If you’re one of the unlucky people with a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea, you’re likely familiar with a PAP machine, which stands for positive airway pressure, or the type of PAP that provides continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A PAP machine has three main components: a mask that fits over your nose (or your nose and mouth), a tube that connects the mask to the machine’s motor, and the motor which blows air through the tube and mask into your body to keep your breathing airways open.
“A PAP machine works to prevent your airways from collapsing while you sleep by forcing air into them,” said Carlos Alvarado-Valdes, Sr., MD, a pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist at Banner Health. Because the PAP machine supplies air into your body, you want to make sure it’s clean air that’s going in. “While you sleep, germs, dust and mold can be transferred from the PAP machine into your body, and vice versa,” so it’s important to keep your machine clean so it doesn’t make you sick.
Cleaning Tips for Your PAP Machine
Dr. Alvarado-Valdes has a special interest in the treatment and care of patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and other sleep disordered breathing problems, and shares this important information to make sure you’re using a clean and properly working PAP machine:
- Clean your PAP machine regularly: Assume your PAP machine is dirty any time after it’s been used. You should clean your machine regularly, at least weekly, in order for it to be effective and provide you clean air. In addition to making you sick, allowing dust and dirt to collect in your machine can make it more likely to break or need replacement, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Learn the proper way to clean your PAP machine: First and foremost, you should follow the manufacturers’ recommendations for cleaning that came with your PAP device. The two largest manufacturers of PAP machines in the U.S. recommend first wiping the exterior of the device with a dry cloth. Next, wash the humidifier tub, air tubing, and mask by soaking them in warm water with a mild detergent for about 15 minutes. If you don’t have a mild detergent, you can use a mixture of white vinegar and water (one parts vinegar to three parts water). Then rinse the parts thoroughly with water and allow them to air dry out of direct sunlight.
- Know when it’s time to replace your PAP device: If the air pressure settings feel uncomfortable (too high or too low), if the machine starts to become noisy, or if you get a warning message indicating impending malfunction, your device may be near the end of its use. Most health insurance providers allow for PAP machine replacement every five years, however, many PAP machines can work properly even after five years if well-cleaned and taken care of.
In this time of concern about COVID-19, Brandie Anderson, RN, MPH, CIC, infection prevention director at Banner - University Medical Center Tucson, advises patients to consult with the provider who manages their PAP machine if they have been diagnosed with the disease, about using their machine at home.