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People who use wheelchairs count on them to be reliable in every situation. If you or your loved one uses a wheelchair, you should know that wheelchair maintenance is crucial in sustaining the functionality of your wheelchair. Use this manual wheelchair maintenance checklist and guide to keep your chair rolling safely and smoothly.
Here's What You'll Learn
Performing Regular Wheelchair Maintenance
A properly maintained wheelchair will help you in many ways. You will get less tired since the chair will run smoothly and save your hands and shoulders the additional effort. If you ignore this, the constant strain in your joints and muscles may cause you serious problems in the future. Also, it can save some money down the road.
Wheelchair repairs can be expensive. Besides the bill you would have to pay a service technician, you may have to be without the wheelchair for a few days.
Since you are using it all day every day, you are the most competent person to assess if something is wrong with it. You are more likely to notice strange vibrations or noises. It is best to address these things as they come along. If you delay simple repairs, they can cause big headaches later.
So, here’s my guide to wheelchair maintenance and which parts need special attention.
Bonus Video – 14 Point Check on Manual Wheelchair
How often do I need to check my wheelchair?
This depends mainly on the frequency of use. It’s not a bad idea to set up a wheelchair maintenance schedule to serve as a guide and a reminder. If you use the wheelchair every day, you should clean it once a week. The most important things for basic cleaning are a wet towel and a disinfectant spray. Cleaning is the perfect opportunity to check the wheelchair for damage. You can see damage to the frame like scratches, dents, cracks and so on. You can also notice if for example a bolt is loose and needs tightening.
Most wheelchairs come with a manual which should always be consulted. The manual has instructions on how to verify that every part functions the way it should. Because some parts of the wheelchair are more susceptible to wear and damage, you should pay more attention to them and keep them in good condition.
In general, it is recommended to check the pressure in your tires once a month (if your tires have air). You should also perform a monthly check on the brakes and all the moving parts to see if anything is too loose. Other parts don’t need maintenance that often, but it is useful to thoroughly check the frame, footrests, and upholstery every few months. It is also advised to have your chair inspected by a professional once a year, just to see if everything is in perfect order.
General maintenance advice
If you keep your wheelchair in good shape, you reduce the chance of downtime and even injuries. Identify problems as they arise. One of the most important things is to keep your wheelchair as dry as possible. If it rains, for example, wipe it with a dry towel as soon as you get home. In addition to water, salt or sand can also do damage to your wheels just like a car. So if you go to this type of places (the beach, for example) be sure to clean thoroughly when you get home.
When it comes to cleaning, you can wipe all the parts with a damp cloth. You can use water in combination with a mild detergent to remove stains. Hair, fibers, and debris can get stuck in the wheel or caster axles and prevent them from moving correctly. If there is something stuck you can use a sharp tool to pick it out.
While wiping down you may see cracks in the metal. It is also sometimes possible to see tears in the upholstery fabric. If you notice a problem with the frame or the upholstery you should notify your wheelchair supplier and have them take care of it. Nuts and bolts should be regularly checked. If they are loose, tighten them. It is a lot easier to do that than replace them when they go missing. If any part needs replacing, use only the ones that match those provided by the manufacturer, or even better, original parts.
Be sure that all moving parts move easily. If some parts are removable, pop them off and look at them really good. Also, if your chair folds, it should be able to do so without jamming. If a part doesn’t move like it should, you can use appropriate lubricants.
When a chair is stored, it should always be covered and left in a dry place to avoid dirt and rust. After that, before using it again, you should complete the maintenance checklist to be sure everything works great.
Wheelchair maintenance checklist
Having a checklist makes you certain you didn’t miss anything.
- Clean your chair – wipe it down at least once a month
- Look for loose nuts and bolts – retighten everything
- Check the frame for damage – cracks can be dangerous, if you notice them contact the supplier
- Examine the axles – housing attracts much dirt, hair and debris and jams the wheels
- Inspect the wheels – they also attract dirt and spokes get loose, tighten them
- Look at the casters – clean the dirt, inspect for cracks and see if they turn properly
- Check tires and pressure – see if they are in good condition and if the pressure is as specified
- Test the brakes – adjust them if needed, be aware they can be influenced by tire pressure
- Check moving and folding parts – these can sometimes jam
Wheelchair maintenance kit
You should certainly consult your owner’s manual in order to get the tools that are best suited for your wheelchair. However, there are some tools that are most commonly used for wheelchair repairand maintenance and it is good that you have them available. These tools include:
- Several screwdrivers (flat and Philips)
- A set of hex keys (Allen wrenches) – you may need a metric and an imperial set.
