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It is vital to clean your CPAP mask because it directly filters air into your airways and can cause serious health issues if contaminated with harmful bacteria. Make sure that you take the machine apart and clean it safely regularly and that you check before using any cleaning material you’re unsure of, including alcohol.
You can’t clean your CPAP mask with alcohol because it can cause the equipment to break down more quickly and because the scent can cause irritation of the airways. It’s better to use soap and water or a device specifically made to clean a CPAP machine.
This article will discuss the importance of cleaning your CPAP mask and advise on the best materials and methods to use.
Why It’s Important to Clean Your CPAP Mask
To understand why it’s important to clean your CPAP machine and clean it the right way, you should first understand how the machine works. This will allow you to understand the risks and benefits of different cleaning choices and to appreciate the importance of maintaining functional equipment.
How a CPAP Machine Works
A CPAP mask is used to regulate muscle relaxation in the throat for people with obstructive sleep apnea, preventing irregular muscle relaxation from blocking the airway during sleep. Without using a CPAP mask, patients with obstructive sleep apnea can develop diabetes, stroke, hypertension, and several heart conditions.
CPAP masks work by increasing the air pressure in the throat to keep the airway open during inhalation and filter air as it circulates. It does this through a motor that blows air through a tube and into a mask, which comes in several varieties. They are:
- The full face mask, recommended for people who breathe through their mouths during sleep, tend to move during sleep, or have nasal complications.
- The nasal mask, the most popular choice for patients with sleep apnea and COPD. Lightweight and can sustain high pressures.
- The nasal pillow mask, which is less obstructive and involves inserting pillow-like cushions into the nose. Good for side sleepers.
Some of these masks also come with an attached humidifier, which keeps your airways from being dried out by air movement.
How Cleaning Makes Your CPAP Mask Safer to Use and Longer Lasting
Without proper cleaning, bacteria can collect and grow in the CPAP mask, whether you have a full face mask or one that’s inserted into the nasal passageways. Anything that remains in the tubes, mask or other parts of the machine connected to the air will be directed straight through your airways and into the lungs, which can make you seriously sick.
If your machine has a humidifier, this is an especially important piece to clean, as it is a very welcoming environment for dangerous bacteria. In addition to cleaning this piece, you should also replace it every six months.
The mask itself can break apart over time if not washed daily due to direct contact and heavy use.
The CPAP machine has filters in place to draw in air and can pull in dust and debris. You should clean these filters once a week, or else they’ll become clogged, especially if your home is dusty, you have pets, or you are a smoker.
How to Clean Your CPAP Mask
You should regularly clean your CPAP machine, at least once a day, disinfecting the mask itself and cleaning the rest of the equipment every one to two weeks. However, if you become sick, you should immediately clean your machine to avoid an extra influx of contaminants if there is a bacterial infestation in your machine.
Your machine should always be washed by hand and not in a washing machine or dishwasher, as these are too likely to damage the equipment.
Follow these steps to clean your machine thoroughly and effectively:
- Unplug the CPAP machine to avoid the risk of electric shock.
- Separate each piece of the equipment: the mask, the tubes, and the machine.
- Remove and separate the parts of the water chamber, if you have one.
- Pour warm water onto a soft cloth and clean the dust from the exterior of the equipment.
- Fill a small container, sink, or bathtub with warm water, and add mild dish soap or a small vinegar amount.
- Soak the machine’s non-electrical pieces (mask, tubing, connecting pieces) in the water for 30 minutes.
- Wipe out the mask with warm water and a clean, fuzzy cloth.
- Shake soapy water within the tube.
- Allow all pieces of the machine to dry on a towel.
- Clean the inside of the humidifier water chamber with hot water and soap.
- Rinse or replace the air filters in the machine, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Reattach each piece after thorough air drying.
Although this is considered the best method for cleaning a CPAP machine, other common methods and materials are used for the job, each with its benefits and drawbacks.
Best Cleaning Materials to Use to Clean Your CPAP Mask
Because tap water can be a source of germs, it is recommended that you use distilled water to clean your machine instead. This can remove more than 90% of the bacteria. You can safely use either vinegar or soap to mix with water for an effective clean, although some sources say that vinegar can cause the equipment to break down more quickly.
Alternatively, some people choose to disinfect the CPAP mask and equipment with UV light, which has the added benefit of avoiding additional moisture to sit in the machine for extended periods. This decreases the likelihood that bacteria will grow during the drying process. However, the light does not penetrate all areas of the equipment.
Another material used to clean the CPAP mask is activated oxygen, a form of oxygen with three atoms instead of the breathable two-atom molecule we’re familiar with. It is used in equipment like the SoClean CPAP Cleaner and Sanitizer, which holds equipment inside a chamber that fills with activated oxygen. This kills 99.9-99.99% of bacteria.
Is Alcohol Safe to Use for Cleaning a CPAP Mask?
Although alcohol-based disinfectants are common and effective for removing germs, they pose a risk for CPAP mask users because of their strong vapors and because they can cause damage to equipment over time. You should avoid using alcohol-based wipes or rubbing alcohol to clean equipment, as well as citrus-based cleaning products, bleach, or essential oils.
Ways to Avoid Damaging Your CPAP Mask
Besides avoiding the use of alcohol and other damaging materials to clean your mask, you can avoid risks to your CPAP mask by doing the following:
- keeping your equipment out of direct sunlight
- washing your face before you go to bed
- avoiding using facial lotion, which can keep the mask from sealing properly and deteriorate the cushion quality.
If your mask does become damaged, be sure to replace the necessary parts as soon as possible. Look for cracks, tears, or changes in color, which are all signs of deterioration.
Additionally, you can reference the user-guide for your specific machine for advice on the best ways to keep the equipment functional and safe to use.
Cleaning your CPAP mask and equipment is very important, but you should not clean your CPAP mask with alcohol or alcohol-based wipes because they can cause the equipment to break down and because the vapors can irritate your airways. It’s better to use soap and water to clean your equipment or a cleaning device that uses activated oxygen.