I hired duct cleaning company out of "Service Magic" website. I did not realize the name of his company was Duck cleaning of Central Florida...that should have given me a hint.. The guy did a very poor, incomplete job, and ruined a closet full of clothes when he sprayed up to clean a vent instead of taking it down and cleaning it outside. He left me with more than 1/2 dirty vents and ducts, did not do the air handler in the garage and failed to fog the system. He spent 6 useless hours at my residence and now his insurance is denying coverage..very disappointed in Service Magic....
All these pro duct cleaners answer with "it's common sense, everything operates better when cleaner" etc. But your explanation is correct. Especially so with flex tube ducting where dust gets "stuck" between the lowest valleys (between wire coil supports) where air flow is drastically reduced -- which is more than 50 pct of the entire interior surface area of the flex ducting. That sounds like a bad thing but also has a good effect of trapping dust from escaping.
While your HVAC filter is designed to trap particulate matter and prevent it from entering your air ducts, particles often still get through. The number of particles your HVAC filter traps is directly connected to the quality of air in your home: the lower the quality of air, the more particles will be present, and the more particles are likely to get through the filter. If these particles are allowed to build up, your HVAC system can become less efficient, operating longer to heat or cool your home. An inefficient HVAC system can result in inconsistent heating or cooling, higher utility costs, and expensive HVAC unit repairs, such as an A-coil or blower motor replacement if the problem is left unchecked. Air duct cleaning from Sears, which focuses on the dirt in your air ducts, can boost the efficiency of a dirty HVAC system, cleaning out the particulate matter that can hinder HVAC effectiveness and affect your health.
There are many interesting comments from several informed individuals. The question that has not been answered is how do duct systems get dusty and dirty? As a RESNET Home Energy Rater, I perform pressure tests on homes and duct systems, and the one common thread is . . . most air delivery sytems have large amounts of air leakage. The solution is to seal the duct system, and pay particular attention to the return duct system and ductwork near the air handler (the 'blower'). As others have said, a captive (sealed) duct system with proper filter maintenance should be more then adequate for most occupants. For those who have allergy, asthma, or other breathing problems, a filter with a higher MERV rating (number should be listed on the package) or a HEPA filter are good choices. These filters will capture smaller particulates and should improve the indoor air quality. Again, make certain that the entire duct system is sealed, preferably with mastic, second choice UL-181 foil tape - never use cloth duct (also known as duck) tape.
I agree that good filtration and a sealed system will prevent the need for duct cleaning. However, when we do get called it is because the duct work has reached a noticeable state of restriction or dust or the homeowner is hyper-sensitive to these pollutants in their home. Most of the time we find that no filter or a cheap (99 cent) filter is being used or they have serious duct leaks in the system. If you are hiring a cleaner make sure they are using professional cleaning equipment which will consist of a rotating brush system and a vacuum source. Be highly skeptical of the contractor with no branded system or the guy who shows up with just chimney brushes and a shop vac. He will not be able to reach around all the corners or all the runs in your system and he will be taking your money for a superficial cleaning at best. Only trust a company that offers VIDEO inspection and more importantly.... a contractor who repairs, installs and seals ducts if a problem is discovered or heaven forbid, created. Good luck and get your ducts sealed if you do have a leak! It is one of the greatest energy losses to a home other than being poorly insulated.