WELL, this summer when I opened them up we had black dust spewing from one of the upstairs vents. It resembled the fuzz that comes off new towels. This prompted us to look into duct cleaning. We heard from someone who had it done several times, said it was worthwhile, and knew of a firm that did a good job. Clean Air America sent a single technician for the appointment and after counting registers and ducts gave me a price of $360.00 which included “sanitizing” the system (a $99 additional fee per can used). The small size of the plenum forced him to connect the 8” round vacuum hose from the truck to the 10” square opening from our humidifier unit. In hindsight, a mistake since it reduced the “negative” pressure in the system.

Air duct cleaning is done by heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals. The pros use industrial-strength, truck-mounted vacuums and powerful brushes and hoses to clean inside the metal ducts that make up your forced air heating and cooling system. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends duct cleaning if there is “substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface ducts, ducts that are infested with vermin such as rodents or insects, or ducts that are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.”
I am NADCA Certified Air Systems Cleaning Specialist. Over the years I have learned on simple answer to this questions: there air duct cleaners and there are pretenders. There will be no benefit at all if you use on the very cheap pretender because they will not really clean anything. On the other hand if you call a qualified air duct cleaner with a NADCA Certification you will, like 99% of my customers, report improvement with your respiratory problems, you will see less dust and the job will pay for itself with energy savings and repair prevention.
fact is most homes have bad filter racks. when you insert the filter it doesn’t seal well to the sides so some of the air and dust bypass it and end up in the supply ductwork and into the house. Most of the dust in the supply ductwork settles down and doesn’t get blown in the house but some of it does when the blower starts up or when you put a new filter. If you have allergies or other health problems put in an electronic air cleaner, get your ducts cleaned and run the fan as much as you can afford. you can also get an ECM motor installed which is going to be worth it if you want to run the fan 24/7. If you have uninsulated metal ducts take down the ones you can and wash them. Then put them back and seal the joints. Cleaning the ductwork also improves airflow which is important to AC and Heat pump systems for efficiency. An electronic air cleaner will also improve airflow and static pressure because they usually have a much larger filter surface area. An electronic air cleaner also keeps the ac coil clean like new which means better efficiency and no cleaning needed. AC furnaces sometimes grow mold around the coil because of the condensation. Electronic air cleaners should be able to filter mold spores but the best remedy is installing a UV light next to the coil which will kill the mold.
Some of the research I have done suggests to have your ducts cleaned when you first purchase a new home to remove drywall dust. Maintain your system well and you shouldn't have to do it again until you want to sell. Those are the two times cleaning was suggested. So for peace of mind maybe it is a good idea to do it even if you buy a used home and then maybe every 5-10 years.
Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts or go down after cleaning. This is because much of the dirt that may accumulate inside air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space. It is important to keep in mind that dirty air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to health.
You should be aware that although a substance may look like mold, a positive determination of whether it is mold or not can be made only by an expert and may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation. For about $50, some microbiology laboratories can tell you whether a sample sent to them on a clear strip of sticky household tape is mold or simply a substance that resembles it.
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