How to Clean Your Asthma Inhaler

Table of Contents
View All

Asthma inhalers can become such a part of daily living with asthma that caring for them is often overlooked. But it's important that inhalers are cleaned regularly and properly. Without adequate this, debris or bacteria can build-up, resulting in problems like an infection or inadequate medication delivery to your lungs.

Some 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.

What Type of Inhaler Do You Have?

Each type of inhaler includes asthma 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 knowing how to properly clean your inhaler knowing exactly which type you have. Possibilities include:

  • Dry powdered inhaler (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, but a propellant (rather than your own breath) pushes the medication into your lungs. These inhalers are also called HFAs because they contain hydrofluoroalkane.
  • 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.

*The Food and Drg Administration (FDA) phased out MDIs containing chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) propellants to be replaced with HFA propellants due to environmental concerns. One of the important differences between your CFC inhalers and HFA inhalers is that latter need to be cleaned.

Inhaler Type Special Concerns
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, so it won't spray 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 the devices aren't cleaned and dried.
    Soft mist

    If not cleaned, the tubing can become clogged and bacteria can build up, potentially causing an 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 (because even your clean 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 to be replaced periodically. If you use a separate mouthpiece or face mask, be sure to clean and thoroughly dry that according to instructions as well.

    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 (which 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 any 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

    You should 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.

    1. Be sure your device is unplugged.
    2. Take your device apart (with clean hands).
    3. Wash the mouthpiece with soap and water.
    4. You can wash parts of your device in the top rack of your dishwasher if it is dishwasher safe.
    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 about how often and under what circumstances you need to replace the tubing and filter. If the tubing seems dirty, cracked, or like it isn't working, be sure to call the manufacturer for assistance even if it isn't time to replace it.

    Keep in mind that your device might have specific instructions, including the frequency of cleaning. If your device manufacturer recommends a specific cleaning solution or method, you should follow those specific instructions rather than general cleaning guidelines.

    Storing your device in a clean, dry place is important as well.

    What Happens If I Don't Clean My Inhaler?

    If an inhaler gets clogged, irregular or inconsistent amounts of medication may be delivered to your lungs, worsening asthma symptoms.

    If your device isn't delivering medication as it should, you can experience increased:

    And when an inhaler is not otherwise properly maintained, the device can harbor bacteria, viruses, or fungi that could lead to a respiratory infection. Because of how inhalers work, this means you can inhale infectious microorganisms directly into your lungs when using a contaminated device.

    This is particularly concerning since having asthma makes you especially susceptible to lung infections already.

    Symptoms of a respiratory infection can include:

    • Fever
    • Cough
    • Congestion
    • Fatigue
    • Difficulty breathing

    Use Your Inhaler Correctly

    After cleaning your inhaler you will want to make sure that you use it correctly. Using an inhaler isn't always intuitive. Since there are different types, it's better to check and make sure you know how to use yours rather than guessing.

    See if someone from your medical team can show you what to do. And then you can take the time to demonstrate how you are using it.

    For an MDI/HFA, make sure you begin by removing the cap and shaking before you inhale. When using a dry powder inhaler, you normally won't need to shake it first.

    For both of a dry powder or HFA inhaler:

    1. Exhale right before you use the inhaler,
    2. Place the mouthpiece in your mouth and breathe in.
    3. Hold your breath for a few seconds to ensure that the medicine gets into your lungs.
    4. Then breathe slowly and deeply.

    And with a nebulizer, you need to know 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 get yourself on 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.

    Was this page helpful?
    Article Sources
    Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
    1. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Dry powder inhaler definition. Updated 2020.

    2. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma treatment. Updated September 2015.

    3. Sorino C, Negri S, Spanevello A, Visca D, Scichilone N. Inhalation therapy devices for the treatment of obstructive lung diseases: the history of inhalers towards the ideal inhalerEur J Intern Med. 2020;75:15‐18. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2020.02.023

    4. Food and Drug Administration. Transition from CFC Propelled Albuterol Inhalers to HFA Propelled Albuterol Inhalers: Questions and Answers. Updated February 28, 2018.

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

    6. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Quick asthma card.

    7. Janežič A, Locatelli I, Kos M. Inhalation technique and asthma outcomes with different corticosteroid-containing inhaler devices. J Asthma. 2020;57(6):654-662.doi:10.1080/02770903.2019.1591442