COVID-19 has completely upended our normal way of life — especially for individuals who fall into a high-risk group. This actually includes many people who use CPAP or BiPAP machines, as having a pre-existing respiratory condition has been confirmed to increase the risk of death or severe complications from the coronavirus.
As of this writing, over 560,000 cases and 22,000 deaths have been confirmed in the United States. In an effort to stop the spread, people are practicing social distancing, and giving renewed emphasis to recommended sanitary practices like washing hands for a full 20 seconds and avoiding touching their face.
With so much focus on slowing the spread of this deadly virus, it is only natural that CPAP users’ thoughts would shift to keeping their equipment clean and sanitary. Even if no one in your house has COVID-19, following these cleaning guidelines will reduce your risk for respiratory illness and help you make the most of your CPAP equipment.
The Importance of CPAP Cleaning
At a basic level, the importance of CPAP cleaning is fairly straightforward. The machine supplies a steady flow of air through your mask and tubing while in use. As the air travels through the tube and mask to help you avoid sleep apnea episodes, it has the potential for collecting bacteria, dust, or viruses that may have accumulated on these plastic components.
The most common contaminants in a CPAP system actually come from you. Facial oils and dead skin cells will naturally rub off on the mask, and can begin circulating through your CPAP equipment. The germs that you breathe out can cause bacteria to grow.
This is especially likely if you use a humidifier. While the humidity will make the forced airflow more comfortable, this also creates the conditions bacteria need to thrive. The humidity can even contribute to the growth of mold, yeast, or viruses, particularly if standing water used in the humidifier isn’t cleaned regularly. This could create the ideal environment for COVID-19.
Failure to clean your CPAP equipment will do more than just make it smell bad (though that will certainly happen as well). Failure to clean your mask will likely cause skin irritation as the oils and dead skin cells come in contact with your face. Red rashes and sores, or even acne may occur. Your mask and tubing may also become visibly discolored as bacterial buildup worsens.
Most serious, however, is the increased risk for respiratory infections that occurs when you do not clean your equipment properly. As bacteria, viruses, and mold are allowed to thrive, they circulate in the air each time you use your CPAP machine. Even the Harvard Medical School agrees that failing to clean CPAP machines on a regular basis increases your risk for getting sick. Sinus infections, a recurring cough, or even more severe respiratory issues are all more likely to occur.
A lack of cleaning can also damage the CPAP equipment itself. The oils in your skin can accelerate wear of your silicone mask. The deterioration would cause the mask to no longer form an airtight seal, reducing the effectiveness of your treatment and potentially causing eye irritation as air leaks from around the bridge of your nose. Mineralization from water that hasn’t been cleaned out could also reduce the lifespan of the humidifier water chamber and other components.
What if Someone in Your Home Has COVID-19?
The importance of cleaning your CPAP equipment on a regular basis is obvious when it comes to avoiding respiratory infections and keeping your equipment in top condition. But such precautions become even more vital if you or someone in your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
While some early reports suggested that CPAP machines could be used as an alternative to the ventilators being used to help COVID-19 patients, further analysis has proven that this is not advisable. Even when a face mask is properly fitted, small air leaks still occur. If COVID-19 is present, these leaks, combined with the flow of pressurized air, would be enough to spread the virus throughout the room.
So what should CPAP users do? As NPR reports, “Dr. Christopher Winter, a sleep medicine specialist in Charlottesville, Va., said people who rely on CPAP machines at home for sleep apnea can continue to use them as long as they have no symptoms of COVID-19. But they should speak to their physicians if they develop upper respiratory symptoms, to help determine whether they should continue…Anybody who uses a CPAP machine at home, he said, may want to sleep in a separate room from loved ones to avoid infecting them. That's true even if the person with apnea doesn't have any COVID-19 symptoms.”
For many patients, these recommendations present new challenges. Should you allow yourself to temporarily suffer from sleep apnea, especially when so many COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic? Because the severity of symptoms and risk level can vary so much from person to person, your best option is to follow CPAP sanitation guidelines and ask your doctor about any changes you may need to make.
Basic Cleaning Techniques
So how can you make sure that your CPAP device is adequately cleaned to reduce your risk of respiratory infections? Though standard CPAP cleaning can be somewhat time consuming, it is still fairly straightforward.
You can actually clean your CPAP equipment in a sanitized sink or basin that has been filled with warm water and mild dish soap. This cleaning should be performed every day to minimize the potential for bacterial growth. You won’t need to wash the machine itself — just the mask, tubing, and water chamber. Disconnect these components from the CPAP machine and place them in the water.
You could use vinegar as an alternative to dish soap, but never use bleach or heavily scented cleaning products. These products could damage your equipment or cause irritation later when you put on your CPAP mask.
Depending on how dirty your mask is, you may wish to wipe it down with CPAP mask wipes. These alcohol and latex free products leave a mild, pleasant scent and effectively remove facial oils and other contaminants from your mask.
