Your wheelchair is like an extension of your body. You rely on it to accomplish everyday tasks, from running groceries to meeting up with loved ones.
Just as you depend on your wheelchair, it depends on you to maintain it regularly, so it stays in proper working order for years to come.
In our guide, we give you detailed tips on how to clean wheelchairs, including disinfection and inspecting the components.
Wheelchair Disinfection vs. Cleaning
Take a moment to think about how often you sit in your wheelchair. Throughout the day, the upholstery, wheels, and handles are exposed to bacteria and germs that build up over time if not properly disinfected.
Cleaning and disinfecting wheelchairs are two different things. When you clean, you remove the germs and dirt, but the germs are not killed. And if anything, you’re probably spreading germs around.
That’s why it’s important to use the correct cleaning solutions and materials that not only clear dirt but also kill germs. This is not only important for the longevity of your wheelchair, but for your health and safety.
We’ll go over the best wheelchair cleaning supplies to use later on, as you’ll need different products depending on whether you have a manual or power wheelchair.
Note that there is a difference between cleaning and sanitizing, and both need to be part of your maintenance routine.
Sanitizing & Cleaning a Wheelchair Overview
Here are a few points to keep in mind when establishing a maintenance routine for your wheelchair.
- Have your wheelchair owner’s manual handy and carefully read through the maintenance instructions, especially for cleaning the controls.
- Disinfect all contact surfaces using wipes that contain at least 70% alcohol solution, or another approved disinfectant wipe.
- Use a damp cloth and diluted sanitizer to thoroughly wipe down the joystick on an electric wheelchair.
- Allow for the sanitizer to sit on the surface for 15 minutes.
- Wipe down all disinfected surfaces with a cloth dampened with fresh water and dry the wheelchair thoroughly with a clean cloth afterward.
- Refrain from using bleaches, solvents, synthetic detergents, wax enamels, abrasives, or sprays.
- The wheelchair components you’ll want to target the most are the parts that are frequently touched, including the armrests and handles.
- Wipe down your wheelchair before visiting a public place (like the supermarket) and when you return home.
How to Clean a Wheelchair’s Components
In this section, we’ll explain exactly how to clean each part of the wheelchair, sort of like a foolproof wheelchair cleaning checklist! Let’s get to it.
Front and rear wheels
The wheels of your unit are in constant contact with the ground, so naturally, these components will need regular cleaning to remove dirt and kill germs.
It’s recommended to disinfect and clean the wheels daily or when you return home from a public outing.
As mentioned before, the handles and armrests need to be a primary focus of disinfection since they are the main area of contact.
Disinfect these areas using a sanitized wipe, then rinse with a damp cloth. Wheelchair armrests are typically made of leather or foam, so make sure to dry them off thoroughly with a clean cloth after the rinse.
If there are damages, such as cracks in the fabric or chips in the plastic, get this fixed as soon as possible to prevent bacteria and dirt from remaining stuck inside.
This part comes into full contact with the body and is regularly exposed to sweat and grime.
For foam cushions, follow the same procedure outlined above, letting sanitizer sit on the cushion for 15 minutes before rinsing and wiping it dry.
If your model has an Air Cell Cushion filled with neoprene rubber cells, remove the cover and gently wash it in the washing machine using cold water and a mild detergent. Tumble dry the cushion cover on low.
You can also handwash the Air Cell Cushion in a bathtub or sink using mild detergent and a soft-bristled brush. Just make sure the air valve is closed tightly, so water doesn’t leak inside!
Rinse the air cushion with fresh water, then let it air dry completely.
Pro Tip: Keep two cushion covers on hand, so you can put one on the cushion and continue to use your wheelchair while the other cover washes.
How to Clean a Power Wheelchair
Cleaning a power wheelchair and a manual wheelchair are two different kettles of fish.
On a power wheelchair, you have electric controls, a footplate, and a joystick to consider when using a damp cloth to clean. These areas tend to get the most body contact and need to be cleaned regularly.
Start by ensuring the wheelchair is powered off completely, flipping the breaker circuit for safety if needed.
If you have an air compressor, this can be effective for blowing away loose debris, crumbs, and dust.
Use a foaming cleanser to saturate the footplate, especially on the grip tape, then use a bristle brush to administer a deep scrub.
For the joystick and control panel, follow the instructions outlined above to carefully wipe these areas down with a damp wipe and diluted disinfectant. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then follow up with a damp cloth before drying.
How to Clean a Manual Wheelchair
This is a little bit easier to clean than a power wheelchair since you don’t have any electrical components to worry about.
Utilize the air compressor to flush out loose debris from between the crevices, underneath the cushion, and between the spokes of the wheels.
For cleaning, remember to use only damp cloths, mild detergent, and sanitizer wipes to carefully wipe down all surfaces.
For the wheels, a car-washing mitt is an effective tool for deeply cleaning out the wheels to clear our animal fur, thick mud, and food while protecting your hands.
If your wheelchair hasn’t been cleaned in a while, use a soft-bristle brush to scrub out small spaces where dirt can build up.
After the rinse phase, dry the entire wheelchair carefully with a clean cloth to prevent rust from forming in the future.
Feel free to apply non-abrasive auto wax to the frame for a nice sheen, but note that this step is optional.
How Often Should You Inspect Your Wheelchair?
Besides making sure your wheelchair is disinfected and sparkly clean, regular inspections are also crucial to ensure all of the components are working properly and you stay safe.
First and foremost, it’s a good idea to always have your owner’s manual, a small tool pouch, the supplier and manufacturer’s contact, and a card with your emergency contact stashed somewhere safe on the wheelchair at all times.
Implement an inspection once a month, and schedule a maintenance appointment with your wheelchair service provider annually.
Here are the main components that receive the most wear and tear and need close inspection.
- Front wheels: Check alignment and oil the centers to prevent rust.
- Rear Tires: Focus on the inner tubes and the tire pressure.
- Brakes: If your brakes are losing their feel, then it’s critical to get them serviced immediately.
- Wheelchair frame: To prevent rust from storage and humidity, apply oil to the frame on a bi-monthly basis. Check the screws to ensure they aren’t coming loose.
Final Thoughts on How to Clean Wheelchairs
Your wheelchair is your trusty steed, carrying you far and wide to accomplish everything and anything you set your heart on. That’s why keeping it in pristine condition is paramount to ensure your safety, comfort, and proper working order for years to come.
Remember that disinfecting is just as important as cleaning to kill germs that can spread infectious diseases. Stock up on disinfectant wipes and clean cloths to wipe down every inch of your wheelchair, minding the electrical components if you have a power wheelchair.
To conclude this guide on how to clean wheelchairs, a monthly inspection is also vital to keep components such as the tires, brakes, and frame in tip-top shape.
Resources & References:
- Introduction Disinfection & Sterilization Guidelines, cdc.gov
- The Best Natural Cleaning Products, According to Experts, nymag.com