How to Use and Maintain a Manual Wheelchair: Posture, Safety, Cleaning & Maintenance

“Freedom of movement.”



“A great quality of life.”

Manual wheelchairs have come to represent a lot to many people over the years; it’s hard to sum it all up concisely.

By all accounts, their empowering nature is undeniable. So, it goes without saying that you want to keep them in perfect working order for as long as possible, and there are lots of ways to do so.

We’ve put together three easy ways to use and maintain a manual wheelchair including posture, safety guidelines and a cleaning and maintenance routine. As we delve into each idea, you’ll learn:

  • Why posture is critical to wheelchair safety
  • How front caster wheels affect stability
  • Why storage is a vital maintenance measure
  • Where to find an ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair

Table of Contents

1: Observe Proper Sitting Posture

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Maintaining a proper posture not only ensures your safety, it also keeps your wheelchair functional for longer. It prevents damaging accidents and strain on the wheelchair’s metal frames via uneven weight distribution.

Correct posture distributes a user’s mass appropriately between the chair’s front caster wheels and rear wheels. This distribution centres gravity and ensures stable movement, which improves performance through easy manoeuvrability and minimal rolling resistance.

Improved performance means users don’t have to exert loads of energy during operation, reducing their chances of damaging accidents.

To maintain your posture:

  • Avoid leaning forward beyond the length of the armrests. This action greatly upsets weight distribution between the caster and rear wheels, increasing the likelihood of an accident.
  • Ensure that your caster wheels are facing forward when you lean forward. This creates a longer wheelbase and distributes your weight more outwards, enhancing stability.

    To make your caster wheels point forward, advance your wheelchair forward and then reverse in a straight line.
  • Position your wheelchair close to your desired object before reaching for it. This allows you to maintain your sitting position when reaching out and maximises your reach limit.
  • Don’t reach for objects from behind by leaning over the back upholstery of the chair. This movement will shift your weight to the rear wheels and tip you over.

2: Follow Your Manufacturer’s General Safety Guidelines

Safe handling of manual wheelchairs essentially comes down to operating them as directed by the manufacturer.

Wheelchair manufacturers issue safety guidelines for users and assistants on key aspects such as weight limits, obstacle navigation and mounting procedures.

These directives ensure the safety of everyone involved (users and assistants) and maintain the functionality of your wheelchair.

Weight specifications, for instance, are issued according to the tensile strength of your wheelchair’s frame (among other factors like wheel ratings). This directive keeps the frame from bending or collapsing via overloading and causing injury to users.

These specified weights typically account for loads that boost functionality. The All Terrain 20 Inch Steel Wheelchair PA148, for example, has a weight capacity of 120 kg, which is plenty for an average Australian male of 85.9 kg and a bag of groceries.

For obstacle navigation, wheelchairs suppliers warn against lifting detachable parts such as supports. Instead, assistants must use non-removable parts, such as the back handles, to tilt around obstacles like shallow curbs and steps.

back handles of a manual wheelchair

On stairways, the advisable navigation method requires two assistants; one at the front and one at the back of the wheelchair.

During ascent, the first assistant will pull the wheelchair backwards and from a tilted angle using the back handles. The second assistant will grasp the non-removable frame leading to the caster wheels and maintain that backward tilt (wheelie).

During descent, the second assistant stands at the side of the wheelchair grasping the non-removable frames leading up to the caster wheels. The first assistant carefully advances the wheelchair from a backward tilting angle (wheelie) while grasping the back handles.

When mounting and dismounting, the safest approach involves minimising the distance between the wheelchair and the transferring seat. This precaution prevents the wheelchair from tipping over during transfer.

The brakes must be engaged to ensure stability, and the front caster wheels must point forward towards the transfer seat. Forward-pointing caster wheels create a longer wheelbase that reinforces solidity.

forward-pointing caster wheels

3: Practise Frequent Cleaning & Maintenance

Regular cleaning and maintenance will extend your wheelchair’s life and enable early intervention for worn-out or damaged parts, minimising the risk of device failure and accidents.

You can easily spot and fix a loose bolt or an overpressured tyre, for instance, before a sudden frame collapse or tyre burst causes bodily harm or damage to the wheelchair.

That said, the main parts of a manual wheelchair that require frequent cleaning and maintenance are:

  • Rear and caster wheels
  • Cushion
  • Frame
  • Arm, back and footrests (supports)

The table below highlights the best practice for each part and the schedule needed to keep them in perfect working order.

Part Schedule Maintenance And Cleaning Instructions
Pneumatic caster and rear wheels Weekly
  • Check each tyre’s pressure by pressing down on them. A compression of more than 5 mm means your tires are under pressurised and require inflation
  • Inspect the tyres for cracks, bulges and flat spots. The presence of any indicates decreased wheelchair performance and the need for replacements
  • Clean the tyres and lubricate moving parts with oil or a Teflon-based spray
  • When cleaning the tyres, let the wheelchair coast for a bit and monitor the wet tracks for alignment. The tracks must remain steady for optimal performance
Cushion Weekly
  • Wipe the cushion using a damp cloth and soap to eliminate odours and prevent possible skin irritation
  • Use multiple cushions to facilitate cleaning
  • Inspect for tears, holes and flakes that will impact comfort and replace if necessary
Frame Monthly
  • Inspect the frame and welding for cracks and fractures that will impact tensile strength. The presence of these elements indicates the need for a replacement
  • Inspect the suspension spring for cracks and the damper for leaking lubricant. Contact an expert if you observe any of these signs
  • Wipe down the entire frame using a damp cloth and soap to stop the metal parts from rusting
Arm, back and footrests (supports) Monthly
  • Check the footrests and ensure that each bolt is intact and tightened
  • Inspect the swinging motion of the footrests for wear on the bolt, pin or bushing. Contact an expert for replacement if the system is worn out
  • Inspect the upholstery on the arm and backrests for tears or looseness. Ensure that there are no metal parts sticking out
  • Use a damp cloth and soap to wipe all supports and prevent dirt buildup

Proper storage is another critical maintenance measure that will preserve your wheelchair’s functionality and performance.

For long-term storage, stow your wheelchair in a dry spot away from direct sunlight.

Humid or wet environments facilitate mildew formation, which is damaging to your wheelchair’s fabric. Humid conditions also promote rusting, which is corrosive to metal frames.

Direct sunlight is damaging to your wheelchair‘s fabric as it causes early degradation and fading.

Also, use a weatherproof cover as an extra guard against harmful UV rays, moisture or condensation and mildew formation.

Find Your Wheelchair at Mobility Shop Direct

And that’s how to use and maintain a manual wheelchair: Proper sitting and posture, safety tips, cleaning and maintenance.

With these ideas in mind, why not check out our huge collection of manual wheelchairs on Mobility Shop Direct?

There are ultra-lightweight designs, such as the DAYS Swift SP, which are easy to manoeuvre and sturdy. There are also foldable designs, like the DAYS Swift Transit, which take the hassle out of travelling.

We understand the critical nature of mobility aids and their empowering ability to provide independence and allow for a high quality of life. This is why we work hard to ensure fast delivery of all our products and offer great prices.

“Very good service and good price. Chair was just what I needed and is of very good quality. I would recommend this seller … ” 
Ron C, verified buyer

Contact us today to learn more about our wheelchair solutions.

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