As a homeowner and an owner of rental property I can tell you that the air ducts sometimes need to be cleaned. If you have had pets or anyone smoking in your home (even a visitor) for any length of time, having the ducts cleaned is really good idea. I had a tenant who did not smoke, but got married to a smoker more than year after moving in. When I realized someone was smoking I had them move out, but the smell was awful. I had the ducts cleaned and sanitized (it was a bit extra). The ducts were shiny like new afterwards. I left the windows open for a few days and we cleaned the place super clean and then replaced the carpets. The duct cleaning was worth every penny because the house looked, smelled, and felt new afterward. I plan to have my own house ducts cleaned again this year as we have two cats. We had them cleaned about 12 years ago and they found building materials in the ducts! If you move into a house that has never had them cleaned, it is good to do it. If you have allergies, clean the ducts to see if it helps. You never know what is in your ducts if you have never had them cleaned.
Duct cleaning is a band aid, like washing you hands is. Under your description, why wash your hands more than once? If it gets cleaned once, it shouldn't get dirty again. Well that is, unless they touch something dirty. Keeping your hands completely clean is virtually impossible. Same as keeping dust out of your home. You clean your ducts and over a 3-5 year span they get dirty again. Also, duct cleaners are not licensed but should be certified by NADCA(National Air Duct Cleaning Association).

In addition, the service provider may propose applying chemical biocides, designed to kill microbiological contaminants, to the inside of the duct work and to other system components. Some service providers may also suggest applying chemical treatments (sealants or other encapsulants) to encapsulate or cover the inside surfaces of the air ducts and equipment housings because they believe it will control mold growth or prevent the release of dirt particles or fibers from ducts. These practices have yet to be fully researched and you should be fully informed before deciding to permit the use of biocides or chemical treatments in your air ducts. They should only be applied, if at all, after the system has been properly cleaned of all visible dust or debris.
The final cost of this service is best determined after a professional inspection. Many air duct cleaning companies build their prices based on individual services, while others offer package pricing which includes such components as the air conditioning and furnace. The following estimates can give you an idea of prices to expect for various services.
In some older homes, there was a grey Mylar flexible duct. After years of use, it started to decompose. A duct cleaning company can come out and find why your air is so dirty and why your building doesn’t heat or cool like it used to. This is a savings on your part. You could also be sucking in Hot, dirty attic air. However, sometimes when a duct cleaning company comes out to clean it, the old duct can be destroyed and have to be replaced. Someone with little experience can replace this ductwork but if it isn’t done right it can ruin a lot of things and cost a lot in repairs.

