How To Clean Air Ducts
Written By: Alexis Bennett
Edited by: Andrew Dunn
Looking for information about cleaning air ducts?
Perfect you’re in the right spot. In this guide you’ll learn:
- Why is cleaning air ducts important?
- What is the best way to clean air ducts?
- What should you look for in an air filter?
- How can you minimize dust in air ducts in the first place?
- … and answers to all your air duct questions.
The air filters in your HVAC system do a lot, but they don’t pick up every bit of dust in your ductwork. Indoor air quality is on a lot of people’s minds these days. That’s why air duct cleaning is an important part of home maintenance planning.
What's In This Guide?
Why is Cleaning Air Ducts Important?
While it is important to understand that cleaning dirty air ducts won’t prevent all contact with harmful particles in the air, ignoring your air ducts is not a good idea. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers guidelines on when and whether to clean air ducts.
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Air ducts can house allergens like mold, rodent droppings, and dander, and excessive dust that can be released into your home. Gross! So, can you take care of this home maintenance task on your own, or do you need to call in a professional duct cleaning service?
The answer: you can do this! Read on to learn how.
What Tools Will I Need for Cleaning Air Ducts?
You won’t need an expensive toolbox or gear to clean your air ducts. You have these things in your home right now, so what you need for the job is as close as the utility closet and your kitchen junk drawer. Here’s what you’ll need for a good HVAC cleaning:
Vacuum – Good vacuums make the best duct cleaners. Ideally, you’ll want a heavy-duty vacuum like a Shop-Vac for the task, but a regular household vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment will do just fine.
Brush – Your duct system has a lot of nooks and crannies. A cheap stiff-bristled paintbrush is helpful for getting in the corners of the air ducts and generally getting things loose and ready for the vacuum.
Screwdriver – You will need a screwdriver – probably a Phillips head – to detach vent covers to clean the ductwork beneath them.
Paper Towels – It’s a messy job, there’s no way around it. You’ll want paper towels to cover adjacent registers and for general clean up as you go.
What is the Best Way to Clean Air Ducts?
It’s not a complicated job, but there are steps you need to take in a particular order. Here is the best way to make sure the air vents and ducts in your home are as clean as possible:
1. Cover supply registers
You don’t want dust blowing all over your house, so you’ll want to use those paper towels or rags to cover supply registers (openings that supply heated air to the rooms) to minimize the amount of dust flying around as you clean.
2. Turn on the fan
See step one. You might think turning off the HVAC system is the way to go, but keeping it on serves an important purpose. The fan motor should be running during this process to keep the dust moving so you can capture as much of it as possible. You’ll want to keep your old filter in place while cleaning, and then consider replacing it as the last step in the process.
3. Shake, rattle, and roll ducts to loosen dirt in ducts
Actually, just tap on them with the brush, screwdriver, or the edge of the vacuum to loosen dirt in ducts to get it loose and ready for the vacuum.
4. Clean supply registers
Use the vacuum brush or the paintbrush to clean between register vent slats, then remove and use the brush to loosen dirt. Then vacuum out the dust as far into the ductwork as you can reach.
5. Clean return air registers
Use the screwdriver to remove the register cover, and again, use the brush and vacuum to loosen and clean out the register.
6. Clean out blower compartment and return air boot
You’ll want to turn off the fan and the whole HVAC unit to do this. Then remove panels to access the blower compartment and return the air boot. This is where you are most likely to find a big buildup of dust, so take your time here.
7. Clean or Replace Filter
Your furnace filter or HVAC filter should probably be replaced at this point, but if it is the kind that is meant to be cleaned and reused, this will be your last step in the process.
For a visual tutorial on cleaning air ducts, watch this brief video:
What about cleaning those long stretches of ductwork where your vacuum hose doesn’t reach? Surprisingly, there is not likely to be much in the way of dust accumulation in these areas. If you want to be super-thorough, though, it is possible to open these vents at a seam and clean these areas in the deep recesses of your HVAC ductwork.
But is loosening those ductwork sections a good idea? As long as you seal it up properly afterward, it’s fine. You’re going beyond the basics here, so it may be a task beyond a weekend warrior do it yourself project.
How Can I Minimize Dust in Air Ducts?
You’ve gone to all this trouble to make sure your home’s air is as clean as possible. What can you do to minimize dust in the future?
After cleaning your ductwork, make sure all seams are completely sealed. This might be a task for a professional, but making sure seams are sealed and bends in flexible ductwork are not broken will help minimize the collection of dust and maximize the efficiency of your air conditioning and heating systems.
If you are concerned about harmful particulates, mold growth, and the like, consider an inspection of your air ducts by a National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) professional. Also, the National Institute of Health has a helpful fact sheet on HVAC ductwork that you might want to consult.
Final Thoughts on Cleaning Air Ducts Yourself
These days, you can’t be too careful about keeping the air clean and pure for you and your family. Cleaning air ducts is one small thing you can do to keep your heating and cooling system clean and at peak performance. For the well-being of you and your family, it is worth it!