How to Clean Your Asthma Inhaler

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Managing your asthma includes taking care of your asthma inhaler and keeping it clean. Some general cleaning principles apply to all inhalers—like making sure they are dry before use. And your inhaler device will also include its own maintenance instructions.

Without adequate cleaning, debris or bacteria can build-up on the inhaler, resulting in problems like an infection or inadequate medication delivery to your lungs. You can learn how to clean your inhaler and make a schedule to ensure that you don't forget to do it.

What Type of Inhalers Need Cleaning

There are several types of asthma inhalers, and they are cleaned a little differently. Each type of inhaler includes asthma medication and a delivery device that you place on or in your mouth. The key is that the medication and the device should be kept clean, dry, and free of contamination.

  • Dry powdered inhalers are breath-actuated—meaning you have to inhale the medication to get it into your lungs. These inhalers don't push the medication into your system the way metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) do. To use a dry powdered inhaler, you tightly place your lips around a small mouthpiece.
  • A nebulizer treatment uses a machine to vaporize the medication so you can breathe it in through a mask that's placed over your mouth and nose.
  • MDIs 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, similarly to the way a dry powdered inhaler is used. These inhalers are also called HFAs because they use hydrofluoroalkane as a propellant to push out the medication.

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 old CFC inhaler and your new HFA inhaler is that HFA inhalers need to be cleaned.

How to Clean Your Inhaler

A key component of cleaning your inhaler is keeping your medication dry. 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.

HFA/MDI Inhaler

You can clean your inhaler once per day, or after every use if you use it less often than once per day (such as 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 before replacing the medication canister.
  6. Place the medication canister back into the mouthpiece for use.

Dry Powdered Inhaler

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

Nebulizer

You should clean your nebulizer after each use.

  1. Wash the mouthpiece with soap and water.
  2. Do not wash the tubing.
  3. Let it air dry before you use it again.

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.

What Happens If You Don't Clean My Inhaler

If you do not clean your inhaler, you can develop some health issues. Your inhaler can get clogged if it gets wet or if debris builds up inside it. This can lead to irregular or inconsistent amounts of medication being delivered to your lungs—with worsening asthma symptoms.

And when it's not properly maintained, the device can harbor bacteria, viruses, or fungi that could lead to a respiratory infection.

If your device isn't delivering medication as it should, you can develop asthma symptoms, including:

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.

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

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

  5. 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