The Dangers Of Using A Dirty CPAP

The Dangers Of Using A Dirty CPAP

For sleep apnea patients, using a CPAP machine can be life-changing. CPAP therapy is the best solution for sleep apnea and related issues, and it can improve sleep quality significantly.

However, to continue the therapy effectively, the CPAP machine needs to be cleaned and sanitized regularly. Only a clean CPAP machine can provide good results. Not to mention that cleaning the machine regularly will make it last longer as well.

But, other than that, why do sleep apnea patients need to clean the machine so often? In the following paragraphs, we’ll take a look at the dangers of a dirty CPAP machine and what happens if you don’t clean it. So, let’s get started!

Dirty CPAP Machine Effects

Health Effects

Health Effects of dirty CPAP
Image Source: Terry Cralle

Your CPAP machine consists of different CPAP equipment and parts. There is the filter, the mask, the tubing, and the humidifier, as the main components. All of these components are usually exposed to water and humidification. Because the equipment is constantly humid, it is can quickly become the perfect breeding ground for different kinds of bacteria, mold, fungi, yeast, and other harmful particles and microorganisms.

Because of this, a sleep apnea patient is potentially exposed to all of these germs and microorganisms. During therapy, the patient can inhale humid air that is contaminated with these pathogens, which can potentially lead to mild or serious health problems. Some of these problems include;

  • Frequent nasal congestion and irritation – the air from the CPAP machine, especially if contaminated can cause issues in the nasal passages, resulting in congestion, irritation, dryness, nosebleed, burning, and persistently runny nose.
  • Sinus infection – due to the contaminated air, the patient can develop sinus inflammation, which blocks the nasal passages. Sinus infection causes swelling and inflammation of the nasal cavities, which are located in the forehead as well as under the eyes and in cheeks. When these cavities become inflamed, they become filled with mucus which further lowers the quality of sleep, alongside the sleep apnea effects.
  • Throat infection – alongside sinus infection, contaminated air can also cause throat infection, inflammation, or soreness. The throat first becomes scratchy, and then it becomes infected and closed, causing further health difficulties.
  • Skin irritation, redness, rashes, acne breakout, or allergic reactions – skin irritation and rashes are the most common health effects of contaminated CPAP air. Skin irritation and rashes usually go away if treated properly. However, if the CPAP machines remain dirty, these issues can become severe and cause skin peeling, cystic acne, breakout, skin allergies, etc. Usually, this would require medical attention.
  • Pneumonia – a dirty CPAP machine can increase the risk of pneumonia. The infection is caused by the contaminated air, that is filled with bacteria. To prevent pneumonia, it is essential to clean the CPAP equipment regularly, especially the hose, tubing, and the humidifier.
  • Pneumonitis – hypersensitivity pneumonitis is an immunological disease caused by dirty CPAP equipment directly. The contaminated air, filled with bacteria, enters the airways system and the lungs, causing the inflammation of the lung tissue. If not treated, the disease can be potentially fatal.
  • Regular cold symptoms – persistent exposure to contaminated air from the CPAP machine cause regular cold symptoms; runny nose, itchy and sore throat, or a full-blown cold with a stuffed nose and infected throat. This can interfere with the CPAP treatment and compromise the effectiveness of the therapy.
  • Regular and intense coughing – if the CPAP machine is dirty, it can become a breeding ground for mold. Mold can be rather dangerous and cause regular and intense coughing, as well as bronchitis. It can promote mucus in the throat and mouth, which can spread to the lungs and cause further respiratory diseases and infections.
  • Asthma attacks – this applies to patients who already have asthma. If they end up inhaling contaminated CPAP air, they’re more likely to have their asthma triggered. This can result in asthma symptoms or full-blown attacks.

Machine Performance And Durability Effects

The dirt in the CPAP equipment won’t only make you sick, but it will also decrease the performance efficiency of the machine and the therapy. Dirty filters won’t filter the air, a dirty humidifier won’t do a proper job at humidifying the air, etc.

Not to mention that fungi, mold, and all kinds of bacteria cause the equipment material to deteriorate. This can cause damage to the equipment, which can be potentially harmful to the patient receiving the therapy.

