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How to Clean Home Air Ducts

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

Cleaning your home air ducts is an important task. Many things can hide within the vents, such as dust, dirt, spider webs, and 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, they spread throughout your home whenever you turn the HVAC on. When you inhale dust, mold, hair, pet dander, and other pollutants, it 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. Knowing how to clean home air ducts 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?

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 dust or mold deposits, cleaning the ducts might be unnecessary. It’s normal for the return registers to become dusty as dust-laden air is pulled through. You can clean the grate 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 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 become wet, mold is likely to grow. It’s best to replace the insulation since you can’t clean it effectively. You must fix sources of leaks to prevent the mold from returning.
  • 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 to the professionals to ensure the problem is removed and resolved. If you have rodents, you must remove them before cleaning your ducts.
  • 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 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 $268 and $489. Also, consider your home size and number of ducts; this could ramp the price up to $700 (3).

Finding a Professional Duct Cleaner

The EPA emphasizes 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 correctly 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 are satisfied with 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 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. You’ll need a specially trained contractor if there are any asbestos materials, such as insulation or register boots.
  • Heavy-duty vacuums: The service provider should use a heavy-duty vacuum that exhausts debris outside your home. If it exhausts inside the home, ensure 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.

How to Clean Ducts Yourself

Before hiring a professional, you can try cleaning ducts yourself.

  • Time: 25 minutes per duct.
  • Difficulty: Easy/Intermediate.

What You’ll Need

  • A strong vacuum (preferably with a HEPA filter) with a brush attachment.
  • Screwdriver.
  • Bucket or sink.
  • Water.
  • Dish soap.
  • Drill with a cleaning brush.
  • Broom.

1. Turn the Power Off

Always turn 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 thoroughly.

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, push your drill brush 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 two feet from the opening to prevent dust from flying everywhere.

4. Vacuum

Once the drill brush is out of the duct, we must remove all loose dirt. Stick your vacuum with the brush attachment 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

Repeat the process with the others if you have more than one duct. 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 grill, ensure it’s dry before returning it. 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 heating and cooling system manufacturer should recommend which filters you can use. Select the most efficient recommended air filter to ensure good indoor air quality.
  • Replace filters: Whenever you feel 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: Ensure 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.
  • 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).

FAQs

Will Air Duct Cleaning Prevent Health Issues?

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 remember 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 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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Why is My House So Dusty?

The main reason your house is so dusty is that your air ducts are dirty. Switching on your A/C or HVAC system pushes dormant dust particles into the atmosphere and contaminates your home.

What are the Benefits of Air Duct Cleaning?

The benefits of air duct cleaning are you get a more efficient system, less dust in your home, and filters last longer. You get cleaner air to breathe, plus people with allergies are more comfortable.

Can You Clean Air Ducts With a Shop Vac?

You can clean air ducts with a shop vac. We recommend the Vacmaster Wet/Dry Industrial Vacuum Cleaner. It has a peak power of five horsepower, a four-gallon capacity, and wet and dry functions.

How Do You Get the Musty Smell Out of Ducts?

There are several ways to get the musty smell out of ducts. Check that the filters aren’t blocked. Replace them if they are dirty. Also, check the drain line isn’t clogged with stagnant water because that can cause a musty smell.

You may need to clean the coils and draining pan and use a dehumidifier to remove the odor.


Creating a Cleaner Home

Professionals can clean your air ducts, or you can do it yourself. It’s a relatively quick task, but you must do it correctly. You must use a HEPA vacuum to prevent more dust from 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, 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.