What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your CPAP?

cpap cleaning

As with anything in life, your CPAP needs to be kept clean and hygienic. If it is not, there are many problems that you may face and in this article, we want to take a deeper look into these problems.

Many people may be under the misunderstanding that this piece of medical equipment doesn’t need to be regularly cleaned and maintained but in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

So – What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your CPAP?

In short, a lack of regular cleaning of your CPAP can lead to two main problems – health problems as a result of bacteria and issues with the machine not functioning to the best of its ability. In some cases, you may even void the warranty of the machine and cause it to fail way before it should do. The average CPAP machine should last for between 3 and 5 years, but improper cleaning can reduce this dramatically.

You may be concerned that you aren’t able to tell when your CPAP machine needs a good clean, but as a rule of thumb some cleaning should take place every day.

How Do I Know If My CPAP Is Due For A Clean?

It can be difficult to know when to give your CPAP a deep scrubbing, as we mentioned there are certain aspects of cleaning your equipment which should be done after each use, but we will look at these in a little more detail later on.

There are certain giveaway signs that will let you know that it’s time to clean your CPAP.

  • Does the machine smell? One of the clearest signs that the CPAP needs to be cleaned is if you notice a bad smell. The best way to determine this is to take a strong inhale of the mask. A CPAP which requires a clean may have a musty odour and this could signal that mould or mildew is present within the machine.
  • Is your skin aggravated? A dirty CPAP mask filled with bacteria may cause some irritation to the skin of your face – quite simply because it has been in direct contact with it. You may notice redness, swelling, itching or even peeling of the skin. If this sounds familiar, cleaning the mask may relieve these problems.
  • How does it look? Quite often, we are visually able to see a build up of dirt on any surface and your CPAP is no exception to this rule. Simply taking a good look at the mask and machine can be the best indicator of whether it needs to be cleaned or not.
  • Your health. If you have begun to notice that you are experiencing more infections that are usual for you, this could be a sign that germs and bacteria have started to accumulate within your CPAP system. These germs can quite easily make their way into your body and cause a whole wealth of health problems. Cleaning your CPAP may be the solution you need.

Why Should You Clean Your CPAP?

You wouldn’t go for a long period of time without cleaning yourself – would you skip your daily shower for days on end? Perhaps refuse to brush your teeth twice a day? For the majority of people, omitting these routines from their lives brings about a feeling of utter disgust. So why is your CPAP any different?

When asking the question of why you should clean your CPAP, one of the first things you should keep in mind is that this is a piece of equipment that could potentially save your life – at the very least, change your life. So treating it with respect is essential. Without it, you would likely find yourself in very hot water. Cleaning it is one way of ensuring that it will serve you well. However, there are more practical reasons as to why this expensive piece of equipment should be properly cleaned and cared for.

Why Cleaning Is Important

Cleaning your CPAP on a regular basis is important for a number of reasons, some of the main ones are simple.

  • Your CPAP mask comes in direct contact with your skin, and your skin naturally produces a lot of oil. When this oil is left on the CPAP mask, it can create a build up which may contain bacteria but may also affect the function of the mask. For example, an unclean mask may not bond to your face as well as you would like, and can therefore cause leaks. In turn, this means that you will not see as much benefit from using your CPAP machine.
  • Another common biological material that can be found on a CPAP mask which has not been cleaned are dead skin cells. Quite simple, they are not conducive to your mask working to its best, and as with the skin oils may leave bacteria.
  • As well as the contact with your skin, your CPAP is exposed to a constant flow of moist air, both from the machine itself as well as from you. Whilst it is designed to be able to cope with this moisture, the machine can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. This can translate into you picking up anything from a mild cough to a much more serious condition.
  • The moist environment which we have discussed can also be a prime spot for mould to develop. This can then lead to fungus being able to develop and can cause some unwanted ailments, in some cases as severe as bronchitis!
  • As with any piece of equipment, the CPAP is also going to come into contact with a variety of allergens and dust which are present in the air. These may be, for the most part, harmless. However, if they become trapped within the machine, they then run the risk of being sent directly into your respiratory system. This can cause irritation at best, infection at worst.

How To Clean A CPAP

One of the most common questions among new CPAP users is how to clean the equipment. It’s true that there aren’t any other household items that are similar to the CPAP machine so familiarising yourself with the parts and how to clean them is just as important as knowing how to use the machine. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at how to clean your CPAP.

Daily Cleaning

We talked about performing some daily maintenance on your CPAP and this is vital if you want it to have a long and healthy life, as well as serving you and your needs.

After each use, you should give your CPAP mask a wipe with a damp cloth. This will remove any oil from the skin as well as dead skin cells and other debris that may have landed on it during the night.

You should also make a point of giving the tubes a daily clean in order to ensure that they are free from any build up that may cause mould and mildew.

Maybe most importantly – if you use water with your CPAP machine, this should be changed daily and the chamber cleaned. If the water is not changed, there is a high risk of bacteria developing as well as a less threatening but certainly irritating, bad smell which may occur.

Deep Cleaning

How often you thoroughly clean your CPAP machine will depend on the brand and the advice given to you upon purchasing it. That being said, doing a weekly deep clean can be sufficient and is easy to fit into your day to day life. You might couple cleaning your CPAP machine with other weekly tasks such as cleaning the fixtures and fittings in your home or doing it on the same day as your weekly grocery shop.

  • It is vital that you disconnect the machine from the power source when cleaning, water and electricity are not friends and your health and safety is the most important part of this process.
  • The mask should be removed from the tubing and any headgear that it is attached to. The rest of the machine should also be taken apart, for example removing the water chamber and disconnecting all tubing from the machine.
  • You can begin by cleaning the surface of the machine. A warm, wet cloth which has been soaked in regular dish soap will be enough for this purpose. Gently wipe over the entire surface to remove dust or dirt which may have collected over the week.
  • You can then use a solution of dish soap and warm water in either the bath tub or a sink to clean the removal parts of the machine. You can then allow the equipment to soak in the solution for between 30 and 60 minutes.
  • After the time has elapsed, you should wipe the equipment carefully with your cloth.
  • Once you have finished, you should allow the pieces of equipment to air dry, so be sure to do this with plenty of time before going to bed.

Disposable Parts

Some people use disposable filters within their CPAP machines along with things such as disposable mask liners. If this is the case, it is important not to overuse these items and dispose of them in good time. This will prevent bacteria build up.

If you are using disposable filters, it is recommended that these are replaced at least once every two weeks, although you can feel free to replace them more frequently should you see fit.


Cleaning your CPAP machine may be another chore to add to an endless list but it is very important. If it is not regularly cleaned there are several problems that may follow.

A dirty CPAP machine can lead to some serious health problems, these may be something as simple as a flair up in allergies but may be as severe as a chest infection. Bacteria which breeds in an unclean machine can be blamed for this as well as the possibility of the machine losing function much more quickly than it should.

But by frequently cleaning your machine, these problems can be eliminated and your CPAP machine will serve you well.


Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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