- A spoke wrench
- Several crescent wrenches
- An appropriate lubricant spray
- A bicycle tire hand pump (if you have inflatable tires)
- Two tire levers for replacing the tire
- A spare inner tire
It would be great if you had access to these tools all the time because they can solve most of the problems that pop up with your wheelchair, regardless of whether you are at home or away. Keep them all together in a separate tool box for easy access.
Wheelchair Maintenance: Part by Part
Spoke wheels, tires, and handrims should be checked frequently.
They can be pneumatic (air filled) or solid (foam filled). Air filled tires are lighter and give less resistance. They also roll more easily than solid ones.
However, you need to check the pressure often, every week. It’s handy to have a small bike pump as mentioned (even better one with an air pressure gauge), to keep the tire inflated within the range specified by the manufacturer. Otherwise, tires increase resistance while rolling.
You can get a flat tire more easily and even damage the wheel itself.
Spoke wheels are light and strong. Luckily, they don’t require complicated maintenance. They should be wiped down and checked for broken or loose spokes. Loose or broken spokes transfer the tension to other spokes which then, in turn, loosen and break causing the wheel to change its shape. All spokes should be equally tight. This can easily be checked by pulling them like a guitar string.
Another method is to spin the wheel and run a pencil against the spokes, and listen. If they make a pinging noise you are ok. However, if they vibrate and make a dull noise, use a spoke wrench to easily tighten them into place.
It is best if you do this checkup weekly to prevent any possible damage to the wheel.
Like I mentioned, debris can get jammed in the axles and make rolling tough. Some wheelchairs have closed bearings which help keep the dirt away, but everything should be checked nevertheless.
Remove the dirt if there’s any, and check to see if everything is lubricated properly and moves smoothly. If not, use a lubricant to improve performance and prevent corrosion.
They are very simple to maintain. You should inspect them visually to see if there are any chips or cuts on the caster tires. If so, it is best to replace the caster with a new one.
The bearings are often jammed with hair and dirt. Everything that is visible should be plucked out.
Also, you should know when to change the caster wheels. Lift the front of your chair and spin them. If they don’t spin easily or make strange clicking noises, it’s time for a replacement. This is especially true for people who live in areas where casters get wet often. When they go outside during rain or snow, the water removes the lubricant and causes corrosion. It is then a good idea to change casters every spring.
A common issue with caster wheels is their alignment. They should be at a 90° angle to the ground. If not, the wheelchair goes slightly left or right and it becomes difficult to keep it in a straight line. This is solved easily on most chairs. Loosen the bolts that secure the caster, correct the angle with a tool like a drafting triangle or carpenter’s square, and then retighten the bolts.
Seat and Backrest
They are important for keeping your body posture, and for providing comfort at the same time. If the upholstery is damaged or worn out, you are going to feel that. Bad posture, pain and injury are some of the possible outcomes. That’s why upholstery must be kept clean and free from any damage (rips, tears, holes). It should be cleaned with mild detergent and water.
If your chair has adjustable tension upholstery, check the velcro straps every now and then. They may have slipped or shifted. It is good to mark the place that you selected so you can readjust it quickly when needed.
Wheel Locks / Brakes
Brake function can be best assessed while using the wheelchair. The user feels if something is off. It is advisable to pay attention to this often since it directly affects your safety.
The efficiency of the brakes can be impaired by a badly adjusted part or poor placement. These can all be easily corrected. As I mentioned, braking can also be affected by low tire pressure, causing the brakes to lose their grip. Keep this in mind too when making your adjustments.
A wheelchair cushion is crucial to provide you comfort if you spend a long time sitting in your chair. This part has to be cleaned often to remove dirt and odors and make sure there are no germs living in it.
Most cushions have covers that can be removed and easily washed, but the foam itself should be disinfected too. You can wipe the cushion down like the rest of the chair or use a disinfectant spray for best results. Don’t over soak it though because that could damage the foam.
Also, cushion foam can collapse and become uncomfortable. This is another thing that is obvious from daily use. And like upholstery, it can cause a bad posture while sitting in forced positions. So it’s not a bad idea to replace the cushion when it starts to wear down.
So, as you can see, it’s not too difficult to do most of the wheelchair maintenance yourself. If you exclude some major breakdowns and problems, most of this can be done at home, using simple tools.
It’s quite useful to learn these basic skills which can help you stay safe. Not to mention the money you save!
Be knowledgeable when it concerns your wheelchair because you are the one that spends much time in it. If you follow the wheelchair maintenance advice and instructions listed above, it will keep you rolling along for a long period of time.
Do you have any other wheelchair maintenance tips to share? How often do you check your wheelchair for problems? Let us know in the comments below!