How to Clean Your Asthma Inhaler

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In order for your asthma inhaler to work effectively, you'll need to care for it properly. If it isn't cleaned regularly and stored correctly, it can harbor debris or bacteria. That, in turn, can prevent you from getting the adequate amount of medication in your lungs or lead to respiratory infections—which, as a person with asthma, you already are at an increased risk of.

Certain general cleaning principles apply to all inhalers, like making sure they are dry before use. But different types have different needs, and your specific inhaler may have its own set of maintenance instructions.

Woman using a bronchodilator, France
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What Type of Inhaler Do You Have?

Each type of inhaler includes medication and a delivery device that you place on or in your mouth. The medication and the device should be kept clean, dry, and free of contamination.

The first step in properly cleaning your inhaler is knowing which type you have:

  • Dry powdered inhalers (DPIs) like Advair Diskus and Flovent Discus are breath-actuated. That is, you tightly place your lips around a small mouthpiece and breathe in to get the medication into your lungs.
  • Metered dose inhalers (MDIs)* like Qvar, Proventil, and Ventolin contain medication in a metal canister that is placed in an inhaler device with a plastic mouthpiece. You place your lips tightly around the mouthpiece and a propellant (rather than your own breath) pushes the medication into your lungs. These inhalers are also called HFAs because they contain hydrofluoroalkane, a propellant that was introduced when chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) propellants were phased out by the Food and Drug Administration due to environmental concerns. An important difference between CFC inhalers and HFA inhalers is the latter need to be cleaned.
  • A nebulizer treatment like Symbicort or Dulera uses a machine to vaporize the medication so you can breathe it in through a mask that's placed over your mouth and nose.
  • Soft mist inhalers like Respimat use a liquid-containing machine to create an aerosol cloud of medication. These devices deliver medication more slowly and for a longer duration than nebulizers.
Inhaler Type Special Concerns for Cleaning
DPI If wet or not cleaned, the consistency of the medication can be altered, changing the dose of medication inhaled.
MDI If the device is not cleaned, the medicine can build up and clog the device, preventing it from spraying properly.
Nebulizer If you don't clean it, there's a risk of infection from build-up of debris and bacteria on the machine. Additionally, the tubing can get clogged and degrade faster if a nebulizer isn't cleaned and dried.
Soft mist If not cleaned, the tubing can become clogged and bacteria can build up, increasing the risk of infection.

Inhaler Cleaning Instructions

A key component of cleaning your inhaler is keeping your medication dry. It's important not to touch the medication or the inside of any device with your hands. Even freshly scrubbed hands have some bacteria on them.

Some parts of an HFA inhaler and a nebulizer device can be washed with water, but never boiled. You shouldn't wet any part of your dry powdered inhaler device when you clean it.

Attachments like mouthpieces or face masks may be intended for long-term use or meant to be replaced periodically. If you use a separate mouthpiece or face mask, clean and thoroughly dry it according to instructions.

HFA/MDI Inhalers

You can clean your inhaler once per day or after every use if you use it less often than once per day, as may be the case with a rescue inhaler.

  1. Remove the medication canister from the mouthpiece.
  2. Wash the mouthpiece under warm water for 30 seconds. Gently shake off excess water.
  3. Do not wash the medication canister or get it wet.
  4. Do not wipe inside the spacer if you have one.
  5. Let the mouthpiece dry thoroughly.
  6. Place the medication canister back into the mouthpiece for use.

Dry Powdered Inhalers

After each use, dry the mouthpiece with a clean, dry cloth. Don't brush the spacer if you use one with your dry powdered inhaler.

Nebulizers and Soft Mist Inhalers

Clean your nebulizer or soft mist inhaler device every week. These devices have many parts, and taking care of them is more involved than taking care of HFA/MDI or dry powdered inhalers. Before doing so, wash your hands thoroughly.

  1. Make sure your device is unplugged.
  2. Take it apart.
  3. Wash the mouthpiece with soap and water.
  4. If your device is dishwasher safe, you can wash parts of it in the top rack of your dishwasher.
  5. Do not wash the tubing.
  6. Let it air dry before you use it again.

A nebulizer filter should be replaced as directed by the manufacturer.

Your device will include instructions for how often and under what circumstances the tubing and filter should be replaced. If the tubing seems dirty, cracked, or isn't working well, call the manufacturer for guidance even if it isn't time to replace it.

Your device likely comes with specific instructions for care, including how often it should be cleaned and how. Follow those specific instructions rather than general cleaning guidelines.

Store your device in a clean, dry place when you aren't using it.

What Happens If I Don't Clean My Inhaler?

If an inhaler gets clogged, it may deliver inconsistent amounts of medication to your lungs, which could potentially worsen asthma symptoms, among them:

What's more, when an inhaler is not otherwise properly maintained, the device can harbor bacteria, viruses, or fungi that could then be inhaled directly into the lungs. This obviously would increase the risk of a respiratory infection.

Use Your Inhaler Correctly

Using an inhaler isn't always intuitive. Your doctor or another member of your medical team will show you how to use the specific type you have, of course, but it never hurts to review the steps—especially when you're new to your device.

For an MDI/HFA, first remove the cap and shake the device. If you're using a dry powder inhaler, you won't need to shake it first.

For both a dry powder or HFA inhaler:

  1. Exhale fully.
  2. Place the mouthpiece in your mouth and breathe in.
  3. Hold your breath for a few seconds to allow the full dose of medicine to reach your lungs.
  4. Then breathe slowly and deeply.

If you use a nebulizer, learn how to properly position the mask on your face and how to place the medication in the device.

A Word From Verywell

Cleaning your asthma inhaler is a part of your asthma care. Make sure you know how to clean it properly, and establish a cleaning routine so you won't forget to do it. Keep in mind that if you use more than one type of asthma device, they may each need to be cleaned differently.

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Article Sources
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  5. National Asthma Education and Prevention Program. Asthma tipsheet. Updated 2013.

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