What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your CPAP Machine?

As with any at-home medical device, proper cleanliness and disinfection help prolong your CPAP machine’s life and keep you healthy. A CPAP machine pumps pressurized air into your airway as you sleep, so you can breathe efficiently throughout the night. If a CPAP machine isn’t cleaned correctly, it can lead to numerous issues, from frequent illness and skin irritation to premature mask and component replacement.

What Happens When Your CPAP Gets Dirty?

Individuals diagnosed with sleep apnea are recommended to use a CPAP machine on a nightly basis, meaning the device’s components can become dirty quickly. Your CPAP machine can become dirty either from you or from the surrounding environment, resulting in the build-up of mold or bacteria inside your device. CPAP machines can also become contaminated from dust, germs, and allergens floating inside your home. If CPAP machine users don’t regularly clean or sanitize their device, many health issues and illnesses can occur.

How to Tell If Your CPAP Is Dirty

There are many signs CPAP machine users can look out for to know when cleaning may be necessary. However, it’s highly recommended to establish a regular cleaning schedule so you can keep everything functioning like new and not run into any issues down the road. Below are a few telltale signs CPAP machine users should be aware of that may mean it’s time to clean and disinfect.


Be conscious of the smell of your CPAP machine. If you’re noticing a musty smell, it could mean that mold, mildew, or bacteria have been collected inside your device. This usually means you need to clean its parts more frequently and change the type of water you’re using in the humidifier reservoir. Distilled water is recommended for CPAP machines because tap water causes the residue to build up and can result in a musty smell.

Dust or Discoloration

CPAP machine users should keep their device looking as it did the first day it was purchased. If you start to notice any dust or discoloration, built-up dust, dirt, and grime have likely taken over. Your CPAP machine pumps pressurized air into your airway as you sleep, making it incredibly important that it is clean and disinfected at all times to avoid any infections or illnesses.

Skin Irritation

The skin on your face is extremely sensitive and can react poorly to items that aren’t appropriately cleaned, such as your CPAP mask or even a pillowcase. If you’re recognizing unfamiliar soreness, acne, or peeling skin around the area where your CPAP mask rests, it’s likely a sign that it’s time to clean your device. Your doctor expects you to use your CPAP mask on a nightly basis, and not cleaning your CPAP machine regularly will cause your skin to pay the price resulting in discomfort.

Frequent Illnesses

A significant sign that could mean your CPAP machine is dirty is frequent illnesses and infections. If you find yourself getting sick regularly, your CPAP machine could be the primary cause. Don’t dismiss frequent illness as exposure to a sick individual or airborne viruses and bacteria. If you’re a CPAP mask user, it’s encouraged to inspect your device’s cleanliness and ensure its properly cared for.

Most Common Health Issues

There are many common health issues that CPAP machine users encounter daily, especially if their mask hasn’t been cleaned and disinfected correctly. A few of these health issues include, but are not limited to:

  • Respiratory Infection: Common Cold, Mild Flu, Tonsillitis, Laryngitis, etc.
  • Sinus Infections: Cavities around nasal passages become inflamed and can last for weeks at a time. Depending on the severity of your sinus infection, antibiotics may be needed to treat the illness correctly.
  • Pneumonia: The air sacs in one or both lungs become inflamed and may fill with fluid or pus. There are four different stages of pneumonia that range in severity. Individuals with pneumonia can experience coughing, fevers, chills, and difficulty breathing.
  • Cough: A dirty CPAP mask can cause a cough that can often last up to six weeks. A regular cough can affect your quality of life and how you perform daily tasks.
  • Pneumonitis: The tissue of your lungs becomes inflamed and can be extremely uncomfortable. Individuals with pneumonitis will experience shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue, and more.
  • Acne, Soreness, Peeling Skin: When using your CPAP mask on a nightly basis, skin cells and oils collect on your mask that can be absorbed by your skin over time. Dead skin cells and oils can lead to several issues, and regularly cleaning your mask can prevent these skin ailments from occurring.
  • Allergic Reactions: You may be experiencing an allergic reaction from a dirty CPAP mask if you’re noticing frequent sneezing, eye irritation, headaches, and throat or nose irritation.

Precautionary Measures

CPAP machine users are encouraged to become familiar with the many preventative measures to guarantee that your device stays in optimal condition. From utilizing distilled water and heated tubing to replacing components that experience wear and tear and conducting regular cleaning and disinfecting, there are many steps CPAP machine users can take to promote healthy use.

Distilled Water

It’s recommended for CPAP machine users to utilize distilled water rather than tap water. Tap water contains a lot of minerals, which can lead to scale deposits in the chamber. Over time, scale deposits can build up, and mold will eventually appear. As mold populates, it can make its way into the mineral deposits meaning CPAP machine users are at risk of inhaling mold through the tubing and mask. Distilled water has little to no minerals, meaning it creates a lower risk for regular CPAP machine users.

Heated CPAP Tubing

CPAP machine users can choose heated tubing for their device to keep the air at a comfortable temperature to allow for easy breathing. While this is hugely beneficial, heated tubes also help prevent condensation, which lowers the chance of bacteria and mold growth inside the tubing. Heated tubing is more of an investment than regular tubing, but it is worthwhile for your health and the condition of your CPAP machine.

Filter Replacement

Each component of your CPAP machine has a projected lifespan, meaning it’s incredibly important to regularly replace filters and other parts of your CPAP machine. Each CPAP mask and machine manufacturer provide users with specific guidelines and recommendations for when components should be replaced. It’s encouraged to become familiar with scheduled replacements as each part plays a critical role in optimal operation. A routine inspection of your CPAP machine will allow you to recognize any changes to components and catch damage early on.

Regular Cleaning and Disinfecting

Practicing proper cleaning and disinfecting measures will help you avoid infection risks. There are many different ways to clean your CPAP mask from warm, soapy water to a CPAP mask disinfectant. Regular cleaning should occur, but cleaning and disinfecting should take place each day if you’re sick. Cleaning and disinfecting your mask prolongs its lifespan and reduces the likelihood of getting an illness caused by your CPAP mask.

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