How to Clean Home Air Ducts

You may not need to call the pros for this one.

Cleaning your home air ducts is an important task. Lots of things can hide within the vents, such as dust, dirt, spider webs and even mold. Any contamination within your air ducts, such as mold or dust could negatively affect you and other family members.

If particles and contaminants hide inside the ducts, whenever you turn the HVAC on, they spread throughout your home. Then when inhaled, dust, mold, hair, pet dander and other pollutants will cause various effects.

Unfortunately, getting your air ducts cleaned by a professional can cost a small fortune. But can you do it yourself?

You sure can, and it’s not as difficult as it may seem. Keeping your air ducts clean will help to improve your heating and cooling systems. It can also help you save some money on your energy bills.

Do My Air Ducts Need Cleaning?

Knowing whether or not you need to clean your home’s air ducts can be tricky. There are a few signs to look for.

Allergic reactions, such as sneezing, a runny nose and eye irritation are the most common effects of contaminated home air ducts. However, more severe effects such as asthma attacks, headaches and nausea can also be brought on by allergens(1).

So if you or other family members are feeling affected when at home but fine when you’re out, there could be something lurking. You can try to inspect your air ducts by opening them up and looking with a flashlight.

If you don’t see any large deposits of dust or mold, it might be unnecessary to clean the ducts. It’s normal for the return registers to become dusty as dust-laden air is pulled through. The grate can easily be cleaned using a handheld vacuum or you can remove it and clean it by hand (2).

Here are a few other reasons to clean your air ducts:

  • Mold: If you often notice a musty or damp odor coming from the vents, the chances of mold are high. In this case, cleaning mold on air ducts is crucial for your health and your family’s. If your ducts are insulated and this becomes wet, mold is likely to grow. It’s best, then, to replace the insulation since it can’t be cleaned effectively.
  • Vermin: Yes, rodents and insects can infest an air duct, and in this case, cleaning is a must. However, you might want to leave this one to the professionals to ensure the problem is removed and resolved.
  • Ducts are clogged: When dust or debris builds up within the ducts, you’ll likely notice particles being released with the air. This is a sign that it’s time to clean the vents.

How Much Does It Cost to Clean Air Ducts?

Getting your air ducts cleaned professionally isn’t cheap. However, it’s also only recommended to do so every five to seven years or as needed.

Prices differ depending on where you live, but the average price is $366. It can be anywhere between $267 and $485. The size of your home and the number of ducts should also be considered; this could ramp the price up to $700 (3).

Finding a Professional Duct Cleaner

The EPA emphasizes just how important it is to choose a good air duct cleaner. Several things could go wrong if the process isn’t done correctly. If the service provider isn’t using proper equipment, such as an inadequate vacuum system, it could cause more harm than good.

Using inadequate cleaning equipment can cause more dust and contaminants to fill your ducts. A service provider who is careless or isn’t trained properly might damage your ducts or HVAC system. This could result in expensive repairs or replacements.

Here are a few other things to look out for:

  • Rethink claims: Many service providers will make promising claims about the health benefits of cleaning your ducts regularly. However, these claims are unsupported by experts. You should also be wary about companies claiming to be EPA certified since the EPA doesn’t certify, approve or endorse such companies (4).
  • Avoid chemical treatments: Some companies will tell you that chemical treatment is necessary to kill mold or bacteria inside your ducts. However, do your research before agreeing to this to ensure it’s necessary.
  • Check references and state licenses: Make sure other customers were satisfied by the company’s work. You should also check if the company holds any relevant state licenses. Several states require air duct cleaning companies to hold specific licenses.

Using a Professional Air Duct Cleaner

If you choose to hire a professional to clean your air ducts, there are a few things they should do. These include but are not limited to:

  • Open registers and access ports: Your entire system must be inspected. If you choose to clean your ducts yourself, you should do the same before cleaning. If there are any asbestos materials, such as insulation or register boots, you’ll need a specially trained contractor.
  • Heavy-duty vacuums: The service provider should be using a heavy-duty vacuum that exhausts debris outside your home. If it exhausts inside the home, make sure it’s a HEPA vacuum.
  • Protect furniture: Furniture such as sofas, chairs and carpets should be covered while cleaning.
  • Follow standards: The air duct cleaner must follow the NADCA’s air duct cleaning standards (5). They should also follow NAIMA’s recommended practice if there’s fiberglass lining or duct board (6).

Sometimes, an air duct cleaner must make access holes to inspect certain parts of the duct properly. This is normal, but you must ensure they re-insulate any holes opened or made. The air duct must be airtight to ensure its effectiveness; any holes present can waste energy.

Is Cleaning Air Ducts Worth It?

To determine whether or not it’s worth cleaning your air ducts, you must first decide if it’s necessary. As we saw above, getting your HVAC system professionally cleaned isn’t cheap, and it can be tricky to find the right company.

Cleaning your air ducts isn’t a regular task. You can, of course, clean the grate whenever it begins to look dirty.

If you or any other family member is dealing with allergies, asthma or other unpleasant effects when at home, cleaning your ducts is worth a try. You might even feel instant improvements to your health.

