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What You Need to Know About Cleaning Your Home's Air Ducts

Is this a DIY job? Or do you need to hire someone?

a vacuum cleans out an air vent in a hardwood floor
We detail how to clean your air ducts, but you might want to hire a professional.
Getty Images

Your air ducts and vents require regular maintenance. Ignoring tasks like replacing your filter each month can invite pollutants into your home's ventilation system. Viruses, bacteria and fungi can invade your air ducts and become suspended in your indoor air if your ducts are left uncleaned. 

It is also important to note that those with clean ducts report better overall health. And for people with respiratory issues and allergies, clean ventilation can prevent symptoms from being triggered and becoming a higher risk. Be sure to reach out to a health professional if you have any questions about how indoor air quality might be affecting your health.


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Keep reading for details on how to safely clean your dirty air ducts, including whether you should actually tackle this chore yourself -- or hire a professional instead. 

Hire a professional 

While you certainly can attempt to do a basic cleaning of your air ducts yourself, we highly recommend consulting a professional for a more thorough job. Your home's HVAC system has a variety of sensitive components that should only be accessed and maintained by a professional service provider who knows what they're doing. Fan motors, fan housings, heat exchangers and cooling coils may be covered in dust, requiring professional insight and experience to clean safely. 

Apart from dust, pests and microbial pathogens could also be living in your air ducts. The use of chemical agents, such as pesticides and biocides, will require the expertise of a professional. Your HVAC system may have been contaminated or damaged by pests, resulting in unexpected hazards. Play it smart and leave the air duct cleaning to a qualified provider.

Find an air duct cleaning service

Start here to search for a professional air duct cleaner

If you are in any of the following states -- AZ, AK, CA, FL, GA, MI, and TX -- ask your prospective air duct cleaner if they hold any special licensing. Qualified service providers may have their own particular approach to how they go about cleaning your ducts, but they should incorporate NAIMA's practices and NADCA's industry standard in their efforts, especially if the ductwork involves fiberglass. Want to know if your duct cleaner was thorough? Consider viewing the EPA's Post Cleaning Consumer Checklist.

Be wary of companies that claim remarkable health benefits as the research for clean air ducts and their impact on a resident's health is still in its infancy. All air ducts accumulate dust and require cleaning, although the amount of dust that warrants a cleaning is subjective. A professional can help you identify your home's specific air duct cleaning needs and provide tips to help improve your indoor air quality year-round. 

How to clean your air ducts

Still curious about the steps involved in cleaning air ducts? Here are the basics, although we still don't recommend attempting it as a DIY project:

1. Check the vents

Open a vent cover to check inside for dirt, dust or any other matter you don't want in there.

2. Check the return registers

Check the return air registers for dust buildup. Pay attention especially if there is a thick layer coated on the registers.

3. Remove the filter

Remove and examine the air filter. If your air filter is dirty and covered in dust, it's time to change it.

4. Check the furnace

Open up your furnace compartment and check the blower fan, motor and the furnace controls for dust. 

5. Check the air conditioning coil

Examine the air conditioning coil. If you find dust on it or the housing walls, then your air filter isn't working.

6. Turn off power

Turn off the power to your heating and air conditioning units. Note: Shutting off the thermostat does not power down the unit; you need to turn off power at the breaker panel or power switch on the furnace. 

7. Remove the air duct covers and clean

Remove the air duct covers and use a brush to clean the grates. Make sure to be thorough. Use a vacuum to clean out the ducts. A model with a hose will give you the most maneuverability. 

8. Clean ceiling vents

Last, clean the vents on your ceiling. You can use a vacuum or broom to clean off the dust.

For more, check out our article on how to improve your indoor air quality.