Yes, you should clean your air ducts. But only in certain situations – and only if you hire a company committed to doing it the right way.

Air duct cleaning is a tricky subject. According to the EPA, cleaning air ducts doesn’t always prevent health problems or reduce dust levels inside your home. That said, the EPA says you should consider cleaning your air ducts when:

  • There’s visible mold growing inside the ducts or your HVAC equipment. Other red flags include a musty smell coming from your supply vents or mold spores on your grilles.
  • You know that vermin lives or has lived inside your ducts. It might even be a good idea to replace your ducts if this is happening.
  • Your ducts contain large amounts of dust, debris, or particles that are released from your supply vents.

We’ll expand on that list a little bit, primarily because we’ve seen how air duct cleaning provides relief in the following situations:

  • You or your family members have allergies, and you live in a home where the previous occupants owned pets.
  • You or your home’s previous occupants owned pets and either failed to regularly change your air filter or did not use one.
  • You’re on a mission to optimize your home’s indoor air quality.

Along with proper air filtration, controlled ventilation, and crawl space encapsulation, duct cleaning is a key strategy for achieving healthier indoor air. It also helps you improve airflow throughout your HVAC system, optimizing efficiency. The thing is – and this is important – not everyone does it right.

The right way to clean air ducts

You probably won’t be cleaning your air ducts yourself. Service providers use truck-mounted or portable vacuums with special attachments and HEPA filters. Without this equipment, they can’t reach deep inside your air ducts and clean out the grime.

If you ever see a company advertising air duct cleaning for just a couple hundred dollars, beware. They probably don’t have the equipment to do the job correctly. At worst, they’ll only clean your supply grilles. And yes, air duct cleaning scams are a thing.

Here’s what to expect when you hire an air duct cleaning contractor:

  • Complete cleaning of all air ducts and grilles: Any mold, gunk, dust, and other debris will be removed, leaving the inside of your ducts pristinely clean. Ask for photos if you can’t look inside the ducts to see for yourself.
  • Blower motor and indoor coil cleaning: When these components are dirty, indoor air quality can be just as bad as when you have dirty ducts. Be sure your contractor cleans yours, if necessary.
  • Filter replacement: If you’re using old filters in your return vents, your contractor should set you up with new ones.

That’s the bare minimum. In cases where a contractor removes mold from the inside of your ducts, ask about adding antimicrobial sanitizers to the system to prevent the mold from coming back. In our experience, sealing your air ducts after you clean them is essential for making sure they stay clean.

Think about it like this: If you’ve regularly changed out your air filter over the years, how did your ducts get so dirty? In most cases, it’s because they were pulling in dirty air from the inside of your attic or crawl space. This dirty air was mixed with the clean, filtered air.

At the same time, contaminants were building up inside your ductwork. Not good.

Air duct cleaning is great, but all it does is fix the immediate problem. By sealing your air ducts, you address the issue at its source, eliminating the likelihood of your ducts getting dirty again any time soon.

Special considerations for air duct cleaning

Cleaning air ducts doesn’t make sense for everyone. If you aren’t experiencing inexplicable allergic symptoms, don’t own pets, or don’t see anything lining your return duct other than a thin layer of dust, you might not have a problem.

Another consideration is the type of ductwork you use. Air duct cleaning makes the most sense with old, hard pipe ducts. Flexible ductwork, on the other hand, is harder to clean because it tends to contain more curves. The vinyl interior is tricky to clean, too. If you’ve got dirty flex ducts, consider replacing them with new ducts instead of cleaning them.

And if you’re serious about improving indoor air quality, don’t stop at replacing the filter. Find out whether your contractor can install a HEPA system into your HVAC equipment. In addition to superior filtration, many HEPA filtration systems connect to the outdoors to bring in the fresh air and optimize your home’s ventilation.

You might only need to clean your air ducts once.

It’s true. Cleaning air ducts isn’t something that has to be done once per year or even once every five years.

If you seal your ducts after you have them cleaned, you can usually wait a decade or more before worrying about it again. Take things a step further by encapsulating your crawl space, and you’ll keep high humidity from compromising the integrity of your HVAC system components. The result? No mold in us around your air ducts, and no need to clean them.

Clean ducts, after all, are part of a healthy home. The longer yours stay dirty, the longer you and your family will battle with indoor allergens and contaminants.

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