How Often Should You Clean Your Air Ducts

ByAllen Czermak


Last week, I had the opportunity of spending some time with my family at my brother’s home in Livingston, NJ. The kids got to play with their cousins and the wives chatted about the recipes that they planned on making for the upcoming holidays. As the men were sitting around the den waiting for halftime to commence on the last Giants game of the season, I began taking note how my brother, Greg neatly decorated his man cave. During my scan, I noticed that there was a significant accumulation of dust on the return air grille which draws in the air into the HVAC system. I asked my brother, “Did you ever think of getting professional air duct cleaning done?” Greg responded, “What is air duct cleaning?” I explained to him the process of how they clean the ductwork and recommended that he should get his ducts cleaned at least once every four years. My brother ended up making an appointment with the HVAC cleaning company I used.

What does air duct cleaning do?

Before going into the details of air duct cleaning, we need to first get a quick overview of how a basic central air conditioning and cooling system works. The concept of air conditioning is that it draws in the hot/cool air from a room(s) and passes it to the HVAC system situated in your home. Before entering the air handling unit, it will pass through a filter. Yes, these are the filters which can range from seven to fifty dollars, depending on the filter type, size, and how much you’re willing to spend. At this point a good filter which is changed twice a year can capture 90 to 95 percent of the dust and dander. Now that the air is clean it will blow through a cooling/heating element and then return into your home, cooling/heating the room(s).

When there is an accumulation of dust on the return air grille which sucks the air into the ducts, it’s time to think about getting them cleaned. It can be a localized problem, or it could mean that your air ducts need to be cleaned. The only way you can know is by removing the plate and peeking into the duct work with a flashlight. Even with a bright light and a good peering angle, your sight will still be somewhat limited and there can be an accumulation of dust further into the air duct. The basic idea of getting vents cleaned out, is to have all the parts of your HVAC system free of dust, dirt, dander, allergens, and any other unwanted air particles. Once this is done by a professional duct cleaning service, the air quality and system efficiency will be greatly improved.

Why does dust in the air duct get into the home?

There are a few reasons why the dust stuck in your air ducts gets back into your home. True, it appears to the common homeowner, that there is separate air intake (return air grille) and air output (air register vent), as the air is passing back and forth through the same ductwork. When the air is cooled/heated and heading back through the air register vent, it may pick up dust, dirt, dander, and allergens which are stuck in the supply and return plenum. Both residential and commercial ducts can build up an accumulation of thick dust over the course of years and even decades.

Air ducts of newly constructed homes should be cleaned.

Finally, the construction of your new dream home has been completed. You’ve called the moving truck and you begin packing up your belongings which are crammed into your third temporary rental. The family walks into their newly constructed home and begins the unpacking process. Your oldest daughter is excited to have her own room and quickly brings up her box of clothing to the newly furnished room. As she is laying her sweaters on the shelves of the expensive closet system you had the contractor install, she notices a film of dust.

With new construction comes lots of sawing and sanding which results in a large accumulation of dust. Some contractors keep the windows open and run a Shop-Vac which sucks in the sawdust and keeps the particles from flying around the room. Not always does this work and very often airborne particles either land somewhere or get sucked into your HVAC system. After months of work, large amounts of dust can accumulate in the duct work. Prior to moving into your dream home, have an air duct cleaning specialist have the ducts cleaned properly.

My township told me not to have my ducts cleaned.

Some government agencies will not recommend getting your ducts cleaned. Their primary concern is that the circular brush which is inserted into the ducts will end up damaging your duct work. It’s for this reason that you ask the right questions, understand the duct cleaning process, and are working with a reputable company that’s fully insured. You may decide to stick your vacuum into one of the HVAC vents to clean the ducts. What you may not know is that the vacuum hose or bristle head may damage the duct work. Redoing your HVAC ductwork can be a hefty expense in contrast to hiring a professional air duct company. Standard HVAC contractors know the process but may not have the sensitive air duct cleaning equipment to properly clean the ducts, doing more harm than benefit.

Beware of air duct cleaning scams.

It’s normal to want to get the best Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal, but when it comes to HVAC vent cleaning, it’s important to hire a reputable professional who is specific to this service. Homeowners may see an advertisement which say, “Air Duct Cleaning Deal – $79.99 For- Whole Home”. Always go in with your eyes and ears open and understand the process before anyone steps into your home. Certain people may have the backbone to stand up, but most will cave into their demands that certain parts of the HVAC system needs to be repaired or replaced. Often, these service providers will leave you with a bigger invoice, well exceeding the $79.99 price which you saw in the ad. In addition, how can one possible know how big your home is, and give you one price, whether you live in a one-bedroom apartment in Union, NJ, or in the governors, Drumthwacket mansion in Princeton, NJ?. Whenever you see a great price on air duct cleaning, make sure you’re on alert for potential scams.

Leaky air ducts pushing out dust into your home

It is possible to have clean duct work and still have dust, dander, and allergens flying around your home. This may be due to leaky air ducts allowing the particles to escape back into the home through tiny holes. Besides for the airborne elements flying around your home, you may find that the HVAC system is not running efficiently. Most air duct cleaning specialists should provide duct leakage testing. This will determine if your ducts are allowing the air to flow efficiently. The service professional will then locate the deficiencies and repair them. This should impact the system performance and keep the particles flowing through the ducts and finally getting caught by the filter.

Other factors that may contribute to your house being dusty.

When considering flooring for your home, it’s important to know that carpet generally leads to higher dust and allergen levels. It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with carpet, it’s just that it is a haven for particles like dust, dander, and allergens. The soft fibers in the carpet are close together which keep these particles stuck within the fabric. A good vacuum can get rid of the elements and keep the dust levels low. But, over the course of time, it tends to build up and its important to have a professional carpet cleaner to clean the carpets and rugs.

I recently replaced the carpet in my girls’ room with wood laminate flooring. It helped the air quality in the room and there is little to no dust at all. True you need to wear slippers during a cold winter night, but the no-dust advantage outweighs everything. If you do have carpet like most homes, it’s important to get a vacuum with a HEPA filter. This type of vacuum provides the highest level of filtration and does not allow the particles to escape. Every so often the filter should be removed, washed, and dried.

Final Words

If you’re ready to hire an air duct cleaning company, it’s important that they come by recommendation. The best way to know who you are working with, is by speaking to a local neighbor who was happy with the service they received. In addition, it’s important to get a complete picture of what the duct cleaning company will be doing in your home and how long it will take. Also, if it’s possible, someone should be home and have them explain the procedure. During the cleaning process, make sure there are no dust particles flying around the room. A good HVAC duct cleaning service should have sealed all the vents properly and is there to improve the air quality and not make it worse.

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