Your wheelchair takes care you, but are you taking care of it? With the right care and maintenance, your wheelchair will provide you with years of use and a smoother ride.
The level of care and maintenance your manual wheelchair will need will depend on: how often you use it, and how rough the roads or pathways are where you ride your chair.
But as a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to follow the maintenance schedule below.
If you use your wheelchair on a daily basis, there are a few things you’ll want to do every day to keep your chair running smoothly. These include:
- Cleaning off dirt and grime from the wheelchair frame. Use a damp (not soaking wet) cloth for this job.
- Check the tires to make sure that they’re still firm. Your wheelchair’s tires should be very hard when you press on them. If they’re not, use a bicycle pump to add air.
Keep your wheelchair stored in a safe place where it won’t get wet. If you can, try to keep dirt and water out of the wheel bearings.
Set aside time once a week for the maintenance and care of your wheelchair. Don’t worry, this process won’t take long, and it’s worth the time to make sure that your chair is in tip-top shape.
- Check the rear wheels to make sure they’re spinning properly. If your back wheels are wobbling or making unusual sounds, the ball bearings may need to be repaired or replaced.
- Check the brakes. Brakes can become inefficient if they’re poorly placed, tire pressure is off, or they’ve been incorrectly adjusted.
- Using a wrench, tighten any parts of the wheels that may feel loose.
- Check all of the tires for punctures and to ensure that the tread isn’t worn. If you find something stuck in your tire, like a nail, don’t pull it out until you’re ready to fix the tire. You may need to take the chair to a bike shop for a patch.
- Check the front wheels to make sure that they spin properly. If they’re not, you may need new bearings.
- Check the front forks to make sure they’re moving from side to side properly. They should not be hitting the footrests. If they’re wiggling a lot, use a wrench to tighten them. Don’t overdo it, or the forks may not turn easily.
- Clean out dirt or hair from the 4-wheel axle housings using a damp cloth with a few drops of oil.
- Check the spokes of the back wheels. Use a wrench to tighten any loose spokes, and replace broken ones.
- Clean the chair’s frame and seat using a mild detergent.
It’s important to keep your wheelchair as clean and dry as possible. Let’s go over the cleaning process step-by-step.
- Disassemble the chair by taking off the seat and back cushions as well as any other fabric components of the chair.
- Use a can of compressed air (the kind used to clean keyboards and other electronics) to spray dirt out of the crevices of the chair. The compressed air can help remove hair and dirt that may be impacting your chair’s mobility.
- Fill a bucket with warm soap and water, and grab some microfiber towels. Dunk the towels in the water/soap mixture, and gently wipe down every surface of the chair, including the seat and back rest.
- Use a separate damp towel to clean the wheels. Don’t forget to wipe down the spokes and between the spokes.
- Remove bolts with grease or dirt build-up, and clean them with a wire brush.
- Use a clean towel to dry the wheelchair frame, wheels and bolts.
- You may also use a special tire cleaner to improve the shine of your wheels.
- You can apply Scotchgard to your chair cushions to help prevent stains and tears.
- Reassemble the chair, and make sure all components are dry before storing it away.
Monthly maintenance is important. Some of the most important tasks include:
- Checking arm rests, hand rims and leg rests for sharp edges or rough spots. These can cause injury to yourself or others. If you have any rough or sharp areas, file them down to make them smooth again.
- Wax the frame of your wheelchair to make it easier to open, close and clean.
- Check all of the screws and bolts on your chair. If you find any that are loose, tighten them with a wrench or screwdriver. Check each part after tightening to make sure that your wheels spin freely and that your steering is still smooth.
- Inspect the frame of your chair, and look for any cracks or dents. Cracks can be particularly troublesome because they can cause your frame to break. Depending on the severity of the crack, it may be able to be welded together.
- If the chair’s ball bearings aren’t factory sealed, take them out. You’ll need to clean them, dry them, and then apply new grease. This step is important because if water gets into the bearings, it can cause them to rust and your chair to ride rough.
Every 4-6 months, you’ll want to perform a few special maintenance tasks. These include:
- Checking the seat fabric for rips or sags. If the fabric is worn or torn, it’s time for a replacement. Sagging and tears in the seat can actually lead to pressure sores, so it’s important to repair or replace damaged fabric as soon as possible. And if you’re using a foam seat, check to make sure that it’s still firm. Foam wheelchair cushions can also sag and cause pressure sores.
- Take the time to oil the center and bottom of the x-brace with machine oil (medium-weight). You’ll also want to oil other pivot points on the chair.
If you plan to store your wheelchair for a long period of time, make sure that it’s covered and left in a dry place that is protected from the sun and fluctuating temperatures. When you’re ready to use your chair again, make sure that you go through each of these checklists to ensure everything is working as it should be.
Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.