If you use one, you know how important your continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is. When you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, your CPAP is the key to keeping you breathing normally while you sleep. It can help lower your risk of stroke, improve your cognitive functions and memory, and lower and control your blood pressure.

So, it’s important to know how to clean and maintain it so you can get the most out of its health benefits. It can take some time to get used to your CPAP machine, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll want to keep your CPAP clean and free of mold and harmful bacteria.

Below, we’ll go over how to clean the parts of your CPAP machine, as well as how often you should clean it and why maintenance is so important. We’ll also provide some other helpful information to keep your CPAP running the way it should.

Cleaning your CPAP equipment keeps it functioning properly and safely

CPAP machines are made of several parts, all of which require maintenance and cleaning. These often include:

  • A humidifier with a water tank, though not all machines have one
  • A mask or face covering that fits either over your nose, or your nose and your mouth, with straps to help position and keep your mask in place
  • A tube that connects the mask to the motor
  • An air filter to purify the air you breathe
  • A motor that blows air into the tube under mild pressure

Check your CPAP owner’s manual for advice specific to your machine, and make sure to see if there are any cleaning methods you shouldn’t use or that may void the warranty.

How to clean your CPAP humidifier’s water tank

Before you begin disassembling your CPAP to clean its tank, make sure your machine is unplugged. If your CPAP has an integrated battery, check the owner’s manual for how to best disassemble and clean it. There are two ways to clean your tank:

  • On a weekly basis, use a mild soap, like dish soap, and warm water to hand wash the inside of the tank, then rinse thoroughly with warm water and let it air dry.
  • As needed, soak the tank in a solution of three parts water and one part distilled white vinegar (with 5% acidity) for 30 minutes, then rinse well with warm water and leave it out to air dry.

If you’re using a vinegar solution, it’s best to start by cleaning your CPAP’s tank, since it has to soak for a while. When it’s time to refill your tank, use distilled water instead of regular tap water, as minerals and bacteria from tap water can dirty the tank.

How to clean your CPAP mask

Wash the cushion on a daily basis – ideally in the morning. Use hot water and mild dish soap, or a CPAP mask cleansing wipe to clean the cushion. Leave it to air dry during the day.

Don’t use anything harsh, like alcohol or bleach, to clean the cushion. They can leave residue behind that may be harmful to you if you breathe it in, as well as harmful to your skin. They can also damage the cushion.

On a weekly basis, disassemble your mask into three parts: cushion, frame and headgear. Using a towel and mild detergent or dish soap, wipe down the frame and headgear, and leave them to air dry.  Make sure you don’t reassemble the mask until all parts are completely dry.

How to clean your CPAP hose

Make sure your CPAP is unplugged before you disconnect the hose. Place a drop of mild soap in the rubber end of the hose, then flush the hose with warm water in your sink or bathtub until it runs clear. There are brushes made specifically for CPAP machines, so consider using one to make sure the hose is thoroughly cleaned.

Once the hose is fully clean, hang it up to air dry. When it’s fully dried, you can reconnect it to the machine.

How to clean your CPAP air filter

The air filter is one of the most important parts of your CPAP, both for your health and for the quality of the device. There are two types of filters – disposable and reusable – and some CPAP machines may have both.

To clean a reusable filter, make sure your CPAP is unplugged and then remove the filter, which is usually located on the back of the device. Rinse thoroughly and leave it to completely dry before putting it back in the machine.

Disposable filters are not made to be reused or cleaned. To make sure you’re getting the best quality air possible, disposable filters should be checked periodically, then changed every one to two months – or sooner if it’s visibly dirty.

There are a lot of things that can damage the integrity of your CPAP machine, and they’re mostly preventable with regular and thorough maintenance. Cleaning and replacing your CPAP parts as needed is important for your health, and to the life of the CPAP and its parts.

One of the most important reasons to clean your CPAP machine and its parts is to limit your exposure to dust, germs, mold and other allergens and irritants that can grow in and enter the various parts of the machine – potentially causing illnesses like pneumonia and sinus infections.

It’s also important to regularly clean the parts that touch your skin, like the mask, as a dirty mask can cause skin irritation, soreness and acne. A dirty mask can also affect the seal of your mask against your face, meaning it won’t work the way it should.

Reducing your exposure to germs with a machine that works the way it should, you’re more likely to experience better overall health – and a better night’s sleep.

When you should clean your CPAP machine

How frequently you should clean your device varies based on which part needs cleaning. It also depends on the air quality of your home and if you’ve had a respiratory illness recently. The actual CPAP unit that plugs into the wall can be cleaned or dusted as needed, but these individual parts need to be cleaned more frequently:

  • Humidifier tank – Ideally, the water should be replaced daily, and you should clean the tank once a week.
  • Mask – The cushion should be cleaned daily, as it sits directly on your skin. The mask itself should be disassembled and cleaned weekly to avoid contact with dust, bacteria and other contaminants.
  • Hose – This should be cleaned weekly to sanitize the hose for the air that enters your lungs.
  • Filter – Disposable filters should be replaced monthly, and reusable filters should be cleaned weekly to extend their lifespan. If you live in a home where your CPAP is exposed to pet dander, tobacco or wood smoke on a regular basis, the filters may need to be changed more frequently.

Why CPAP machine cleaners aren’t recommended

CPAP cleaning machines are marketed to clean CPAPs in two ways, with ozone gas and with ultraviolet (UV) light.

The concern with the ozone gas machines is that ozone gas can be dangerous and even toxic at certain levels, and there’s no evidence they actually work. There’s also a possibility that ozone gas may leak out of the machine, and there’s no way to know what the levels of ozone gas inside the machine are once it’s finished being cleaned.

The concern with UV light cleaners is that there’s no evidence that shows UV light actually cleans the CPAP. There are also concerns about unsafe levels of exposure to UV rays.

Currently, there are no CPAP cleaners approved or recommended for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The best method when cleaning your CPAP is using soap and water, or vinegar and water.

Replace your CPAP parts regularly to keep it working well

The main part of the CPAP machine, the motor, should last around five years or much longer, as long as it’s been properly maintained. The other parts, however, have much shorter lifespans.

Check the manufacturer’s guide for replacement recommendations for your specific machine, and check with your insurance (if you have it) to see what their replacement guidelines are and what your insurance covers.

General recommendations to replace the parts of your CPAP include:

  • If using disposable filters, use one pack of two filters per month; if using non-disposable filters, use one pack every 6 months
  • The head strap and chin strap be replaced every six months
  • Tubing be replaced every three months
  • The frame and cushion of the mask be replaced every three months
  • Nasal cushions and pillows should be replaced twice per month; full facemask cushion should be replaced once per month

Keep maintaining your CPAP machine to stay healthy

Cleaning your CPAP machine is easy, and replacing parts as needed is important. If you keep up with the proper maintenance on your CPAP, you’ll be able to breathe a little easier.

If you use a CPAP and need parts, HealthPartners has everything you need to keep your CPAP in good working order. And if you’re concerned about your sleep or wondering if you may need to use a CPAP machine, our sleep medicine specialists can help.