However, it’s important to note that before you begin to clean the ducts, you must fix any issues. If you have a rodent problem, figure out where they came from and repair it. If your trouble is mold, fix any leaks or source of moisture.

Cleaning your ducts without fixing what caused the problem in the first place will render your work worthless. The issues are very likely to reoccur after cleaning and you’ll end up spending more time and money.

How to Clean Ducts Yourself

If you don’t feel like paying a professional to clean your air ducts, you can easily do it yourself. Here’s what you need to get the job done correctly:

  • A strong vacuum (preferably with a HEPA filter) with a brush attachment.
  • Screwdriver.
  • Drill with cleaning brush.
  • Broom.

1. Turn the Power Off

Always start by turning the power off to the connected air conditioning and heating system. This will prevent any potential electrocutions or accidents.

2. Remove Covers or Grilles

Use your screwdriver to unscrew the air duct grilles or covers. After removing, clean them thoroughly in a container with hot, soapy water. Then allow them to dry fully.

3. Prepare the Drill

An easy way to loosen dirt, dust, spider webs and potentially mold is by using a drill with a brush. Locate the register and open it up — these are sometimes located on the floor or the wall.

After opening the register, take your drill brush and push it into the duct. Make sure it’s attached securely, you don’t want a loose brush in the ducts.

Turn the drill on and whip the brush around inside the ducts. While the drill is running, slowly pull it back. This will clean the walls of the duct as well. Turn off the drill when the brush is around 2 feet from the opening to prevent dust from flying everywhere.

4. Vacuum

Once the drill brush is out of the duct, we need to remove all of the loose dirt. Get your vacuum and attach a dust brush to the hose — make sure it’s on tightly. Stick it into the duct and vacuum up all of the loose gunk you dislodged.

If you don’t have a heavy-duty vacuum, you might need to rent one. For the best results, we recommend using a HEPA filtered vacuum. This will prevent dust from reentering the ducts as you’re cleaning.

The hose should be long enough to reach far inside the ducts. Mold, mildew, dust, debris or spiderwebs could be hiding deep inside, so this is the only way to reach them.

5. Repeat

If you have more than one duct, repeat the process with the others. You can also take this opportunity to check any air filters you may have in place. These can usually be vacuumed, but if they’re soiled, consider replacing them.

6. Closing Up

Once you’re done, put the register back into place and secure it. If you’ve washed the grille, make sure it’s dry before putting it back. Turn the power back on and check the vents. There might be loose dust coming out, but it should stop quickly.

How to Prevent Air Duct Contamination

A well-maintained HVAC system won’t need to be cleaned as often. There are several things you can do to ensure there’s no contamination within your system:

  • Use a high-efficiency air filter: The manufacturer of your heating and cooling system should recommend which filters you can use. Select the most efficient recommended air filter to ensure your indoor air quality is good.
  • Replace filters: Whenever you feel that your indoor air is being compromised, it might be time to change the filter. If you have allergies, you might feel more affected when the filters are dirty.
  • Insulate the air duct: Make sure no air can bypass the filters by insulating around them. You must also ensure there are no missing filters.
  • Check other parts: If you have a professional cleaning your air ducts, ask them to clean the cooling coils and drain pans as well.
  • Clean regularly: By vacuuming your home regularly and keeping dust to a minimum, you can avoid contamination in the ducts. Use a HEPA vacuum for the best results since these will trap tiny particles (7).

Frequently Asked Questions

Will Air Duct Cleaning Prevent Health Issues?

Whether cleaning your air ducts can prevent health issues or not depends on their state. If the air ducts are badly contaminated with things such as mold or vermin, you’re likely feeling the effects.

In this case, cleaning the duct will help to improve your health. However, if your air ducts are clean and free of any contaminants, cleaning them won’t change anything.

It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s perfectly normal to have some household dust in the ducts. It might even be visible immediately after turning the HVAC system on, but it should stop quickly.

Experts say that duct cleaning isn’t a yearly task, and it should only be done when necessary (8).

Should I Apply a Chemical Treatment?

Some air duct cleaners will suggest that you treat the inside of the ducts with chemicals. This is to prevent mold growth or other biological growth. But not all chemical treatments are safe.

The EPA warns against companies that use ozone to kill certain contaminants. Ozone is a harmful gas that can cause several health issues, such as chest pain and airway inflammation (9). Introducing this gas to your air system will eventually introduce it to your living space.

So if the company you hired suggests that they treat your air ducts with chemicals, make sure it’s EPA-approved. Also, before you agree to any chemical treatment, ask to see visible microbial growth. You can also ask to get a lab test to ensure it’s mold (10).

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Creating a Cleaner Home

Cleaning your air ducts can be done by professionals or you can do it yourself. It’s a rather quick task, but it must be done correctly. You must use a HEPA vacuum to prevent more dust settling inside your ducts.

Although experts say that cleaning your air ducts won’t prevent health issues, it’s still something you should do. Mold and bacteria can grow within the ducts and these will be introduced into your living space if not removed. Regardless, however, cleaning the air ducts isn’t a yearly task and should only be done when necessary.

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About the Author

Matthew Sullivan

Matthew is a freelance writer with several years of experience in DIY and HVAC. For as long as he can remember, Matthew has always found great pleasure in taking things apart and learning how to put them back together.