Whenever anyone first gets their CPAP machine, we are told how to work and maintain the machine. We learn that there is a water chamber that sits in the humidifier. We are all told to use distilled water in the water chamber and nothing else. Since distilled water doesn’t look any different than tap water, it makes us wonder: What is the big deal?
Can I put tap water into the water chamber?
Long term, no. Short term, yes. Although you could use tap water, doing so can have negative consequences. For the health of the user and the machine, it is much better to use distilled water only.
We will go into more detail as to why you should not use tap water with your CPAP machine.
Why you should be using only distilled water with your CPAP
Tap water, spring water, and drinking water all minerals in it that are safe to drink, however they for CPAP use they bring some problems. These minerals, which consists of calcium, magnesium, iron, and others can leave a white residue behind that contaminates the water chamber. This can make the chamber much harder to clean and would also require you to clean it almost every day. Distilled water does not have these minerals, and will not leave this residue behind. So it will make cleaning the chamber easier and allow you to clean it less often. This can also help keep the tubing clean from any mineral deposits. Using distilled water maximizes the life of these accessories which can be quite expensive. Even if the insurance pays 100% of it, they only replace the parts so many times in a year.
Is Tap Water Really that bad?
Tap water quality varies depending on where you are. There are people who use tap water with their machine every day and get along fine. Right now I am sure everyone has heard about the water quality problem in Flint, Michigan. That may not be the type of water you want to be putting into your machine, let alone breathing it. Then there are some parts where the water is very clean. However, anything that is not distilled water still has some minerals in it. Using distilled water will help maintain your machine and make the parts last longer.
What if I am on Vacation and can’t find distilled water?
If you can’t find distilled water, it is ok to temporarily use tap water for a night or two. Just make sure you clean the water chamber and hose each night. If you don’t trust the tap water in the area, another option is not to use the humidifier at all.
The humidifier is a really nice feature on the CPAP. It helps reduce dry mouth and nasal congestion. It overall makes a better night sleep. However, you can sleep just fine without it. On most CPAP, APAP and BIPAP models you can actually detach the humidifier completely and still use the machine. So if you can’t find distilled water on vacation, don’t panic! You have options.
Again, your best option depends on the quality of the water you have access to.
Can you bring distilled water onto a plane?
You would need to get a note from a doctor saying that you would need to bring distilled water with you. This can be a little mundane to see a doctor for and it might make it slower getting through security. You will probably have an easier time grabbing distilled water after the plane lands
Some of the portable CPAPs are so small and don’t even have a humidifier. So in that case you wouldn’t need any water at all.
Can you bring distilled water onto a cruise ship?
Yes. Each company has their own policies. When I went on a cruise with Carnival, I brought a full gallon and kept it sealed. Cruise ships are really cracking down on people that are trying to sneak alcohol onto the ships, and I didn’t want any problems getting my distilled water on. I didn’t want to go a week without using the humidifier and I for sure didn’t want to use tap water out in the middle of the ocean. Also while on a cruise, keep in mind whatever water you are using, your lungs are breathing it in as well.
Can a Brita pitcher clean the water enough?
Using any kind of filter to clean the water can help, but it still won’t make it as pure as distilled water. Brita and similar filters are great for making water good for drinking, but not so much for CPAP use. The same goes for boiling water. Boiling water can get rid of things making it safe to drink but it won’t get rid of the minerals that can damage your equipment.
Where can I find distilled water?
In the US, almost any grocery store will carry it. Just go to the water aisle where you would find gallon spring water. They are usually on the shelves together. The labels may look the same but they will be defined as either spring water, distilled water, or drinking water on the label itself. A gallon usually costs about a dollar, give or take a dime or two. Since it is cheap I usually buy about 4 gallons at a time so I don’t need to make special trips for it all the time.
So using tap water is not a good idea. But can I clean with it?
Yes, cleaning the water chamber with tap water is perfect. Why we don’t want to use it when we sleep is because when the machine is on, it is delivering more humidity by heating up the water. The heating up the water over night is what causes the minerals to ruin the water chamber. By cleaning it, we are just wiping it down so we can clean it.
And this may seem like common sense, but avoid putting any chemicals, fragrances, perfume, or anything else with a strong scent to it. Soapy water is fine, but spraying it down with AXE body spray is just asking for trouble.
What do the top manufactures say?
Philips Respironics: From page 5 of the humidifier manual
“Caution: Use only room temperature distilled water in the tank. Do not put any chemicals or additives into the
water. Possible airway irritation or damage to the water tank may result”
From Resmed: Their website in the FAQ section:
“Using distilled water will maximize the life of the water tub and reduce mineral deposits. Therefore, we recommend always using distilled water for use with therapy.”
Using tap water for short term is ok, but avoid using it long term. If you must use tap water, clean the accessories after each use. Remember, you also have the option not to use the humidifier. If you don’t have access to distilled water for a period of time, think about the quality of the tap water you have access to before you decide to use it. When traveling, try to plan ahead. And try to be prepared at home and buy multiple gallons ahead of time so you don’t run out. Distilled water is a small cost and it can maximize the life of the accessories.