My 48 yr old house (mine for the last 4 yrs) has considerable dust in the return plenum (fiber duct). I’m remodeling and recently re-sealed the return plenum AND the site-fabbed transition built when the new unit was installed, 2013. The return was leaky no doubt drawing musty, dusty air from the crawl space due to the Red-Neck fab & seal job! Pitiful craftsmanship! It took me 7 hours to fix the new transition piece. Anyway, the dust in the house is the same “color” as whats in the return duct and I’m getting way too much & too often in the house. I’ve also cleaned my coils, which were not that dirty.
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.
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.