Is Duct Cleaning Worth It?

man in mask looking at large duct filter

Many homeowners have forced air gas furnaces that blow heat through ductwork and vents around their homes. You may wonder if you should get the ducts cleaned, especially if you’ve owned your home for years without ever having it done.

Many companies solicit homeowners with lofty promises of cleaner air at one-time reduced prices, which can be enticing – but is duct cleaning worth it? The answer is usually no, but, it depends. Let’s go over the details of what duct cleaning is, and if it's something your home would benefit from.

What is Air Duct Cleaning?

The service consists of professional cleaning of your air vents and duct-work with special tools and vacuums that will not only get at dust and debris but also any Lego pieces or Army men that have made their way through the registers.

A good company will clean the whole furnace system, including all supply and return points, grills, and registers, as well as fans, motors, heat exchangers, drain pans, and housing units.

If a company offers to spray any chemicals afterward, buyer beware. There is no reason why a thoroughly cleaned system should need any kind of product added.

Particles and Dust

hands with cleaner removing dust from vent grate

We live with a certain amount of airborne dust particles, but it's likely not caused by dirty air ducts. Cooking, cleaning, smoking, clothing, furniture, and general movement around your home all create more dust than the fans of your furnace.

If you're worried about dust particles in your home, there are better options than air duct cleaning. Changing your furnace filter regularly, sealing any leaky air ducts, and getting yearly HVAC inspections will ensure that your furnace is working smoothly, and filtering out dust and particles properly.

Will Clean Ducts Prevent Allergies?

If you suffer from allergies or believe your home is overly dusty, cleaning the air ducts in a normal home will not solve these issues. Companies like to show you before and after pictures which can be very misleading.

While it may seem like a good thing to do as a part of regular house maintenance, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not recommend yearly cleaning of air ducts. They suggest doing it “as needed.”

When to Consider Duct Cleaning

man with spray device cleaning air vent duct

Mold Growth

If for some reason you suspect that there may be mold growing in your duct system, then cleaning is warranted. It’s very rare for mold to grow in these conditions since the environment is arid and warm; not an ideal location for mold growth.

If you see dark spots or smell mold, you’ll want to make sure that what you see or smell actually is mold which means tests should be done on the particulate matter. Companies may want to tell you there is mold, so make sure to get confirmation. Insulated air ducts that get wet may get moldy and would likely need to be replaced, not cleaned.

After a Renovation

broom and dustpan gathering debris from renovation

If you recently had a renovation and believe there are excess particles in your registers and ducts, cleaning will be beneficial. Most renovation companies cover registers when working, and will vacuum out any debris after each day of work.

A small amount of renovation dust may be present afterward, however, this would dissipate in time just like any other particles with regular vacuuming, and proper furnace functioning. Ducts would have to be clogged or full of debris for cleaning to be of any substantial use.

Pests and Animals

If you had issues with pests that were in your duct system for whatever reason, this could also justify air duct cleaning once the vermin were eradicated, and any entry holes were sealed up. Again, replacement may be more warranted in this case, as well.

Homes with pets may benefit from a cleaning every few years, however, it is unlikely that it will remove any excess dander and hair. It will retrieve any errant cat treats and dog toys. Vacuuming with a HEPA filter is much more efficient at removing pet dander than getting your ducts cleaned.

There may be situations that warrant air duct cleaning, however, the vast majority of homes will not benefit from the service regularly. Dust particles in venting systems either never make it into your living space, or don't pose a threat to your health. If you suspect there's a problem with your home's indoor air quality, talk with a doctor about any symptoms, and check out the EPA's website for articles on how to assess problems and make improvements.

If you decide to get your ducts cleaned, make sure a company is reputable, and choose one that doesn’t rely solely on the suction of an outside truck. As a rule, stay away from telemarketers. You get what you pay for.