Air duct cleaning can be an important part of general household cleaning and maintenance. The ever-increasing use of central air conditioning, which requires airtight conditions, lessens air recycling and means you're breathing in the same dust year after year. Many homeowners wonder how they can clean their air ducts since plant pollen, animal dandruff, smoke, pollutants from outside air, dust mites, and even mold spores can accumulate in them. Since most of the dust accumulates around air duct and returns that are visible, it can become an unsightly problem.
One way to clean your air ducts is by hiring a professional service. Many companies offer air duct cleaning at a cost of $450 - $1,000. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that if you have your heating and cooling system cleaned professionally, make sure the provider cleans all components of the system, and that they have the qualifications to do so. If they're not qualified, you may have more problems than when you started. Improper vacuum collection can release more dust and contaminants into your home, so much so that you may have been better off leaving the dust in place. Also, an improperly trained service provider can damage your duct system, resulting in an unexpected repair bill for you.
If you or someone in your home has allergies, cleaning air ducts probably won’t help. In fact, improper cleaning might stir up more dust and worsen the situation. According to the EPA, duct cleaning hasn't been shown to prevent health problems, in general. Studies don't conclusively show that dust levels increase because of dirty ducts or decrease after cleaning.
If you're concerned about mold, either because you know your home has had mold problems, there's a musty smell, or you actually see mold, then it's time to call in a professional to inspect your system. Be sure to insist on seeing any mold the inspector finds. You may even want to have it tested to make sure. Perhaps most importantly, be sure to address the cause of the mold. Air duct cleaning alone won't prevent mold from reappearing.
The EPA also recommends that if no one in your house has allergies or dust-caused illnesses, and if you don't see any mold, smell a musty odor, or see large accumulations of dust, you probably don't need professional cleaning. It's normal for return registers to get dusty and is not a sign of a dirty duct system.
However, this doesn't mean you shouldn't take steps to clean your ducts yourself. You can possibly avoid some allergy hazards, as long as you do the job carefully. The last thing you’ll want to do is stir up dust unnecessarily, causing more problems. Cleaning your ducts may also lessen the amount of dust accumulating on your electronic equipment and furniture. But, most importantly, you'll eliminate the unsightly buildup of dust and grime that invariably accumulates around registers. For visual appeal, cleaning your air ducts and returns yourself should be done when you change your furnace filters. This level of frequency will also help prevent big dust buildups that could cause a lot of dust to be released into your home all at once.
First, inspect all your registers and cold air returns. Be sure to locate hard to find registers, or notice registers located in a basement ceiling or behind a heavy object. Be sure to have both flat head and Phillips screwdrivers, thick rubber gloves, a brush, rag and vacuum cleaner. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, if possible.
Before removing the air duct and return covers, make sure all small objects that could fall into the duct system are cleared away. You don't want to have to reach down to retrieve them. Once the covers are removed, begin vacuuming dust away. Be sure to reach as deeply into the vent as you can without cutting yourself on the ductwork. A lot of dust will come up quickly and easily, but you'll notice that there will be accumulations of dust that simply won't budge. Use a rag or brush to wipe these areas clean. In some cases, you'll simply loosen clumps of dust that will fall loose. It's best to vacuum as you rub these areas clean so that the dust doesn't fall into your duct system.
Don't try to go any more than a foot or two past the duct opening. Anything deeper into the duct system needs to be handled by a professional. Before putting the duct and return covers back in place, give them a good cleaning. You may need to soak the return covers, as they are usually the dirtiest.