your airway open throughout the night.
Depending on how dirty the headgear gets, it can be washed weekly, in the same manner as the mask, using a mild soap and letting it soak. You can wash it more often if needed.
Some people will suggest washing the tubing every morning or once a week. I would say that once a week is enough, unless you are feeling under the weather. Then you might want to wash it out every morning until you feel better.
Fill the tubing about a quarter full of soapy water, then pick it up from both ends, blocking both ends with your thumbs, and rock the tubing up and down, swishing the water inside. Then just immerse the tubing in the soapy water for the same 5-10 minutes. Drape the tubing over the top of the door or on the towel rack to drain and dry throughout the day.
Check your tubing for slight tears and leaks. It will sometimes tear at the neck, near the ends. If you find a tear, replace it immediately, since the loss of air pressure can affect the minimal effective pressure needed to keep your airway open.
Wipe down the actual CPAP unit weekly. Avoid using any hard cleaning chemicals on the CPAP unit itself. You can easily wipe it down with a moist cloth to remove dust and dirt.
CPAP units also often have filters that need cleaning. Some filters are disposable (usually white), which you can replace. Depending on how much dirt and dust is in the air, these filters can last anywhere from a month to several months. If you live in the country, you can expect a dirtier filter and you may need to replace it more often. Please note that not all CPAPs have a disposable filter. Check the owner’s manual or call the CPAP representative to double check if your unit has such a filter.
Some filters are re-usable (usually look like a sponge). These should be rinsed with cool water once a week or so. Just rinse the filter until the water runs clear. You can gently squeeze the filter to help eliminate the water. Let air dry and replace in the CPAP unit once it is completely dry.
Caution: There is no reason to open the CPAP unit. There is nothing inside the CPAP that needs to be maintained on a regular basis. If the CPAP seems to be malfunctioning, please have a professional look at it. Not only can tinkering with it void the warranty, but you can do more damage to the unit; or worse, you can get hurt.
The humidifier can be cleaned weekly with warm soapy water. Swish the solution in the chamber, then rinse it with clean water. You can also disinfect it with a vinegar/water solution (1 part vinegar to 4 parts water) and let soak for about 30 minutes. Then rinse and let air dry.
Some chambers can be disassembled. If you have one that can, you can open it and place it on the top rack of your dishwasher. Most humidifiers are dishwasher safe, just check the owner’s manual.
It is a good idea to have the CPAP unit looked at once a year by qualified personnel. Take the CPAP unit in to be checked annually to the same people you purchased it from. The will have specialized equipment to make sure the CPAP unit is working optimally.
A short comment on traveling with CPAP
Never travel with water in the humidifier chamber. Depending on the model, water from the humidifier chamber can splash back into the actual CPAP unit, either rendering it useless, or shortening its lifespan. If this happens, it is important to immediately dry the unit as quickly as possible. Turn the unit over until the last drops have dripped out, then run the CPAP for 10-15 minutes without the tubing, just blowing off excess moisture that may have entered inside.
|Rui de Sousa,
RPSGT, RST, B.Sc
Rui de Sousa is a Canadian sleep technologist with over 20 years experience helping patients sleep better in and around the greater Toronto area. Rui is also heavily involved in educating new sleep technologists and the population at large. He has presented education forums for the interested public. He has published several chapters in a medical textbook and articles in local newspapers, and has been interviewed on TV and on the radio. He also keeps abreast of the latest knowledge, techniques and technologies attending local and international conferences.