Preventing against air leakage is great, but the only way to keep dust and debris out of a duct system would be to completely seal off the return-air side of the system, which would render the system useless. Cold-air returns will always pull dust and other particles into the system. A high-MERV rated filter is definitely a good idea, but it does nothing to keep the return side of the system clean. Definitely agree though to use foil tape to seal seams, etc. Duct tape dries out over time and as it does can actually add more particles to the air.
If you think duct cleaning might be a good idea for your home, but you are not sure, talk to a professional. The company that services your heating and cooling system may be a good source of advice. You may also want to contact professional duct cleaning service providers and ask them about the services they provide. Remember, they are trying to sell you a service, so ask questions and insist on complete and knowledgeable answers.
I’m a heating and air conditioning contractor. I’ve been in the trade for over 15 years. I’ve witnessed numerous duct cleaning projects and talked with many duct cleaners. Duct cleaning as it’s usually promoted is a fraud. Most duct cleaners claim to deliver cleaner air. They deliver exactly the opposite. The studies on duct cleaning prove it, including a May 1998 study sponsored by NADCA and the EPA! The stories are compelling, but they can come up with stories that “prove” anything they want. Internet searches are dominated by results from those who are paid to tell you that duct cleaning is worthwhile. Search a little more and you’ll find the truth.
You should be aware that although a substance may look like mold, a positive determination of whether it is mold or not can be made only by an expert and may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation. For about $50, some microbiology laboratories can tell you whether a sample sent to them on a clear strip of sticky household tape is mold or simply a substance that resembles it.