What about ringworm? If the fungus is as contagious as doctors warn, and the spores can live several months, doesn’t it make sense to spray some sort of fungus killer into the HVAC system to kill the spores that it has sucked in from the air? Duct cleaning would not be helpful at all here; these spores are microscopic and it could actually spread them further. But given how severely contagious ringworm is, body and especially scalp, does anyone make an aerosol product that will clean the system and kill the fungus? One the resident can use, not call an HVAC company; you can’t do that when you are in an apartment. I hear it’s not the same as mold, it is much more difficult. Truth?
And if you have flex duct and/or fiberglass ductboard in your home- the last thing you want is a big brush or anything abrasive running through it. Even high-pressure air can erode ductboard so I wouldn’t clean it with anything. If it becomes contaminated, get rid of it and install real ductwork. If your ductwork is accessible in the basement – the best thing to do is take it down and manually clean it if it’s full of junk. It’s not going to cost a nickel more to do that than to pay $500-1000 for a ‘duct cleaning machine” AKA big blower and vacuum – to do the job.
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 just had my blower module replaced because my AC coil was frozen over. The underside of my coils had a thick mat of dust because I had never had it cleaned. I cleaned it myself by using a soft brush attachement on a shop vac. The inside of the blower appears to have a white/green growth, and I am sure the ductwork of my 30 year old house can’t be in good condition.
I was with you until you said avoid steaming cleaning or moisture, there is no way you can remove mold or any other type of biological without moisture. The best way to do this is in fact with a steamer using a commercial disinfectant and a non reactive odor remover so your home smells refreshed and not like a hospital . This is directly contradictory to your article.
As one of the duct cleaners that do it right it disgusts me to hear the horror stories some of my past customers have had with the companies using scare tactics, bait and switch schemes, and just plain intimidation to make a fast buck. The Ductz franchise as a whole has gone behind other "duct cleaners" in the last year to the tune of almost three-quarters of a million dollars. All of this expense could have been avoided had the customers been able to do some background research before hiring. NADCA is a great organization and should be a minimum requirement for finding a duct cleaner. Other great questions include "How long does the service take?" (2 techs, 4-5 hours for a small house, 7-9+ hours for a two system house), "Do you clean the entire system including all trunk lines and the air handler (blower motor and evaporator coil)?", "How do you validate the job you have done?" (before and after picture reports work great). Beware of duct cleaners that say their process will solve all your air quality concerns. Duct cleaning is one of several steps to take to rid your home of unwanted dust, dirt, mold, and other allergens.
There are many interesting comments from several informed individuals. The question that has not been answered is how do duct systems get dusty and dirty? As a RESNET Home Energy Rater, I perform pressure tests on homes and duct systems, and the one common thread is . . . most air delivery sytems have large amounts of air leakage. The solution is to seal the duct system, and pay particular attention to the return duct system and ductwork near the air handler (the 'blower'). As others have said, a captive (sealed) duct system with proper filter maintenance should be more then adequate for most occupants. For those who have allergy, asthma, or other breathing problems, a filter with a higher MERV rating (number should be listed on the package) or a HEPA filter are good choices. These filters will capture smaller particulates and should improve the indoor air quality. Again, make certain that the entire duct system is sealed, preferably with mastic, second choice UL-181 foil tape - never use cloth duct (also known as duck) tape.
After major damage to a small addition on our home was damaged in the windstorm in May, the insurer’s preferred vendor sanded drywall without taping off the area. They relied on heat from the furnace to dry the mudding compound. They claimed they shut the furnace off while sanding and regardless of whether they did or not, they never cleaned up the drywall dust before turning the furnace back on. I now have drywall dust everywhere and my husband took photos to verify our concerns. They even sanded right above a cold air return. Vents were never covered either. The same company that created this mess is cleaning my ducts today. They have refused to clean the furnace. Their are health concerns for my almost 85 yr old mother who resides with us. I’ve tried 3 times in the last 7 days to escalate to a manager and they will not return my call. They just keep sending it back down to my adjuster. There are many other issues we’ve encountered since May as well. This is a major insurance company who has the resources to fix this mess but refuse. Please help!

Good article, but it fails to point out that leaky return-side ducts could be drawing dust and allergens into the duct system from the enclosed spaces in which they run, e.g. between walls, below floors, attic. So duct cleaning may only be a temporary solution. The homeowner can get a home energy audit -- free in many states -- to determine if they have significant duct leakage. An Aeroseal dealer may be able to effectively seal up the duct system without needing to tear into walls etc to get to the ducts.

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.”
The amount of time it takes to clean a residential HVAC system depends on many variables such as the size of the home, the number of systems, the extent of the contamination and the number of HVAC cleaners performing the job. Ask at least two contractors to inspect your system and give you a time estimate for your particular system. This will give you a general idea of how long the job should take as well as an idea of how thoroughly the contractor plans to do the job.

