All Six CPAP Mask Types Explained

Choosing a CPAP mask, especially for the first time, can be a daunting process. There are several CPAP mask types to pick from, and each one has advantages and disadvantages. Finding one that fits comfortably and seals well to prevent pressure loss is the best way to ensure effective therapy and develop consistent habits, and studies have shown that choosing the right type of mask for your needs is an important first step in the process. In this guide, we'll discuss each of the six types of CPAP masks, with a focus on the three most common: nasal, nasal pillow, and full face masks. Click on a style below to skip to it or keep reading to learn more about all six mask types.

  1. CPAP Nasal Masks
  2. CPAP Nasal Pillow Masks
  3. CPAP Full Face Masks
  4. Oral CPAP Masks
  5. Hybrid CPAP Masks
  6. CPAP Total Face Masks

CPAP Nasal Masks

One of the more popular CPAP mask options, CPAP nasal masks cover your nose and typically seal around the sides, base, and bridge of your nose. Adjustable straps along the side of your face or across your forehead keep the seal secure to prevent pressure loss. The tubing that connects to your machine runs out from the mask in front of your face or, in some models, up the sides of your face and over your head.

The most common issue users run into is pressure loss from opening or breathing out of their mouths overnight. Chin straps can be used to help train your body to keep your mouth shut over time. Some older models that rest on the bridge of the nose can cause irritation, but many newer models resolve this issue with a slimmer design.

CPAP Nasal Pillow Masks

Like nasal masks, CPAP nasal pillow masks deliver air through just your nose. Rather than seal around the outside of your nose, however, they have two cushions that seal underneath your nose around your nostrils to deliver air more directly. Strap styles are similar to those of conventional nasal masks, but the difference in seal means they're even lighter and slimmer in profile. As a result, nasal pillow masks are a great choice for nighttime readers, active sleepers, and those with facial hair. They're also typically the most affordable CPAP mask type.

In terms of drawbacks, some users report discomfort around their nostrils which can be exacerbated by colder weather or illness. It's not uncommon for users to own both a nasal and nasal pillow mask so they can switch between them as needed to limit irritation. Lastly, like nasal masks, a nasal pillow mask won't create a good seal if you breathe out of your mouth or tend to open it while you sleep.

CPAP Full Face Masks

Unlike the two sleep apnea mask types above, CPAP full face masks cover your nose as well as your mouth and secure around the side of your face, your cheeks, and under your chin. If you breathe out of your mouth and aren't able to break that habit, a full face mask is your best option to prevent pressure loss during therapy. They're also more effective than nasal or nasal pillow masks for users who struggle with allergies or nasal congestion and work well if you sleep on your back and don't move around much at night.

However, the larger surface area of the seal does make them harder to fit securely, especially if you have facial hair. Some users also say the size of the mask can obstruct their vision, make it difficult to wear glasses, or cause feelings of claustrophobia. Fortunately, there are more compact full face masks like the ResMed F30i, which alleviate those pain points. Based on my experience, first-time CPAP users typically adjust best to therapy by starting with a full face mask.

Oral CPAP Masks

Though they're less common, oral CPAP masks offer more visual and physical comfort for mouth breathers because they only cover your mouth and not your nose. The number of straps is reduced as well, with just one that runs along your jaw and behind your head; instead, there is a cushion that rests inside your mouth to ensure a secure fit. We also recommend that oral mask users wear nose plugs to eliminate any pressure leakage through your nose during the night.

Hybrid CPAP Masks

Similar to a full face mask, hybrid CPAP masks cover both your nose and mouth but employ the cushion design of nasal pillow masks around the nose. This makes them effective for users who switch between breathing through their nose and mouth throughout the night. The reduced profile also offers more visual freedom while eliminating potential discomfort on the bridge of the nose that can be caused by nasal and full face masks.

CPAP Total Face Masks

The last of the six common sleep apnea mask options, total face CPAP masks feature the most coverage of any mask. As the name implies, they span your entire face from below your lip to above your eyebrows, delivering air in front of your nose and mouth. They're typically best if you experience leakage underneath your eyes with full face masks and offer a more uniform seal around the entire face.

Which CPAP Mask Option is Right for You?

The right mask makes all the difference in effective therapy, so we hope this guide helps you make a more informed decision about your CPAP equipment. Choosing from the different CPAP mask types to find the right fit for you depends on several factors, so we recommend speaking with your doctor about things like your preferred sleeping position, breathing habits, and other notes that can help narrow down which style might match your needs. In the end, you may need to try several styles and models to find the right fit, but we encourage you to keep working at it and share feedback openly along the way.

If you have any questions about the masks mentioned in this article or any of our other products, please reach out to our customer service team for assistance.


About the Author

Debra J. Strelow - Clinical Manager

Debra J. Strelow is a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and Licensed Respiratory Care Practitioner (RCP). She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences in conjunction with Rochester College’s Registry program in Respiratory Therapy. She has 35 years of experience in hospital/acute care, transitional care, and long-term care, as well as a vast knowledge of Home Respiratory Care. For the last 20 years, she has worked in Home Durable Medical Equipment (DME) clinical care as well as Home Care management. As the Virtual Respiratory Therapist for REMsafe Sleep, she provides education, virtual setup, compliance monitoring, and support to CPAP customers throughout the United States.

