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Do Home Air Ducts Really Need to Be Cleaned

Jun 25, 2008
All year long I'm swamped with junk mail advertising those services that come into your home and actually vacuum out all the accumulated dust and debris (and even mold) that builds up the metal ducts of any sort of forced air heating or air conditioner system. These companies usually pull up to your house in vans that have tremendous vacuum cleaning units in them. They often run large hoses (more like giant tubes) into a home and basically suck out all the dust and debris from the vents of a home. Some actually scrub the insides of the ducts, to get out any mold or solid debris stuck inside the ducts.

These services aren't cheap and usually cost a few hundred dollars up to a few thousand dollars based on the size of your home and the different levels of cleaning service you choose.

If you know your ducts are dirty you can unscrew the air intake vents from the wall and clean a little bit of the ducts yourself. You can use a home vacuum to suck out anything you can see or reach, but just sucking the dust from the 1% of the actual ductwork you can get to doesn't really make me feel too confident about the cleanliness of the 99% you can't get to.

Sellers of duct cleaning services argue that all the dust and debris is being blown into your home and into your lungs every day. Some other people don't agree with that and claim that most of that dust in your ducts is in your home anyway (how else would it get into your air ducts) and you really don't breathe it in because, hey, the dust is in the vents and clearly not blowing around too much. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published some documents on the idea of cleaning your air ducts and they're fairly interesting. They note that no studies have actually shown definitively that cleaning your air ducts makes the air in your home any cleaner.

So should you have your air ducts cleaned? Here's a quick run down of when you should and should not bother cleaning your air ducts.

You DO want to consider having your air ducts cleaned if you have any of the following:

Clean your ducts if you have any sort of respiratory or lung disease which can be agitated by dust or tiny airborne particles. You should probably stay out of your home for a day or so after cleaning and you should definitely get your ducts tested by a professional lab. Some duct cleaning companies can help you with this scientific testing.

Clean your ducts if you have had any sort of major or minor construction in your home involving dust, fiberglass or other airborne particles that could have been sucked into the duct system and blown out into the air at a later date. Many contractors will purposely seal the air intake vents in a house if they are working with something extremely dusty.

Clean your ducts if you have any sort of visible mold growth or any sort of positive testing for mold in the air ducts. Professionals can run air tests, or you can get a kit to collect a sample and send it to a lab.

Clean your ducts if you know you have some sort of blockage (full or partial) in your air ducts due to debris.

Clean your ducts if you have seen any sort of evidence of animal activity (droppings, nesting) in your air ducts.

If you don't have any of those problems, then you can probably skip the expensive professional air duct cleaning and simple do a little vacuuming inside the returns yourself. Before you do anything you might want to have your duct system inspected and tuned up by a heating and cooling professional every couple of years just to make sure everything is still working as it should and you can catch any small problems before they get bigger.
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