If you use a CPAP machine for your sleep apnea, you’re part of a large and fast-growing club: There are 8 million CPAP users in the United States, and that number is increasing by 8 to 9 percent each year.

Cleaning your CPAP machine is absolutely essential. Your equipment accumulates dirt, sweat, and other debris that can lead to the development of bacteria, potentially causing illnesses. Using a CPAP cleaner can speed up the disinfection process and make sure most germs and bacteria are gone. But it’s also possible to clean your CPAP by hand using everyday ingredients found at home.

Read on to learn more about CPAP cleaning machines and whether or not they’re essential.

A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is most commonly prescribed for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA can cause interruptions or pauses in your breathing while you sleep. A CPAP machine helps send a steady flow of pressured air into your nose and/or mouth as you snooze.

A CPAP machine device is programmed to produce pressurized air at one steady level. Regular use can help improve your quality of sleep, lower your risk of having a heart attack, help lower your blood pressure, and reduce daytime sleepiness.

A CPAP cleaning machine aims to thoroughly sanitize your CPAP machine and its accompanying accessories, including the mask, headgear tubing, and the water chamber. It’s important to regularly clean your CPAP machine because bacteria, fungi, and viruses can grow in CPAPs. Allergins, dust, dirt, mold, and pollen can also get into them.

CPAP cleaning machines use a few different methods to get the job done: ozone, UV light, and disinfecting tablets. Here’s how each of these methods works:

  • Ozone gas. Ozone, also called activated oxygen, is a reactive gas that occurs both naturally and in man-made forms. Ozone is effective, but is not authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clean CPAP machines. It’s important to follow the instructions on how to use cleaners with ozone. Most machines include a filter to turn ozone back into normal oxygen. The FDA has not approved ozone as a way to clean CPAP machines.
  • UV light. Some CPAP cleaners use UV rays — the same kind of light that’s used in hospital rooms — to target bacteria and fungi. Although UV light is a safer option, it takes longer. UV light has not been authorized by the FDA to clean CPAP machines.
  • Disinfecting tablets. While the majority of CPAP cleaning machines focus on other methods, some cleaners do call for disinfecting tablets, which you drop into the machine and add water, just like running a load of laundry.

Although you should clean your CPAP machine consistently, the FDA has issued a warning against at-home CPAP cleaning devices that use ozone or UV light as cleaning mechanisms. This is because they’re not legally marketed for cleaning purposes. But you can still clean your CPAP machine using the following ingredients:

  • a mild soap (preferably unscented and without moisturizing ingredients)
  • white vinegar (if you use a humidifier tank)
  • warm water
  • a sink, tub, or bucket
  • a clean towel

To properly clean your CPAP machine, you should unplug it and then disassemble it. You can wash the tubing with warm, soapy water, but the inside of the tubing should be cleaned by submerging it long enough for it to fill up with soap and water.

Each part of the mask, cushion, and headgear can be washed with a mild and oil-free soap. If you use a humidifier tank, you can soak it with equal parts warm water and vinegar.

Lastly, all machine parts should be soaked with cold water once you’re done cleaning them. From there, you can set them each on a clean towel to air dry. Hoses and tubing dry better if they’re hung up.

You should only reassemble your machine once all parts are fully dry.

If you still decide that you want to purchase a CPAP cleaning machine, there are a few things that you should keep in mind:

  • What’s the cleaning mechanism? Many CPAP cleaning machines use ozone gas, also called activated oxygen, to effectively kill bacteria. Ozone is highly reactive and destroys microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. Ozone can be toxic at high levels, so make sure the machine you’re looking at keeps the ozone inside the machine. Other cleaners may use ultraviolet (UV) light or disinfecting tablets. Neither ozone or UV are FDA-approved cleaning machanisms.
  • Is it portable? If you sometimes travel with your CPAP machine, you’ll want to take the accompanying cleaner, too. This means that you’ll want the cleaner to be as compact and lightweight as possible.
  • How do you charge it? Some CPAP cleaners take batteries, while others recharge via electrical outlet or USB port. This aspect of CPAP machines comes down to personal preference.

How do I use a CPAP cleaning machine?

CPAP cleaning machines are typically intuitive to use and come with full instructions. With most machines, you simply place your CPAP headgear and mask inside and press a button. You’ll take your CPAP pieces back out after the cleaning and drying cycle is through.

How often should I clean my CPAP machine?

Ideally, you should clean your CPAP mask, the mask cushion, and the humidifier water tub once a week.

Are CPAP cleaning machines covered by insurance?

Insurance policies do not cover CPAP cleaning machines and supplies. Insurance companies don’t consider these machines as essential. You’ll have to pay for the cost of a CPAP cleaner out of pocket.

Is a CPAP cleaning machine worth it?

CPAP cleaning machines are not necessary. Because the most common cleaning mechanisms aren’t FDA-approved, we don’t recommend purchasing a CPAP cleaning machine that utilizes ozone or UV light. It’s possible to clean your CPAP mask and other equipment by hand.

Cleaning your CPAP machine is essential to prioritize your health as you use the equipment night after night. Cleaning your CPAP machine can be done by hand. CPAP cleaning machines that use UV light or ozone are not FDA-approved.

With a clean CPAP machine, you’ll be able to sleep tight knowing that your materials are as clean as they can be.

Hailey Hudson is a full-time freelance writer and content marketer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She focuses on the health, marketing, and education industries. Clients include Livestrong, Runner’s World, Dell, and others. Hailey is also a novelist and a musician.