How to Clean a CPAP Machine

Therapy compliance is a large part of maintaining effective treatment for sleep apnea. From choosing the right mask to establishing a nightly routine, there are several factors that can impact compliance. Among these, and often overlooked, is the importance of learning how to clean a CPAP machine and related equipment. Over time, mold, bacteria, dust, and even dead skin cells build up within your mask, tubing, and even the machine itself. Left unchecked, these pose a risk to your health and can reduce the quality of your treatment as well as the lifespan of your equipment.

Click the links below to see a specific section or keep scrolling to read our full list of recommendations for cleaning CPAP equipment, including how often you should clean your CPAP.

  1. How to Clean CPAP Machines
  2. How to Clean a CPAP Mask
  3. How to Clean a CPAP Hose
  4. How to Clean a CPAP Water Tank
  5. Is Cleaning a CPAP with Vinegar OK?

How to Clean CPAP Machines

Recommended Frequency: Every 2-4 weeks

Just like anything else around the house, dust and grime will build up on your CPAP machine over time thanks to daily handling and exposure. Fortunately, it's easy to keep clean.

  1. Unplug the machine to ensure your safety and prevent damage while cleaning.
  2. Disconnect the tubing and humidifier to access the machine directly.
  3. Gently wipe the surface of the machine using a lightly damp soft cloth or CPAP wipes.
  4. Dry the machine with a clean towel or washcloth.

The goal of cleaning the machine itself is to remove dust, grime, and fingerprints, especially around connection points for your tubing and humidifier. Do not submerge the machine in water, as this can cause significant damage.

How to Clean a CPAP Mask

Recommended Frequency: Every week (minimum)

Along with tubing, your CPAP mask will need to be cleaned most frequently. Through use, your mask will collect bacteria and other pathogens as you breathe, plus oils and dead skin cells from your face. For your personal health, as well as to ensure a proper seal on your mask, we recommend cleaning your CPAP mask at least once a week and as often as every day, especially if you're sick.

  1. Power off your machine, disconnect your mask, and disassemble it into its three components (frame, headgear, and cushion).
  2. Prepare a mixture of warm water plus CPAP mask soap or a regular mild soap of choice.
  3. Gently scrub each piece of your mask with the mixture, then rinse thoroughly with warm water.
  4. Place each piece out to dry on a clean towel, and ensure they've dried fully before reassembling for use.

Cleaning a CPAP Hose and Tubing

Recommended Frequency: Every week

Just like your mask, your CPAP hose will accumulate bacteria and debris through daily use. Learning how to clean a CPAP hose properly will help prevent buildup over time, reducing the likelihood of health issues and ensuring more effective therapy.

  1. Power off your CPAP and disconnect the tubing from both the machine and your mask.
  2. Using the same mixture of warm water and mild soap, thoroughly rinse both the inside and outside of your tubing.
  3. To help remove any debris within the tubing, use a CPAP tube brush.
  4. Rinse thoroughly one more time and allow it to air dry. If possible, position the hose upright so water can drain out rather than pool inside.
  5. Do not reconnect tubing to your mask and machine until all parts are dry.

How to Clean a CPAP Water Tank

Recommended Frequency: Every week

CPAP humidifiers are a common accessory used to help reduce the likelihood of experiencing dry mouth as a side effect of nightly therapy. Like any other component or accessory you use, it needs to be cleaned regularly.

  1. Unplug your machine and disconnect the humidifier tank.
  2. Place the tank in the same mixture of warm water with mild soap or a CPAP solution and let it soak for up to 30 minutes.
  3. Remove it from the water and rinse thoroughly with water to remove any soap or debris.
  4. Leave it out to dry on a clean towel.

Is Cleaning a CPAP with Vinegar OK?

According to Healthline, vinegar is not officially registered by the Environmental Protection Agency as a disinfectant. It does contain 5% acetic acid, which means it can kill some common types of pathogens (e.g salmonella and E. coli) but doesn't have the strength to kill others such as COVID-19. Primarily, the slightly acidic properties of vinegar are helpful in dissolving debris and buildup, and it is safe to use vinegar to clean your CPAP equipment with that purpose.

  1. Use one part vinegar and four parts distilled warm water to create a cleaning solution.
  2. Let your mask (excluding padding), hoses, and humidifier tank sit in the mixture for up to 30 minutes.
  3. Remove and rinse thoroughly with warm water.
  4. Allow your components to air dry fully before reassembling for use.

Final Cleaning Tips

Learning how to clean a CPAP machine will play an important role in the quality of your nightly therapy and in extending the lifespan of your equipment. Just like brushing your teeth or doing laundry, the key is to develop a routine that works for you. If you have any questions about the steps we laid out above or about any of our products, don't hesitate to reach out to our customer service team for help.