How to Thoroughly Clean a Manual Wheelchair

Scott Grant ATP
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Wheelchair maintenance is important to preserving the life of this important mobility aid. Here is how to clean a wheelchair thoroughly with tips for every part.

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Wheelchairs are mobility aids that go with us everywhere we go. They are constantly touching the ground, and this means they are exposed to an awful lot of rubbish, mud, and other contaminants. In addition, we most likely eat, drink, and pursue many of our hobbies in them, which means that the upholstery of the chair is likely to get dirty too. It’s important that manual wheelchairs are cleaned thoroughly and regularly, to ensure that they are safe and comfortable at all times. Even small issues such as a build-up of dust, dirt or hair could stop the wheels from moving freely.

Cleaning a wheelchair isn’t an easy task, at least not if you want to do it properly. Wheelchairs are made of several different materials, each with its own cleaning tolerance and requirements. They can be awkward, too, since there are many nooks and crannies where dirt can collect. Here we attempt to simplify the process, giving you a detailed guide to cleaning a manual wheelchair.

You Will Need: Wheelchair Cleaning Supplies

Before you go shopping for wheelchair cleaning supplies, you should check what kind of wheelchair you have and read the manufacturer’s guidelines. On a day-to-day basis, it’s a good idea to wipe the chair down with a clean, damp, lint-free cloth. This will reduce the rate at which grime builds up, and tide you over between cleanings. When the time comes to do a more thorough cleaning, gather the following:

  • An old toothbrush
  • Suitable anti-bacterial spray (check your manufacturer’s guidelines)
  • Vinegar
  • Spray Bottles
  • Lint-free cloths
  • Mild dish soap
  • Bicycle tire cleaner
  • Compressed air (optional)
blue bucket with spray cleaners, rags, and a sponge

Wheelchair-safe Cleaning Chemicals

Mose household antibacterial sprays should be suitable for use on a wheelchair. Be sure to dry the wheelchair thoroughly after use to prevent corrosion. Make sure that the wheelchair is dry before it is used again, since some cleaning compounds can be hard on human skin. Avoid steel wool and petroleum-based cleaners, since these may damage the paint on the wheelchair.

How to Clean a Wheelchair Cushion

Most chairs have a fabric cushion and back support. Some chairs have a leather or synthetic leather support instead. You should remove these before you start cleaning. Leather/synthetic leather supports can wipe clean quite easily. Fabric cushions will need to be cleaned with a vinegar solution to remove odors, and treated with antibacterial sprays as well.

Do this in the evening and let the cushion air out overnight so that it is ready to use again in the morning. Make sure that you clean the cushions regularly since odors can build up quite quickly.

close up of a wheelchair spoke wheel and the wheel locks

How to Clean a Wheelchair Frame

Once you have stripped the wheelchair down so there is no easily-damaged fabric on it, you will need to clean the frame. This is best done using a lint-free cloth soaked in detergent.

Wipe down the whole of the frame, working slowly and methodically. Pay attention to all those nuts, joints, crevices and moving parts. It’s particularly important that you clean those areas, but it can be tricky to get them all. Use a toothbrush if you have to. Compressed air can also be handy for dislodging dust, but in most cases a toothbrush will do the same thing and costs less money.

Wipe the chair down with a second, dry cloth after you are done, to remove any liquid residue and reduce the risk of corrosion.

How to Clean Wheelchair Upholstery

We already touched on basic maintenance for the cushions, but sometimes they will need more attention than that. If you spill a drink or some food on a wheelchair cushion, you should mop it up as best you can, immediately.

The manufacturer of the wheelchair will most likely provide some instructions for how to keep the chair clean. If they don’t, then you should treat the upholstery as if it were normal furniture made from similar material. Before using any cleaning fluids on the upholstery, do a small test cleaning on a patch of fabric that isn’t easy to see during day-to-day use.

Once you are confident that whatever cleaning fluid you are using will not damage the upholstery, you can clean the rest of the fabric. Make sure that the cleaner you are using has anti-bacterial properties. Clean the fabric thoroughly and then leave it to air dry before using the chair again.

Don’t forget that vacuum cleaners usually come with an upholstery cleaning attachment. Using this to vacuum your cushions to remove any built-up dust that isn’t reached when you wipe the chair clean.

people inspecting a wheelchair wheel for problems

Removing Grime from the Wheels and Spokes

Cleaning the wheels and spokes is vital to ensuring that your wheelchair moves freely and is easy to use. You should wipe down the visible areas with a damp cloth, and use a toothbrush to clean the areas that you can’t otherwise reach. Compressed air is useful for reaching the very small, awkward gaps.

Wheelchairs tend to pick up a lot of dirt. Pet hair can collect in odd places, and dust, mud, and grime from outdoors can collect in moving parts as well. Not only is this a problem in terms of bringing outdoor dirt into your home, but it can also make the wheelchair difficult to use if the dirt builds up around the axle, and can damage paint, making the metal areas of the wheelchair more likely to corrode.

Clean the wheels regularly. Use bicycle tire cleaner on the outer part of the wheels, if your manufacturer recommends this. Dry the wheels thoroughly once you are done.

Wrapping Up

Wheelchair maintenance is just like any other home cleaning task. It is best done ‘little and often’. If you take good care of a wheelchair it can be expected to last for many years. If it is not maintained properly, however, it can present an infection hazard for the user, and start to smell unpleasant quite quickly. Get into the habit of wiping the chair down every couple of days, and doing a thorough clean on a regular basis, to prevent damage and keep the chair safe.

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