Wash the mask, tubing, and water chamber, then allow them to soak in the sink for half an hour. Rinse them off with clean water. Wipe down the mask with a clean cloth. Be sure to rinse the inside of the tubing. It may also be helpful to use a specialty tube cleaning brush, which uses a long, flexible handle and a nylon bristle brush to remove any buildup that may have occurred in the middle of the tube.
After everything has been washed and rinsed, allow it to air dry. Hang the tube over a towel bar or shower rod so that both ends are pointed toward the floor. This will allow any water trapped inside to drain out. Once everything is dry, you can reconnect it to your CPAP machine. The machine itself doesn’t need to be cleaned every day, though it may benefit from being wiped down with a damp washcloth once per week.
Take care to not overlook your CPAP machine’s filters. Many CPAP devices come with both disposable and reusable filters. The disposable filters need to be replaced every two weeks, while reusable filters should be washed and air dried on a regular basis. Cleaning and replacing the filters helps keep dust and other airborne contaminants from getting into the machine.
While this basic cleaning can be effective, it doesn’t negate the need for replacing these CPAP components according to the schedule recommended by your device manufacturer. Exposure to your skin and natural wear and tear makes these parts more likely to develop leaks over time. Pitting and cracking also makes it easier for bacteria to get trapped in the equipment, where even your best cleaning efforts won’t be enough to fully eliminate it.
Speciality Cleaning Devices
While hand washing can certainly be effective, many CPAP users simply don’t have the time to thoroughly wash their equipment each day. If you’re looking for an easier and more effective solution, there are thankfully several specialty cleaning and sanitation devices available.
The VirtuClean CPAP Mask Automatic Cleaner is one of the newer options available in this space, though it has become quite popular thanks to its fast cleaning time and portability. The device runs a 30-minute cleaning cycle in which it uses activated oxygen (or ozone) to clean the face mask, tubing, and water chamber.
The mask and tubing are placed in the VirtuCLEAN’s bag, while the tubing is hooked up to connect the bag to the VirtuCLEAN device. The system operates quietly and features a countdown so you can know when the cleaning is complete. It can even be set up with compliance reminders to help you remember to clean your equipment.
Similar to the VirtuCLEAN, the Sleep8 CPAP Sanitizing Companion offers a portable sanitizing solution. The water chamber, mask, and tubing are all placed inside the Sleep8’s filter bag. Once the bag is zipped closed, the Sleep8 device attaches to the bag using a triangular port and valve system. Once the device and big are firmly connected, you simply press the start button and the activated oxygen cleaning cycle will run automatically.
One of the most popular sanitation devices is the SoClean 2 Automated CPAP Cleaner and Sanitizer. Though this system is not portable, its ability to eliminate 99.9 percent of germs and bacteria has been confirmed through third-party lab testing. As with other sanitation devices, it uses activated oxygen, and there is no need for pre-washing or chemicals.
After the initial setup, you don’t have to disassemble your CPAP equipment to run a cleaning cycle. A supply tube is attached to the water chamber when setting up the SoClean 2 — though for select ResMed and Respironics products, an additional adapter may be necessary. Once the system has been set up, simply place the mask inside the device (which has a space for the hose to stick out), close the lid, and turn it on. The automated cycle is completed in 120 minutes. The device is backed by a two-year warranty, and straightforward filter cartridge replacements make it easy to maintain.
While the “right” sanitation device may vary from person to person, each of these devices offers the advantages of extremely effective cleaning with activated oxygen, which eliminates nearly all harmful pathogens in your CPAP equipment. Automatic cleaning cycles allow you to take a “set it and forget it” approach to cleaning, so that you can start a cleaning cycle when you leave for work in the morning and know that everything is ready for use by the time you get home.
By making it easier to follow cleaning guidelines, such devices go a long way in helping you reduce your risk for respiratory illness — something that is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sanitary, Safe CPAP Equipment
Taking time out for CPAP cleaning may not seem like a big deal under normal circumstances — and this is probably why so many people overlook it. But during the current pandemic, an increased emphasis on personal hygiene should also extend to the way you care for your CPAP equipment.
By taking the time to clean and sanitize your equipment each day, it will be easier for you to remain compliant with your sleep apnea therapy, and to minimize your risk of respiratory illnesses.
While we certainly live in challenging and uncertain times, our team at No Insurance Medical Supplies is committed to helping you continue to get the CPAP equipment you need for effective therapy. Whether you need to replace your CPAP mask or are interested in purchasing sanitization equipment, we are doing our best to continue fulfilling orders as normally as possible — and doing so at an affordable price.
We may not know how long COVID-19 will continue to disrupt our normal routines, but a commitment to CPAP cleaning should be a lasting change in your life. Start this good habit now so you can enjoy healthy breathing and quality sleep for years to come.