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Clean Machine, Better Sleep! Why Your Machine Needs Gentle TLC


by Michael Twery, PhD

Your continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine needs “gentle” care to keep working its magic. A dirty CPAP is like a tired runner – it struggles! Dust and gunk can make the machine work harder and interfere with measuring the airflow. A clean air path means smooth airflow for the pressure you need to conquer sleep apnea and wake up feeling refreshed. Gunk is also a breeding ground for icky stuff you breathe all night. Regular cleaning removes bacteria, mold, and other nasties that can lead to sinus infections and worse.

Regularly washing masks, tubing, and humidifier chamber with warm water and vinegar or a mild, fragrance-free soap works is a safe and effective cleaning method. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry completely. Using distilled water to fill the humidifier chamber will reduce the buildup of minerals and breathing water contaminants.

The Problem with Ozone and Ultraviolet (UV) Light Cleaning

While ozone (O3) and ultraviolet light are powerful industrial disinfectants, these products can degrade plastics, making it unsuitable for use with CPAP machines. The FDA issued a Safety Communication in February, 2020 recommending that devices claiming to clean, disinfect or sanitize CPAP devices or accessories (such as masks, tubing, headgear) using ozone gas or ultraviolet (UV) light are not legally marketed for this use by the FDA in the U.S.Here's a breakdown of why.

Ozone and UV Breakdown Power

Ozone is a reactive molecule composed of three oxygen atoms. This structure makes it a very reactive chemical. In simpler terms, ozone readily interacts with other molecules, breaking down their chemical bonds. This oxidizing property can be beneficial in water treatment (eliminating bacteria). Certain types of UV light (UVC) work like frying an egg.  The high energy of UVC scrambles critical molecules making up germs. However, UVC light is not a magic bullet. Germs hidden in dust and gunk are not affected, so “cleaning” is still needed. Another concern with using ozone and UVC is that these treatments quickly damage people if exposed.

Plastic's Chemical Structure

Most plastics, including those used in CPAP masks and tubing, are composed of long chains of carbon atoms linked together with other elements (hydrogen, oxygen, etc.) These chains form the backbone of the plastic, determining its strength and flexibility.

Degradation by Ozone

When ozone comes into contact with plastic, the ozone molecule interacts with the carbon chains. This disrupts the chemical bonds, causing the chains to break into smaller fragments. UVC light has the same effect. The breakdown of plastic by ozone or UVC can produce more reactive compounds the destabilize many plastics.  

Impact on CPAP Machines

Over time, ozone and UVC exposure weakens the plastic, making it brittle, cracked, and more susceptible to tearing. The degradation can cause plastic components to become:

  • Brittle: Fragile plastic parts are more prone to breaking during cleaning or use, potentially causing leaks and hindering therapy.

  • Cracked: Cracks create pathways for air leaks, reducing the effectiveness of the CPAP machine.

  • Less Flexible: Stiffened tubing can be uncomfortable for patients and restrict movement during sleep.

Safety Concerns

Degraded plastic components could pose safety risks:

  • Microplastics: Degradation can generate microplastics – tiny plastic fragments – that could be inhaled, posing potential health concerns.

  • Chemical Leaching:  The breakdown of plastic releases chemical additives suspected of interfering with our health. 

Conclusion

While ozone and UVC offers benefits for some industrial applications, their degrading effect on plastics makes these treatments unsuitable for cleaning CPAP equipment. Sticking to recommended cleaning routines ensures optimal performance, patient safety, and extends the lifespan of your CPAP machine.

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