How Dirty is Your CPAP?

I had to fight nausea a few times when I was handed a excessively dirty CPAP mask.

We have seen our fair share of stomach churning dirty CPAP masks come into our store over the years. I often ask myself how or why someone would continue to use such a dirty piece of equipment, especially something that comes in contact with their face nightly. What I have found in conversations with these sleep apnea sufferers is that they were never told nor realized they needed to replace the mask, much less any other parts to their therapy.

Most people remember to change their oil, furnace filter, or computer password every 3 months but are unaware that their CPAP supplies should be inspected and replaced just as often. This is an important piece of information that may have slipped your mind or maybe your original home health care company may have not mentioned it to you. Unfortunately for a lot of people that are prescribed therapy there is little follow up and support to promote long term compliance and effectiveness. Once you leave the sleep lab, where the specialists there really do care about your PAP success, you are referred to a home health company where sleep apnea makes up a small percentage of their overall “customers” and people fall through the cracks when it comes to CPAP resupply or Re-PAP (an industry buzzword).

You could be “sleeping with the enemy” if you do not take proper care of your CPAP components.

Do you know when it’s time to replace your disposable supplies? Many of the newer model machines have date stamped activated alarm notifications that prompt you to replace components but many people ignore them or put it on the back burner. Delaying the replacing of these parts can lead to adverse effects or reactions such as skin irritation, contact dermatitis, sinus discomfort, bacteria exposure, inadequate pressure to treat your apnea and/or rhinitis.

Filters: What Are You Breathing In?

CPAP machine models vary when it comes to the type of filters used to keep dust and debris from entering into the fan motor and components. Some models use a single poly fiber material type of filter and some use a combination of a foam filter with a poly fiber. The poly fiber filters are disposable and should be replaced every 1-3 months or once noticeable dirt and debris has built up on the filter. Foam filters can be hand washed and left to air dry and are considered reusable. For those of us that are susceptible to allergies, hypo-allergenic filters are just the right ticket.

Respironics CPAP Machine Filter
Replacing Your CPAP Filters Promotes Longer Machine Life

Keep in mind that if you live in an area that creates a lot of air particulate, whether you are living in a new neighborhood with many houses being developed or you live in an area that has sandstorms, you may want to change your filters on a more frequent basis. Trust us when we say it is a lot less expensive to replace your CPAP filters than it is to replace a new CPAP machine.

CPAP Mask Cushion: Facing Leak Problems Head On .

Your gel or silicone cushion insert typically receives the harshest amount of build up because it is exposed to facial oils every night it is used. Whether you use a full face, nasal, or nasal pillow (a cushion type that goes directly into your nostril to provide a seal), you need to replace these products every 1-3 months. Over time the facial oils will cause the silicone to harden and more susceptible to your CPAP air escaping and not being delivered properly. CPAP mask wipes come in handy and will promote a longer life and better seal while also saving you time. The cushion should be cleaned daily with either the wipes or a solution of soapy water. Use something that is low in alkaline such as baby soap that does not use harsh ingredients.

Discoloration of the cushion seal is a very good indicator that it’s to be replaced. Most inserts are a clear silicone and over time it will begin to turn a yellow/gold color which means it time to replace it. The good news in most cases is that you can simply replace certain components of the CPAP mask instead of replacing the entire system.

Headgear Strap: Hold On Tight.

Oils, dirt and hair care products collect on fabric headgear causing build up. Some headgears can be thrown in the washing machine and left out to air dry however over time it will lose elasticity and lead to “over-strapping” which causes mask discomfort. These straps can be replaced on most masks without the need of replacing the entire mask system. Sometimes your headgear may last longer than your cushion, allowing you to replace necessary components as needed.

Water Chamber Tub: Don’t Go Near the Water.

Cleaning CPAP Parts
Humidifier Chamber on the Right After 6 Months of Use Without Proper Cleaning

Therapy devices that use a heated humidifier include a water chamber tub or reservoir that holds the distilled water. I am just a guilty as the next CPAP user when it comes to using tap water in times of need however continuous use of tap water will lead to corrosive build up and deposits on the water chamber. There are few options to promote a longer life of your water chamber. You can purchase “cleanable” versions which allow you to take the water chamber apart for a thorough cleaning and in some cases, place in the dishwasher or use disposable tubs that should be cleaned often and replaced every 6-12 months.

Hose Tubing: That’s Not an Elephant Trunk.

Your CPAP hose is exposed to moisture from your humidifier on a nightly basis and can be susceptible to bacteria build up if not properly cleaned. The tube is recommended to be cleaned daily and the best method we suggest is to take it in the shower with you and rinse thoroughly with warm soapy water and hang it over the shower rod to drip dry. For a more thorough disinfection you can submerge in a 1 part vinegar 4 part water solution for 15 minutes and rinse thoroughly before use. A Tube Brush Cleaner works very well on the tubes that have a rippled or grooved design.

Helpful Products

Looking for an easier way to keep up with the cleaning and maintenance of your therapy accessories? Check out these time saving products to help make your life easier to keep your sleep apnea products sanitized.

Comfort and Cleaning Supplies


CPAP Mask Wipes

Recommended Replacement Schedule

    • CPAP Mask (Nasal, Full Face, & Pillows) – replace every 6-12 months
    • Nasal Replacement Cushion – replace every 1-3 months
    • Pillows Replacement Cushion – replace every 1-3 months
    • Headgear – replace every 1-3 months
    • Chinstrap – replace every 3-6 months
    • Tubing – replace every 1-3 months
    • Air Filter – replace every month
    • Full Face Cushion – replace every 1-3 months
    • Water Chamber- replace every 3 months

About the Author


Jason Smith is recognized by the board of polysomnographic technologists (BRPT) as a registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) since 2003. He is also Director of Clinical Operations for 6 multi-state sleep diagnostic facilities including the nation’s largest 20 bed sleep disorder testing center. Jason has also been a Co-Author with two research publications featured in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.