Therefore, alongside cleaning the equipment, it is also important to replace it regularly with new parts. For example;

  • Disposable CPAP filters should be replaced every 6 months. However, if you struggle with allergies, asthma, or other conditions, the filters should be changed even more frequently.
  • The humidifier or the water chamber should be emptied every single day, as well as washed thoroughly for the next therapy session. You should also replace the chamber every 6 months.
  • The mask should be replaced every 3 months, and the mask cushions or pillows should be replaced twice per month, in some cases even more frequently.
  • The headgear and chinstrap should also be replaced every 6 months. Dirt can cause the headgear to become discolored, to stretch and become loose where it should be tight. The same applies to the chin strap.
  • The tubing should be replaced every 3 months. Tubes and the hose get dirty pretty quickly, but, even with regular cleaning, they tend to deteriorate quickly. So, every 3 months you should buy new tubes and hose. This way you will prevent contamination and deterioration of the CPAP equipment since the tubes are connected to almost every part of the CPAP machine.

Without cleaning and regular replacement, the CPAP machine won’t perform effectively. Moreover, the dirt will promote quicker deterioration of the equipment, shortening the lifespan of the machine from several years to maybe one year at best. Not to mention that you’d be exposed to all sorts of infections and diseases in the meantime.

How Do You Know The CPAP Equipment Is Dirty?

Regardless of whether you can visibly see that your CPAP equipment is dirty or not, you should be cleaning the parts regularly. However, if you’re looking for specific signs of dirt, here’s what you should be looking for;

  • Discoloration – if there are signs of discoloration in the tubing system, the headgear, the mask, or other parts of the equipment, then the equipment is dirty. Discoloration usually indicates bacteria build-up, as well as possible mold and fungi build-up. Alongside discoloration, there can also be a change in the shape of the equipment or signs of deterioration.
  • Smell – the smell is usually a good indicator that something is going on with your CPAP equipment. If the equipment start smelling weird or musty, chances are there’s a build-up of mold, fungi, mildew, and other contaminants. This is a clear sign that you need to change or replace your equipment asap.
  • Frequent illness occurrence – if you’re experiencing frequent colds, throat, or sinus infection, this can be an indication that you’re inhaling contaminated air and that the equipment is dirty. This can be especially dangerous since it can lead to respiratory diseases and complications, and other diseases as mentioned before.
  • Skin irritation, rash, and redness – if your skin is irritated, red or if there are rashes after receiving CPAP therapy, chances are your CPAP equipment (especially the mask and headgear) is dirty. Sometimes, skin irritation can occur even after several therapies, but it can be more serious. There have been cases of cystic acne, skin peeling, and serious breakout of the skin when using a dirty mask, headgear of it the equipment is generally dirty.

Keeping The CPAP Equipment Clean

Keeping The CPAP Equipment Clean
Image Source: Terry Cralle

There are many ways and methods you can utilize to keep your CPAP equipment clean. Here are the methods you can use daily without creating a fuss;

CPAP Cleaners

CPAP cleaners are devices that are designed to provide thorough sanitization and disinfection of your CPAP equipment. These devices kill up to 99.9% of all bacteria, viruses, microorganisms, mold, fungi, etc. They usually come in a box form, where you place the equipment and simply wait for it to be cleaned. The cleaning process usually lasts up to 30 minutes. Some CPAP cleaners require soap and water, while others clean using ozone technology.

More: 4 Best CPAP Cleaners in 2021: SoClean or Lumin?

Sanitizing Wipes And Sprays

There are sanitizing wipes and sprays specially designed to clean and disinfect the CPAP machine and equipment. These can be utilized daily and are effective against pathogen buildup. They are also great against oil, grease, and dust. However, wipes and sprays alone can only provide so much disinfection; the CPAP machine and equipment usually require regular thorough cleaning alongside wipes and sprays.

Cleaning Brushes

These brushes are created for sanitization and disinfection of the tubing system or the hose. The brushes are designed to be soft but effective, so they won’t damage the tubes and the hose. These are great against, bacteria, germs, mold, and fungi, which are likely to grow in the tubes.


Vinegar and water solution is excellent for a weekly or monthly cleaning of the CPAP equipment. Even though this method is a bit time consuming when compared to the previous ones, it is rather effective. Using vinegar for sanitizing is also health-friendly because the ingredient is completely natural. All you have to do is soak the equipment in vinegar and water solution for approximately 30 minutes. After that, simply rinse thoroughly and leave to dry.


Soap and water solution is also great for equipment cleaning. All you have to do is disassemble the equipment and clean it in warm, soapy water. Then, rinse thoroughly and leave to air dry completely. If the equipment is wet when you start using it again, you are risking to attract more pathogens than when it was dirty.

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