Preventing against air leakage is great, but the only way to keep dust and debris out of a duct system would be to completely seal off the return-air side of the system, which would render the system useless. Cold-air returns will always pull dust and other particles into the system. A high-MERV rated filter is definitely a good idea, but it does nothing to keep the return side of the system clean. Definitely agree though to use foil tape to seal seams, etc. Duct tape dries out over time and as it does can actually add more particles to the air.
The jury is out on whether or not cleaning your air ducts and vents has a significant enough impact to be necessary. A proven connection between immaculate duct systems and air quality in the home has not been made. However, if your vents display any of the signs listed above, cleaning would certainly be in your best interest. Allowing mold, debris and bacteria to fester could create bigger problems down the line. If having your system disinfected is within your budget, you may prefer to take care of these issues rather than ignore them.
The EPA is so far behind on useful knowledge because of the lack of funding so don't be mislead. The Hvac old timers were left at the dock so to speak and missed out on the IAQ movement. The ones that are savvy and up to date on the information do Air Duct Cleaning, even tho that will lead to a few less service calls its the right thing to do for their customer. Please take a look into a return duct that has never been cleaned, I dare anyone to say it does not need to be cleaned.
Vinick calls air duct cleaning an essential part of home maintenance, akin to mopping and vacuuming. "It’s like changing the oil in your car,” he says. “If you don’t change the oil, you’re going to have a problem. When your components are loaded up with debris, the system has to work harder. When you remove that debris, you get energy consumption savings.”
Duct cleaning generally refers to the cleaning of various heating and cooling system components of forced air systems, including the supply and return air ducts and registers, grilles and diffusers, heat exchangers heating and cooling coils, condensate drain pans (drip pans), fan motor and fan housing, and the air handling unit housing (See diagram).