It may seem tempting to save some money by buying a used CPAP machine from a garage or rummage sale. If it works, why not save yourself some money?

The idea is a fair one, but there are plenty of good reasons for avoiding the purchase of CPAP equipment from private sales. They all have to do with your health and safety.

When you buy a used CPAP machine, you are also buying this

In a word: contamination.

Use of any used medical equipment potentially exposes you to the previous user’s germs and untold pathogens. You have no way to see these or know what they are. If you’re thinking of using the mask or tubing, think again. Any harmful substance inside it came from somebody else’s lungs, mouth, or household.

CPAP machines are, by their very nature, warm, moist environments. Yeast, mold, bacteria, viruses, mildew, insect pests, and other microorganisms can thrive in this environment. Even a hard-shell CPAP machine has nooks and crannies where all manner of pathogens and pests can host these unwanted invaders.

Keep this in mind: Even with an out-of-the-box new CPAP machine and accessories, you are still asked to be disciplined about daily, weekly, even quarterly cleaning, maintenance, and replenishment. Though the germs circulating in your CPAP are yours, they can still come back to harm you if you get lazy about keeping your equipment clean.

What health problems do you risk when using someone else’s CPAP machine?

The sky’s the limit, really, because you have no real way to know if your machine is clean (much less if it actually works like it’s supposed to). You risk experiencing one or more of the following medical problems if you decide to throw caution to the wind and try a used CPAP machine:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Viral infections
  • Infections in other parts of the body
  • Bedbugs or cockroaches (after all, the CPAP machine may have been kept in an infested area)
  • Parasites

Other problematic substances can also be inhaled through a used CPAP machine that appears to be cleaned. These include household dust and grime, or pet dander. Also, remnants of cleaners not meant to be used on the machine or accessories, such as bleach, perfumes, alcohol, or other substances, can be toxic to the respiratory system.

Other considerations involving used CPAP equipment

Even if you aren’t already repulsed by the idea of using a used CPAP machine due to its inherent health risks, you should still keep in mind the practical missteps and budgetary down sides that such a purchase can lead to.

  • If you pick up a “like new” machine at a garage sale that is an older model, its replacement parts may not be available any longer. No money savings there if it’s of limited use to you.
  • A used machine from a yard sale is no longer warrantied. You won’t be able to replace it or get service on it through the manufacturer. That will cost you more in the long run.
  • Newer machines have up-to-date apnea software and hardware that helps your durable medical equipment contact and sleep specialist to track your results. Without it, insurers and Medicare won’t reimburse for your equipment or visits to see the doctor or specialist. So much for saving money.
  • A used CPAP machine that’s incorrectly set or defective (it doesn’t follow preset algorithms accurately, its compliance data is not working correctly, the auto-titration feature has failed) can do more damage than good for your sleep apnea. Using it may also result in less compliance and failed treatment outcomes. This could end up costing you in new or exacerbated health problems and more medical bills. (Not exactly saving money, then, huh?)
  • Sometimes that CPAP machine has zero resemblance to the one you are used to using! It may be because it’s not CPAP, but something else (such as Bi-level PAP or Auto-PAP or ASV). Because it’s a different technology, you will likely have little to no way to make it work for you (or at least not safely). If you can’t make it work, there’s no money savings in it for you.
  • Older CPAP machines may lack some of the newer amenities that provide users with much appreciated improvements in comfort. These include heated humidity, whisper-quiet functionality, or ramp features. Without comfort measures, your odds of using CPAP nightly drop dramatically. Any money you save on an unused machine becomes irrelevant.

The bottom line on yard sale CPAP

Using durable medical equipment can be as complicated as your sleep apnea problems. Your settings should be unique to your needs, and your machine, mask, and other equipment should be customized for your particular sleep breathing disorder.

Dictum one: One size does not fit all.

Dictum two: You get what you pay for.

This seems like a great time for a reminder: PAP therapy is more than just a durable medical device. It involves a prescription based on your need biological needs as a sleep apnea patient. You must treat it with the same importance as you would an oxygen therapy tank, a wheelchair, an insulin meter, a blood pressure cuff, or a pair of prescription eye glasses.

You would not tell a heart patient to buy and use a second-hand cardiac pacemaker purchased from a garage sale, would you? (We hope not!) Then don’t buy your CPAP machine there, either. It’s unhealthy and ill advised even on more practical or economic grounds.

To be fair, it is possible for CPAP machines to be refurbished, sanitized and reused safely. However, to do so, these machines must go through a professional processing to ensure they are completely safe to use. Ordinary consumers simply do not have access to the kinds of equipment and know-how necessary to “flip” a CPAP machine.

What if I need CPAP but I can’t afford it?

We can help you with that!!

The American Sleep Apnea Association has a CPAP assistance program (CAP) which can unite users with the PAP therapy equipment they need. Simply fill out the application and share your current active air pressure prescription with our warehouse angels. They can get you an entirely brand-new kit or masks in the mail within 24 hours.

This service is provided for a nominal shipping, warehousing, and handling fee of $100 (less for masks). This amount is considerably less than what one would spend out of pocket for the same supplies.

CAP is available to those who cannot afford to buy a new machine or a replacement machine or mask, or to those who need to acquire a second machine (such as a firefighter or a person with a second residence) in order to maintain their nightly therapy. Check out our program here. 

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