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Should I Have My Air Ducts Cleaned?

Diagram from the EPA document describing elements of an air handling unit

I frequently answer calls from clients asking for a professional opinion on air duct cleaning. “Does your company recommend air duct cleaning?”, “Is it a scam?”, “Will it cause more harm?”, and “Will it improve my indoor air quality?” are all common questions that I receive.

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to any of these questions. Information regarding the efficacy and potential issues or benefits from air duct cleaning is limited. Add to that the fact that conditions can vary wildly from one home to the next, and it becomes nearly impossible to make a blanket recommendation. When a client asks for advice, I often reference the EPA resource “Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?” This blog will summarize and explain key points outlined in this EPA document to help answer questions regarding air duct cleaning.

What is air duct cleaning?

According to the EPA website, duct cleaning can be defined as cleaning of the heating and cooling system components of forced air systems. This includes the supply and return air ducts and registers, grilles and diffusers, heat exchangers, heating and cooling coils, condensate drain pans, fan motor, fan housing, and the air handling unit housing. They particularly warn of the importance of ensuring that if you do hire a professional, that they agree to clean all components of the system and that they are qualified to do so.

Some industry standards exist, such as NADCA ACR, but methods of duct cleaning can vary. The EPA website explains that most often, a professional air duct cleaner uses tools (e.g. brushes, whips, compressed air)  to first dislodge dirt and debris in ducts, and then vacuums them out. Some vacuums exhaust back into your house and any particles missed by the filter end up in your indoor air. Other vacuums are truck mounted and exhaust to the outdoors.

When to get air duct cleaning?

The EPA states that air duct cleaning has never been proven to prevent health problems and reminds readers that dirty ducts are only one potential source for elevated dust and particle levels. The webpage also states that, “If no one in your household suffers from allergies or unexplained symptoms or illnesses and if . . . you see no indication that your air ducts are contaminated with large deposits of dust or mold . . . having your air ducts cleaned is probably unnecessary.”

 With that in mind, there are some situations in which air duct cleaning may be appropriate. While the EPA does not recommend routine cleaning, they outline that it may be useful in the following scenarios:

  • If there is significant visible mold (mold can only be certainly identified through lab sampling) inside ductwork or other system components.
  • If the ductwork is infested with pests like insects or rodents. 
  • If ducts are clogged with excessive dust or if particles are being released into the home from supply vents.

And remember, if you do hire a duct cleaner, ensure that they make certain there are no asbestos-containing materials in the system prior to the cleaning. Indoor Science can assist in testing and inspection for asbestos-containing materials.

How to prevent duct contamination

Duct cleaning may be useful in some circumstances and unhelpful in others. Preventative maintenance, on the other hand, will always be important. Proper care and precautions on the front end will help minimize the needs for professional cleaning and repair later on. 

The EPA webpage has more extensive recommendations for preventative maintenance that you should reference if interested. For brevity’s sake I’ll only include a few key points below:

To prevent dirt from entering the system:

  • Use the highest efficiency air filter recommended by the manufacturer of your heating and cooling system.
  • Change filters regularly. (If they become clogged, change them more frequently.)
  • Be sure you do not have any missing filters and that air cannot bypass filters through gaps around the filter holder.
  • Dust and vacuum your home regularly.

To prevent ducts from becoming wet:

  • Promptly and properly repair any leaks or water damage.
  • Make sure the condensate pan drains properly. Check any insulation near cooling coils for wet spots.
  • Make sure ducts are properly sealed and insulated in all non-air-conditioned spaces (e.g., attics and crawl spaces). 
  • Make sure that your air conditioning system is the proper size for your needs and that all ducts are sealed at the joints.

If you are looking to assess your home’s general air quality, measure particulate levels, or get personalized recommendations for controlling moisture and humidity at your home (or if you have any other air quality concerns), give us a call at 312-920-9393 for a free personalized quote.

Source: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/should-you-have-air-ducts-your-home-cleaned#deciding

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”

2 thoughts on “Should I Have My Air Ducts Cleaned?

    I appreciated it when you talked about how ducts can end up being moldy and in-turn cause allergy attacks if they’re not cleaned properly. Since my family has started sneezing more often lately, I feel like this is already happening and I have to act quickly before we get even more attacks. I’ll start browsing around for any cleaning services that offer help with ducts so I can keep my family healthy.

    Afton, one way to test that that theory might be a visual check and/or some air sampling for mold at the HVAC supply and return. You could reference iaqa.org to find a certified mold professional near you.