When these aren't properly maintained and sanitized, they can build up dust, pollen, and even mold. This means when the air conditioner or heater turns on, the spores are released into the air for you to inhale. While some are less harmful, people who have allergies or sensitivity to certain spores will react negatively. Plus, mold is dangerous for anyone to ingest and should be avoided by regular maintenance.
Since most states and municipalities don’t license air duct cleaners, you need to check their professional credentials instead, such as NADCA membership. EPA recommends all duct cleaners follow NADCA standards. Member companies must keep at least one technician on staff who has passed a NADCA test. “They have to pass rigorous testing to earn the certificate, and our code of ethics is very important,” Vinick says.
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.
In addition, the black dust was found in most of the heat registers. He could rub it off on his fingers but did nothing but spray compressed air on it which didn’t make it disappear since it wasn’t loose. Also, in the register in the basement he described the black dust as being oily. The reality of that situation is that I had the AC on until the morning of the service and minutes after he snaked the hoses in my back door it started raining. The basement register had condensation from the humidity all over it. It was not oily but wet. He asked for an old towel and wiped it out. Never saw anything so black – because I never had to clean soot. That is what I have in my ducts. Soot from years of the old coal furnace.

If your non metal ductwork is that dirty you should just have it replaced AND sealed. Also most duct systems are not very well designed. Look for proper sizing and do not go cheap with one or two intakes (return grills) You need them through-out the house. Here in Austin the duct cleaners are carpet cleaners and chimney swifts. (this is who the duct cleaning equipment mfgs call on when the hvac people do not get on board. They DO clean other types of ductwork and we (the hvac guys) have to fix them. I am not aware of any of these non hvac guys cleaning and servicing the actual equipment. Here in Texas it is against the law for them to do so. Treat the entire house as a system, not just the ductwork and /or hvac equipment. Home performance really does work to increase comfort and air quality while reducing operating costs.
Demonstrate visible evidence of microbial growth in your duct work. Some service providers may attempt to convince you that your air ducts are contaminated by demonstrating that the microorganisms found in your home grow on a settling plate (i.e., petri dish). This is inappropriate. Some microorganisms are always present in the air, and some growth on a settling plate is normal. As noted earlier, only an expert can positively identify a substance as biological growth and lab analysis may be required for final confirmation. Other testing methods are not reliable.
The original furnace was a coal fired “octopus” design which had no blower to circulate the air but relied upon warm air rising to distribute the heat. That also means that the system breathed air in from the basement and most of this type did not have a cold air return system. At some point (probably in the 1940’s) the system was upgraded to a forced air gas furnace. The upgrade included replacing the 12″ diameter air ducts exposed in the basement with 6″ ducts and a cold air return system of ducts from the two (only two) air returns on the first floor.
Moisture can enter the duct system through leaks or if the system has been improperly installed or serviced. Research suggests that condensation (which occurs when a surface temperature is lower than the dew point temperature of the surrounding air) on or near cooling coils of air conditioning units is a major factor in moisture contamination of the system. The presence of condensation or high relative humidity is an important indicator of the potential for mold growth on any type of duct. Controlling moisture can often be difficult, but here are some steps you can take:
Had duct cleaned (apartment) however, dust is still settling throughout the apartment. Contractor said no other cleaning necessary until two (2) years. Is there a time period before dust no longer settles prior to that time? Should the vendor had worn a mask? He did not cover his face the vents and dust was blown throughout the apartment (had family help with the cleanup). I had to leave when they left because I have asthma and I couldn’t breathe without coughing. Please help!
My best advice has always been that a proper duct cleaning is a valuable investment when moving into a home (new or old), after major renovations and if the ducts have never been cleaned before. It is unlikely that there will be increased air flow, as finding major blockage is unusual, but this will eliminate this as a possible concern if there are air flow concerns. It is also true that the "dust" that is cleared out will most likely never have been distributed through the house unless there has been some work done on the ducts. What is cleared out will be pet hair, toys, clothes, construction material, and biological material (small carcasses and/or feces). Once a proper cleaning is done a follow-up is rarely necessary, but up to the home owners discression.
Some research suggests that cleaning heating and cooling system components (e.g., cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers) may improve the efficiency of your system, resulting in a longer operating life, as well as some energy and maintenance cost savings. However, little evidence exists that cleaning only the ducts will improve the efficiency of the system.
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