Alaska Sleep Education Center

Dirty or Broken CPAP is Not Healthy

Posted by Julia Higginson on Dec 7, 2019 8:44:00 AM



You depend on your CPAP or BiPAP equipment to help you breath better while you sleep each night. Your machine is taking care of your well-being every time you strap on the mask. But are you taking the time to take care of your machine?

Taking good care of your equipment is paramount to the success of your therapy. A dirty or broken machine translates into compromised therapy. That means you are back to not getting a good night's sleep because your equipment isn’t working right. Or you are breathing in dirty or even moldy air.

CPAP and BiPAP equipment need to be cared for and cleaned on a regular basis. Join us over the next few weeks as we discuss the signs of dirty or worn out equipment and how to care for your machine so you are getting the best therapy possible.

Dirty Factors

Have you ever left a water bottle out on the counter for several days? The end result is usually a layer of film that looks and feels disgusting. The film is actually the start of mold. The same effect can happen if you don’t regularly clean your equipment.

Your CPAP or BiPAP machine was sterile when you got it fresh out of the box. Over time, your own germs from your mouth make their way into the mask, tubing, or device itself.

Most machines have a humidifier built in so you aren’t breathing in dry air. You are also introducing new hazards to your equipment the moment you add in distilled water to the humidifier chamber.

You have probably been taught to use distilled water instead of tap water for your humidifier. The reason being is that tap water can leave hard, white mineral deposits in the chamber. The mineral deposits can make it hard for your equipment to function. But did you know that the mineral deposits could also lead to mold growth?

Another hazard is leaving water in the chamber. It may be tempting to reuse water each night, especially when there is leftover water. The water is heated up in your machine making it the prime breading ground for bacteria and mold. Leaving water in the chamber for an extended period of time allows for more opportunities for bacteria and mold to multiple and replenish. 

Signs of dirty or broken equipment

You might not realize that your CPAP or BiPAP machine is harboring dirt or mold. However, there are signs you can look for that can warn you about dirty equipment. The common signs include:

  • You notice an off smell. If your equipment smells rancid or like mildew, your probably are looking at mold.
  • You see a film on the sides of the chamber or floaties in the water.
  • You get frequent sinus or respiratory infections.
  • Your skin is becoming irritated. The oils and dirt from your face can build on the mask causing skin irritation.

Besides looking for dirt and mold, you need to make sure that your equipment is functioning properly. A broken CPAP or BiPAP machine can mean your therapy isn’t going to work as well.

The signs that your CPAP and BiPAP equipment is broken or no longer working properly might be subtle. There are several things you can look for to see if your equipment needs to be adjusted or replaced.

The first thing you should look for is a return of breathing symptoms. For example, if your snoring as resolved while using your CPAP treatment, a return of snoring might indicate that your equipment isn’t fitting properly from broken or worn out mask pieces. Or it could mean that you need to adjust your settings again.

Or if you suddenly notice that the air you are breathing is cold or lukewarm you may be dealing with a broken humidifier. Cold air indicates that the hot plate that heats your humidifier might need replacing.

Breathing in dry, warm air can mean that the humidifier’s settings need to be adjusted or that you are not filling the chamber up with the right amount of water.

Are you starting to feel sleepy during the day despite the same amount of sleep? You may be getting insufficient pressure from you CPAP machine. A change in age or weight usually means that you need to adjust your pressure to a higher level. If nothing has changed, your machine might not be working correctly and needs to be adjusted.

The age of your equipment should also be considered if your therapy isn’t going well. Inspect your machine for cracks or wear. Odd noises or a lack of air pressure despite adjustments could mean your machine is too old to function properly. The current recommendation is to replace your CPAP every five years [1].


Dangers of dirty equipment

Your humidifier is probably heated to create warm and moist air for your comfort. The warm and moist air is meant to decrease mouth and nose dryness. Mouth and nose dryness is linked to an increase risk of inflammation and infection.

The very device that was designed to reduce your risk of infection is also a favorite environment for fungus, yeast, bacteria, and mold. The proper use and care of your humidifier will reduce the risk of “stuff” growing in your chamber. Mold is more likely to grow when water is left in the chamber for long periods of time without any cleaning or replacing.

Beside the “ick” factor of mold growing in your equipment, breathing in these organisms can cause a host of health problems. 

Breathing in mold, yeast, or bacteria can lead to irritation and inflammation of your airways. You could also possibly develop a cough or asthma symptoms. You could even come down with an infection like bronchitis or pneumonia.

Dirty equipment can also cause an allergic reaction. New and unexplained allergy symptom such as headache, sneezing, coughing, or irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, or lungs should alert you to the possibility that your equipment is dirty or moldy [2].

As with any new symptoms, check with your physician first to rule out any fungal or bacterial infections that should be treated with antibiotics.

There are steps you can take to reduce or even eliminate the risk that come with broken or dirty equipment. Check out Alaska Sleep Clinic’s blog next week for tips on how to clean and take care of your equipment.

Don’t hesitate to call us today if you have any questions about whether your equipment is working or not.

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[2] Sanner BM et al. “Effect of continuous positive airway pressure therapy on infectious complications in patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.” Respiration. 2001; 68(5):483-7.


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