I turned on the AC when he was finished and immediately saw black fuzz balls the size of marbles come out of several of the registers. He said that was expected since everything was shaken up. So much for describing the service as cleaning. I paid him and sent him on his way. I cannot imagine that this type of service is worthwhile in anything but a new house. Apparently in old houses such as mine I can expect that using a whole house humidifier in the winter followed by a great AC can loosen the soot. Maybe this is to be expected for the first few weeks of summer each year. I now have lined the inside of the registers with cheesecloth to catch the fuzz. I’ll see if it stops after a couple of weeks.
The next step was cleaning the cold air returns. He found a good spot to drill an 8” hole for his vacuum hose. The procedure matched the other air ducts except that when he finished at the two cold return registers he drilled several holes in the cold ducts in the basement and blasted air into them. Because of our houses age and the upgraded return system, I noticed that the main sheet metal return duct had no top but was just butted up against the ceiling in the basement. When he blasted air in, dust and crap shot out the edges along the ceiling. Once he finished that he removed the filter and “swept” out anything at the bottom of the return with his hand into the 8” hose.
Duct cleaning is also important for energy saving. The U.S. Department of Energy specifies that almost half of the energy used for heating or cooling a home is wasted due to that contaminants pulled into it. These pollutants make your HVAC system work harder to deliver the desired output and also bring down its longevity. Therefore it is quite essential to get the ducts cleaned periodically.
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply a chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold), and prevent future biological growth. Some duct cleaning service providers may propose to introduce ozone to kill biological contaminants. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that is regulated in the outside air as a lung irritant. However, there remains considerable controversy over the necessity and wisdom of introducing chemical biocides or ozone into the duct work.
As a person with severe mold allergies, I live in a the South where the climate naturally breeds molds.We noticed a difference when we had our ducts cleaned.The company used a vacumn type system and covered all of our vents with plastic that was held up by the suction. We had no damage, no leaking dust/dirt back into the house and it took several hours. I think if you use a reputable company it makes the world of difference. Now we use better air filters and also have a UV light to prevent mold growth on ours system.We 'd do it again when the time comes. From your car's air filter to your dryer...anything works more efficiently when it is not filthy dirty.That's just common sense.
What about ringworm? If the fungus is as contagious as doctors warn, and the spores can live several months, doesn’t it make sense to spray some sort of fungus killer into the HVAC system to kill the spores that it has sucked in from the air? Duct cleaning would not be helpful at all here; these spores are microscopic and it could actually spread them further. But given how severely contagious ringworm is, body and especially scalp, does anyone make an aerosol product that will clean the system and kill the fungus? One the resident can use, not call an HVAC company; you can’t do that when you are in an apartment. I hear it’s not the same as mold, it is much more difficult. Truth?
I replaced all the ducts but the trunks in my 1969 home when I replaced the horizontal furnace under the house with a gas pack. I got advice from a friend who was an HVAC contractor. I was surprised to find the trunks and other ducts very clean. I replaced the individual runs with flex primarily for the insulation. I wrapped the trunks with insulation also.
I’m having my duct work cleaned this Saturday. Have a coupon for $49 through Amazon. Job normally $249. Had my basement remodeled about 18 months ago. The contractors were very thorough at blocking the vents, as far as I can tell. The offer is for HVAC and dryer vent cleaning. My house is 11 years old. I figured, $49 is not much. I appreciate your tips on not getting talked into any additional service, not to use solvents to clean, the certification information and before and after pictures. Very useful and I’ll be sure that all I spend is the $49 for the voucher.
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.
NADCA and EPA both have good points. Although, organizations are made to make money. Common sense and looking at NADCA and EPA pre-checklist. If you don't see it in the check list, you don't have to do it! But, if you do, look up Diamond certified co.s and the BBB. Beware of bait and switch scams, $60 vents and the like coupons which claim to help all for the measley sum of $79.00 bucks.
I'd have to disagree with all of your statements. Not only are they derived from no experience in the field, you are missing keys facts. Ducts even if air tight will get dirty. If they are not getting dirty, it means they are not working. Your returns side of the duct work is always under negative pressure when the system is operational.Therefore it is always drawing air in. Seeing how dust is made up mostly from dead skin humans shed daily. Around 1.6 Pounds of skin a year per human. Living in your home anything that is air born will be drawn back towards the cold air returns. That is what they are designed for, to draw stale air back to the system to be filtered and sent back through the house.Homes with carpet will actually have cleaner duct work than home with all tile or hardwood. This is because carpets hold onto dust particles and you vacuum them up. Whereas on hardwood or tile, dust can run freely back to the returns. Even if a duct system was sealed 100%, which is next to impossible to achieve 100% would still need to be cleaned. The cleaning may only have to be every 7-10 years for example. Most homes require every 5-7 years. And that's if it was done properly the first time. If you constantly hire people that have no or minimal knowledge of duct cleaning, You home would require cleaning more often. Every 2 years. That's a trade secret, The longer they recommend before the next cleaning, the odds are they did it right. That's not to say there aren't people that lie, because there are. Just have your duct cleaner take pictures before and after cleaning. Not just an outside view. Get in there, picture entire joist liners, Whole main runs and even long round pipes. Also it helps to have a company that guarantees their work. If it's not done right, they will come back and do it until it is. Most companies that do this make sure it is right the first time. Your not getting paid to do the job twice.
If not properly installed, maintained and operated, these components may become contaminated with particles of dust, pollen or other debris. If moisture is present, the potential for microbiological growth (e.g., mold) is increased and spores from such growth may be released into the home's living space. Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or other symptoms in people if they are exposed to them. If you decide to have your heating and cooling system cleaned, it is important to make sure the service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is qualified to do so. Failure to clean a component of a contaminated system can result in re-contamination of the entire system, thus negating any potential benefits. Methods of duct cleaning vary, although standards have been established by industry associations concerned with air duct cleaning. Typically, a service provider will use specialized tools to dislodge dirt and other debris in ducts, then vacuum them out with a high-powered vacuum cleaner.
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