Yes, ducts can look terribly dusty. However, that dust will not become aerosolized during the normal operation of your furnace. There is an easy way to test this. Rent a particle counter and test the air flowing out of your registers before and after cleaning. You will not see any improvement in the air quality or any reduction in the airborne dust level. Think of it this way. Duct cleaning companies tell you that you need to clean your ducts when you can see a layer of dust in your ducts. Yet that very layer of dust is proof that duct cleaning is unnecessary, because that dust proves that the air movement in your furnace is not fast enough to re-aerosolize the dust.
Since most states and municipalities don’t license air duct cleaners, you need to check their professional credentials instead, such as NADCA membership. EPA recommends all duct cleaners follow NADCA standards. Member companies must keep at least one technician on staff who has passed a NADCA test. “They have to pass rigorous testing to earn the certificate, and our code of ethics is very important,” Vinick says.
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts as a means to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold) and prevent future biological growth. They may also propose the application of a "sealant" to prevent dust and dirt particles from being released into the air or to seal air leaks. You should fully understand the pros and cons of permitting application of chemical biocides or sealants. While the targeted use of chemical biocides and sealants may be appropriate under specific circumstances, research has not demonstrated their effectiveness in duct cleaning or their potential adverse health effects. No chemical biocides are currently registered by EPA for use in internally-insulated air duct systems (see Should chemical biocides be applied to the inside of air ducts?).