How to Clean Your Air Ducts

Cleaning Your Air Ducts : DIY or Professional?

If you rely on an HVAC system to cool and heat your home, you probably know the importance of taking proper care of your air ducts as part of HVAC system maintenance. The air ducts are the piping system that delivers and distributed cooled or heated air to indoor spaces and rooms that need it throughout your home. Air duct cleaning is one of the most important aspects of maintenance for this system and beneficial to your health. On average, it is recommended that air duct cleaning be done at least once every 1 to 3 years to keep your systems running smooth.

Why Clean Your Air Ducts

As you can probably guess, dirty air ducts make the air condition in your home, less than satisfactory. An unhealthy air builds up that is sometimes full of indoor pollutants. This in turn may cause allergic reactions as the pollutants include irritants such as building materials, smoke, plant pollen, animal dandruff, cleaning products and even mold spores. Besides being harmful to your health, such irritants also cause damage to your house. They can affect electronic equipment  while spores of fungi growth can affect furniture and appliances. Other factors can contribute to the frequency of cleaning like where you live and climate.

Here are some signs you may need a duct cleaning:

  • Dusty build-up around the outside of the vent register
  • Excessive debris around the filter area
  • Thick dirt in ducts
  • Noticeable amounts of dust exiting registers
  • Mold smell present in the air flow from vents
  • Visible vermin infestation or accessing

In addition to normal accumulations of dust and dirt found in air ducts, there are several other factors that can increase the need for regular  system cleanings:

  • Just purchased the home
  • Pets
  • Occupants with allergies or asthma
  • Cigarette or cigar smoke
  • Water contamination or damage to the home or HVAC system
  • Home renovation or remodeling projects

DIY Air Duct Cleaning

If you are apprehensive about trusting the quality of somebody else’s work, you want to save some money, or you’re just looking to add another DIY task to your list, clean the air ducts yourself.

Cleaning your own air ducts probably will not give you the same results as going with a quality company, but it will go a long way toward improving the indoor air quality of your home. A good air duct cleaning should involve the cleaning of all return-air grilles and registers, inside the air ducts and the interior of the heating and ventilating system. It is also a good idea to clean the furnace fat and if there’s an air conditioning pump that coils inside, it should also be cleaned. Some air duct professionals will also use a disinfectant to run through the air duct system to make sure all the mold, bacteria and dust mites are destroyed. Here is items you will need in order to do the cleaning yourself.

  • Screwdriver
  • Heavy-duty gloves
  • Cleaning brush
  • Rags
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Ladder

Air Duct Cleaning Steps

This air duct cleaning project is relatively easy and can be carried out in the following four steps:

      • Get your tools ready and inspect the area.  Make sure the floor around the air duct entrance is clean – you don’t want any small objects to fall inside when you remove the air duct covers.
      • Once you remove the air duct covers or return-air grille plates (the metal grinder-like plates), check the walls inside. Even if your air duct uses furnace filters, you still need to pay attention to the walls and make sure you clean these as best as you can. Because the walls may be covered with filters, use a brush and a rag to wipe out all the dirt – the sucking force of your vacuum cleaner may be too strong and will damage the walls.
      • You should be able to reach down a few feet with your vacuum cleaner hose which is good because, even though the air duct cleaning isn’t throughout – again, if you want them to be cleaned entirely you’ll need to hire a professional duct-cleaning service – it helps to eliminate some of the irritants.
      • Once you’re done vacuuming, put the return-air grille plates back on. After you’ve screwed them on, vacuum them as well to make sure you’ve removed all of the dust particles that might’ve gotten trapped when you were vacuuming your air ducts.Now sit back and enjoy the clean air that is circulating in your home.

    Also consider changing your HVAC furnace filter. Remove the existing filter from your furnace and make a note of the size printed on the sides of the filter. It will be numbers like 25x25x1 or something similar. Remember to put the filter back when you are done. Then buy a replacement filter which should cost anywhere from $5 to $20 at home improvement stores such as Home Depot or Lowe’s.

    Hiring a Professional

    If you choose to hire a duct cleaning service, do not assume that all duct cleaning service providers are equally knowledgeable and responsible. Talk to at least three different service providers and get written estimates before deciding whether to have your ducts cleaned. Also, most states and cities don’t license air duct cleaners, so you’ll need to vet them some other way. Ask for proof of liability insurance and workers’ compensation coverage. Any reputable company will have this coverage and be happy to provide written proof. Make sure the company has been around a while and kept the same name. If a company has been around your community for years, they’re unlikely to disappear next week if you have a problem.

    When the service providers come to your home, ask them to show you the contamination that would justify having your ducts cleaned. Ensure the provider :

        • is experienced in duct cleaning and has worked on systems like yours
        • will use procedures to protect you, your pets and your home from contamination
        • complies with NADCA‘s air duct cleaning standards and, if your ducts are constructed of fiber glass duct board or insulated internally with fiber glass duct liner, with the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association’s (NAIMA)recommendations.

    You should expect your service provider to do a thorough visual inspection to verify the cleanliness of your heating and cooling system. Some service providers use remote photography to document conditions inside ducts. All portions of the system should be visibly clean; you should not be able to detect any debris with the naked eye. Show the Post-Cleaning Consumer Checklist to the service provider before the work begins. After completing the job, ask the service provider to show you each component of your system to verify that the job was performed satisfactorily.


    Add air duct cleaning to your list of spring cleaning tasks. With cleaner air ducts, you and your family will breath easier and live healthier. If you want to maintain cleaner air between cleanings, take appropriate steps to avoid the pollutants mentioned earlier, and consider using an air purifier.

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