How to Clean and Disinfect a Wheelchair

The ultimate high touch surface

For wheelchair users, their chair just maybe the ultimate high-touch surface. So, it helps to know how to clean and sanitize a wheelchair. For many of your surfaces, a regular wipe with a good old soap and water, same as we are recommended for our hands, is your best bet. Disinfecting wipes may also help.

So many weeks into a global pandemic and we have all become experts on sanitizing: our hands, our homes, our high-touch surfaces. Who knew that terms like “high-touch surfaces” would even become familiar expressions, right up there with PPE (personal protective equipment)?

And as the label on most laundry detergents tell you, it’s probably best when trying any new cleaner to do a spot test somewhere less noticeable on all the different surfaces of your wheelchair. Leave it for a few hours and inspect for results. You also want to avoid using harsh chemicals, such as bleach, that can harm the finishes on painted or plasticized elements. Best to check your user manual to see if there are any warnings about particular finishings. Your user manual may have warnings about particular cleaning products such as bleach.

The soft parts

Wheelchair cleaning photo

For most people, the common element to clean on your wheelchair are the upholstery parts (seat, backrest). Before removing any upholstery, note its exact position and how to reattach it. Therefore, you can put it back in place afterwards.

The covers on your seats can be unzipped and washed in your washing machine on the gentle cycle. You should attach any Velcro together, so it doesn’t catch on the fabric. Be sure to remove any foam cushioning beforehand and wipe it down (don’t submerge foam in water) and allow to air dry. You might want to buy a second seat cover so that you can switch them when one is being washed. Wipe down any parts that do not detach with a damp cloth and allow to air dry as well.

Wheelchair's body photo

From the manual of Triumph supplier Panthera, here are some tips:

  • Wipe the wheelchair chassis or frame.

Panthera recommends using car shampoo or detergent, with a degreasing agent as needed for severe dirt (check your own model’s manual for your recommendations), then lubricate all movable parts with oil.

  • Clean the caster fork casing between the wheel and the fork.

Hair and dust can accumulate here and damage the bearing. Consult with your individual wheelchair manual to find out how to clean these parts. Also find out how to reassemble your wheelchair once you’ve done.

  • Lubricate the rear wheel’s quick release by adding a few drops of oil to the quick releases at the hub of the rear axle.

Panthera recommends doing it more often if you drive in rain, sand, salt or slush, or if you rarely remove the wheels.

  • Check the air pressure on your tires and adding air as needed

You may need a valve adaptor. Also check that all your screws and nuts are securely fastened and tighten where necessary.

Panthera recommends further maintenance to be done twice a year. Users should lubricate the moving parts of the brakes and the bushing at the join of the backrest, each with a few drops of oil. Users should consult their manual for more specific details.

Remember that your wheelchair is a tool that needs to be kept in good condition to work well for you.