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Everything You Need to Know About Duct Cleaning

Published Oct. 24, 2017

Keeping a tidy home involves dusting from time to time. If it's been awhile since you've dusted a particular area, you may be surprised by the amount of filth on surfaces that are out-of-reach. Now imagine the dust and cobwebs hidden away in the ducts used to carry that same air through your home. This sounds disgusting, but air ducts are inconspicuous, so why clean them at all?

Opinions on air duct cleaning are divided, but this article will help you determine whether it's right for you and what to do in that case.

How Does a Contractor Clean Ducts?

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As with any kind of cleaning, the goal is to dislodge and remove unwanted materials, but duct cleaning is a little more involved than the name suggests. It's not just about the ducts. There are multiple components to an HVAC system that must be identified, accessed and cleaned, including the coils, drain pan, registers, grills, air plenum, blower, heat exchanger, air filter, air cleaner, and the ducts themselves. Some air duct cleaners even spray antimicrobial chemicals to assist with odor control. Read more about the chemicals used here.

Advantages and Disadvantages

According to the EPA, there are a few major ways to improve indoor air quality in a home, but cleaning out air ducts is not among them. An improperly cleaned air duct can even be a bad thing. Air ducts are not intended to carry the weight of the heavy machinery required to clean. They are designed to carry air. Not all of the workers who perform duct cleaning services are adequately trained, and clumsily battering the ductwork with heavy vacuum equipment and rough brushes can damage and dislodge delicate, nonmetal materials.

Some heating and air professionals are opposed to the process and claim that regularly cleaning or replacing the heater's air filter itself will do the trick. Keep in mind that your air ducts carry the same air that is in the rest of your home, and you can contribute to keeping clean air in your home without going into the ducts. Vacuum carpets, rugs and vent covers, dust your furniture, and let in as much fresh air as you can when the weather permits.

The EPA suggests having your air ducts cleaned only if one of the following three situations applies:

  • You can see mold growth inside which has duct contamination.
  • There are vermin living in the ducts.
  • The ducts are so clogged up that they spew dust and debris.

The National Air Duct Cleaners Association suggest a few additional circumstances in which they believe duct cleaning is appropriate:

  • You just moved in.
  • You have a pet who sheds a lot.
  • Someone in your household smokes inside.
  • Someone in your household has asthma or allergies.
  • The HVAC system has been damaged or contaminated by water.
  • You are renovating or remodeling your home.

Hiring a Professional

If you're convinced that it's time to have your air ducts cleaned out, there are two ways to do it. The first option is to hire a professional contractor. According to NADCA, the cost of doing so ranges from $450 to $1,000, depending on the type of ductwork, the size and accessibility of the system, the number of workers required, the amount of contamination, and environmental factors. For an average-sized home, the job takes about two to four hours.

Is this a DIY Job?

If you would rather roll up your sleeves than empty your wallet, there's also the do-it-yourself option. You can remove up to 85 percent of the the dust and debris in your ventilation system without the aid of a truck-mounted vacuum. Do this at your own risk. It will take time and you will have to do some work you might have never done before, such as cleaning the blower compartment and return air boot on your furnace.

Cleaning the ducts themselves is not much more complicated than what you might assume. Essentially, it involves knocking loose the dust accumulated on the walls of your ducts and either vacuuming it out with a shop vac or catching it in paper towels with the aid of the fan-only function on your thermostat.

To clean or not to clean? The long and short of the issue is simple. A quick internet search reveals an even mix of those who believe ductwork cleaning is either absolutely necessary or wholly unnecessary. If you're set on having your ducts cleaned, Today's Homeowner suggests a few ways of spotting a scam, including deals that are too good to be true, use of steam cleaning equipment, and bogus certifications.

Home improvement expert, Bob Vila, suggests the following in lieu of having your air ducts cleaned: “Bring in an HVAC technician to do an annual furnace cleaning. In the course of the work, he will clean the furnace heat exchanger. If he finds that it's not very dirty, in all likelihood the ducts aren't either.”

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