How to Clean Your Air Ducts?

ByAllen Czermak


Cleaning your air ducts is an effective way to better the air quality in your home. At the same time, homeowners tend to see lower energy bills as a result of air duct cleaning, while improving the cooling system,s overall efficiency. The question is, do you have what it takes to clean your air ducts and vents properly without harming them?

Jim Harrington is a bus driver for NJ Transit who rides through the Lincoln Tunnel around 20 times a day. Due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, he was out of work and had lots of extra time on his hands. Jim thought that now would be an opportune time to clean those dirty air ducts in his home in Short Hills, NJ. The last time he had to remove the foundation vent was when his daughter Emma, dropped her earring down there. After probing with his hand deep into the air duct, Jim thought that he had finally located the earring, only to realize that the hard element was none other than an old dead spider. It took some time for his family to get over that experience, but he seemed more ready than ever to tackle this new task. Two days before the home air duct cleaning project, Jim decided to do some research on “How to clean air vents in your home?” Here is what he found:

Tools Needed for AC Duct Cleaning

When getting ready to clean your air ducts you will need a vacuum cleaner, leaf blower, power drill, old pillow, and a respirator to prevent breathing in the elements. Before you do anything, you need to make sure to turn off the power to the furnace.

Vacuum: When choosing a vacuum to clean your air conditioning vents, you want to make sure that you use a Shop-Vac or a vacuum which might get damaged. Many sharp elements like screws that tend to rest at the bottom of the air ducts get sucked up which may damage the hosing to the unit. That’s why it’s recommended to use an old or heavy-duty vacuum for this project.

Leaf Blower: After doing a thorough vacuuming to the best of your ability, the leaf blower will be used to loosen the remaining dust particles from the ac vents. With an extreme blow of air, the material lining your ducts will become visible with little to no film on its surface. For this you want to use an electric air blower, not a gas powered, since this will be all indoors.

Power Drill: Assuming that the air ducts in your home are made from steel, you’re going to need to get inside them to vacuum them out properly. This is done by making a five-inch diameter hole in the steel ducts with a core drill bit. If your core bit is less than a five-inch diameter, you might need to make multiple holes until you have a space wide enough to leverage your vacuum hose into the ducts. For those who are not living in a newly constructed home, chances are that the previous owner(s) might have had HVAC vent cleaning done in the past. If this is the case, the air conditioner cleaning service had already drilled the holes and covered them with steel plates. Locate these plate covers and unscrew them and start cleaning those ducts.

Old Pillow: The pillow does not have to be old, but you need something big enough to be used as a stopper, just before the air returns into the air handler. If you have some extra insulation, you can use that as well. The point is to prevent all elements from being blown into the air-cooling system.

N95 Respirator: When performing home air duct cleaning, a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator should be worn. This will assure the individual that no unhealthy debris is breathed in. No one knows how old the ducts are and what materials were used to build the home. The last thing anyone wants to breath in is asbestos and the NIOSH-approved N95 respirator should protect you.

How to Clean Ducts DIY?

Now that you have all the air duct cleaning tools, you’re ready to begin by starting the cleaning inside the home. Take your screwdriver and begin unscrewing the return vents. Make sure to do a thorough vacuuming of the outside plate and begin sucking up the dust and debris within the duct. Very often, you might find some item that you were always looking for like a set of keys. Regardless if you find anything or not the surface of the perimeter of the air vents needs to be thoroughly cleaned.

Once all the vents inside the home are clean, it’s time to begin cleaning deep inside the air ducts. You need to access the main HVAC ductwork. These air vents are usually in tight spaces like a crawlspace, basement, or attic. If you’re not up for the task to get soiled, hire a trusted local air duct cleaning service. Now you have accessed the duct work you need to get into them. This is done by either creating a new hole with a core drill or removing the steel plate covering a hole which had been made in the past. One-hole won’t do the job. Depending on the size of your air-cooling system will determine how many holes you will need to clean your ducts properly. The point where the duct leads into the air blower, is where you’re going to stuff the vent with a pillow.

Covering the Supply Registers Properly

This is the stage of the duct cleaning process that is by far the most crucial. Not covering the supply registers properly will not only make all the prior work worthless, but wreak havoc to the overall air quality in your home. After cleaning the outside of the vents, you can place a paper towel or pieces of parchment paper to block up the push vent. This might save you money, but might not hold when an extreme amount of air pressure is pushed up against them. They can either hold or blow off the vent, allowing all the loose dust and debris to go back into the home. The proper way to make sure that the register vents are not going to allow any dust or debris back into the home is to use temporary register sealing tape. If you’ve done everything else right, it will be worth your while to seal all the vent openings with a tape you can rely on.

Loosening Up the Remaining Dust In The Air Vents

Now that we have gotten rid of all the dust on the perimeters of the vents, it’s time to get out the leaf blower to loosen the remaining dust deep inside the vents. Plug the electric leaf blower into an outlet near the air handler and then point the leaf blower inside the air duct via the perforated hole. When you power on the electric leaf blower, the burst of air will dislodge all the remaining dust and debris from inside the vents. Wherever you cut a hole into the venting, is where you should blow it out. After doing this for a couple of minutes you will use the ShopVac to vacuum up the dust which is now loose. You can also use a long duster with a flexible head, to reach a point which the vacuum could not reach.

Congratulations! Now You Know How to Clean Air Ducts

The inside of your ducts is clean, and you did it all by yourself without hiring a local duct cleaning service. Make sure to place a metal plate over all the circular holes in the vents and secure them with foil mastic sealant tape. Then you can remove all the covers from the vents and do one final vacuum for any debris that might have come loose from the leaf blower. At this point you can power up your air-cooling system and let it run as usual. If you are seeing dust blowing around your home call an air duct cleaning specialist. Though you worked very hard, your ducts are still not clean.

Hiring a Local Air Duct Cleaning Pro In New Jersey

True, you’re a handy guy and have done some cool DIY projects that saved your family lots of money, but it’s OK to hire a local air duct cleaning company if this task is beyond your capabilities. In all truth, you can do this, but if not done correctly you might be compromising your cooling system. The last thing you want is to blow the dust and debris back into the air handler. This can ruin the equipment and lower its cooling/heating performance. In addition, if your duct work consists of nonmetallic air ducts, it’s easy to perforate them with one of the air duct cleaning tools mentioned above. If you’re up for the task and understand how HVAC system’s work, then go for it. However, if you’re just looking to save a buck and have little to no knowledge about air ducts, call a vent cleaning service for a quote.

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