Your CPAP machine was created to improve your quality of life through restorative sleep. Without proper care and cleaning, however, your device could suffer compromised performance or a shortened lifespan. Spot a dirty or dysfunctional machine before it becomes a problem with our Six Easy Ways to Identify a Dirty CPAP.

As always, our recommendations are meant to make everyday life a little easier; please consult your doctor or sleep therapist for medical advice or treatment.

1.) Know your risk factors.

A host of factors can contribute to overall “ickiness” of your CPAP machine. In order to get the most from your device, you must first consider the environment in which it operates.

For instance, it is recommended that you replace the small-particle air filter in your CPAP machine once per month, but if you live in an environment that is dusty, smoky, or containing pet dander, you will need to replace it sooner (CPAP.com, 2019).

If your device is used by multiple people; if you favor tap water in your humidifier over the recommended distilled water; or if your cleaning routine is often performed infrequently, less thoroughly, or skipped altogether; the resulting gunk will add up over time. Failure to maintain your device can take a serious toll on everything from its performance to the quality of the air you breathe.

2.) Visual inspection.

Filters should be free from debris and discoloration; masks and tubing should be clear, without signs of wear and tear; your humidifier shouldn’t have any mineral buildup, as those that do are likely to harbor bacteria; and your mask seal should be smooth, yielding, and un-yellowed.

Speaking of color: a colored film anywhere in your equipment should be dealt with immediately. This could be the sign of colonization by a virus, bacteria, or mold spore. These can be yellowish, orange, and even pink in color. A good rule of thumb: if it’s not clear, it’s time to sanitize or replace.

Bear in mind, bacteria that can make you sick grow even without visual dirt or grime. The only way to make sure you have a healthy, germ-free CPAP is to disinfect it on a regular basis. Using CPAP wipes or soap and water will not kill the germs: medical devices like CPAP must be disinfected in order to keep them germ-free.

3.) No smell is a good smell.

New CPAP equipment can have fresh, plasticky smell that lasts several days. Once the “newness” wears off, it is important to pay attention to other olfactory signs of CPAP contamination. If your machine develops an unpleasant or musty odor, it likely populated by some sort of pathogen.

Try to pinpoint where the smell originates by disabling your device and smelling each part, including the humidifier chamber and breathing tube connection port. A thorough cleaning of the all components may be necessary to rid your device of unpleasant microorganisms such as mold or bacteria.

4.) Sound check.

Many of today’s CPAP machines are whisper quiet. If you notice a change in the sound produced by the machine itself, a dirty air filter could be to blame. A clogged filter provides less airflow, making the motor work harder (and louder). Check your filters, and, when needed, wash or replace them.

If new or worsening sound is coming from your mask, it could be the result of a seal leak. Excess dirt and oil from the face can build up and compromise your seal, affecting your machine’s ability to monitor your breathing, maintain pressure, or keep your airway open. If not remedied with a regular cleaning, it is best to replace this part ASAP.

5.) Age matters.

There’s no use in tidying a dirty or germy CPAP component that’s past its prime! Although easy to use and supple against the skin, the soft plastic parts on your CPAP machine weren’t meant to last forever. In general, mask cushions and nasal pillows are good for three to six months, while tubing should be replaced every 12 months. Your humidifier and water chamber, mask, and chin strap are good for six months (CPAP.com, 2019).

Note: It may be wise to replace your mask and equipment as frequently as your insurance will cover them, rather than waiting for signs of wear and tear.

6.) Check your symptoms.

Dirty and germ-laden CPAP equipment can contribute to a number of skin and respiratory symptoms. If you’ve been feeling under the weather lately, a soiled CPAP could be to blame.

The warm, moist environment of a CPAP is a perfect spot for microorganisms that―once airborne―could affect your health. Skin, nose, throat, or eye irritation; coughing or sneezing; headache or nasal drainage could all be signs of an allergic reaction to mold or other unwanted pathogens hiding out in your machine. A germy CPAP can even be the catalyst for infections like bronchitis, pneumonia, or sinus infections.

If you think your CPAP may be making you sick, we recommend regularly disinfecting your device with CleanSmart Disinfectant Spray for CPAP. CleanSmart is EPA approved to kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria in 60 seconds without harmful chemicals, harsh odors, or the need to rinse.