I to had an odd layer of white'ish dust building up especially during seasonal periods when the HVAC ran a a lot. I carefully swept up the fine dust into a small pile and had it analyzed. Turns out it was very fine fiberglass powder dust. It turns out it is the insulation form the attic! (My attic has blown in insulation). Turns out if you (I) had small gaps around my HVAC registers in the ceiling whee the airs blows into the room. What occurred in my case was that the exiting air at that seam creates a vacuum effect at the grate vent cover and draws and then blows fine insulation dust from the attic into the house. Removing each register grate and sealing each tin outlet gap with calking between the dry wall ceiling and tin fixed the issue. A couple were so bad with bowed gaps I had to screw down the bowed tin to the attaching stud better. Checking the very same glass top desk that catches and shows any dust accumulation now shows only very small amounts of normal house dust build up over several weeks. A big, big improvement. You might have a look by simply removing a couple vent covers yourself.
The average cost of keeping your residential ductwork orderly is going to vary greatly from that of a commercial building. This is because commercial air ducts are often larger and more extensive. Residential cleanings can cost an average of about $20-$30 per vent. For commercial buildings, service providers must do an estimate of your space before they can provide an accurate quote. Before factoring in the materials and the number A/C and furnace units, you can expect a commercial project to cost at least $35-$50 per hour.
As I type this, I am having my ducts cleaned. About 30 including returns and the furnace. $543.00. I am watching the team do it and can see the clear vacuuming tubing and how dirty it has become. I like the gentleman’s comment on “stick your head in your vacuum and breath”….I get it. The team showed me the machine and it’s filtration system…and they will show me it again after the cleaning. However, like I said before, I am actively seeing the tubing that is clear before they start and how dirty it is once they begin and continue cleaning. Reputable company and not a “fly by night” coupon service. People don’t be so cheap, that is your problem.
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....

A small number of products are currently registered by EPA specifically for use on the inside of bare sheet metal air ducts. A number of products are also registered for use as sanitizers on hard surfaces, which could include the interior of bare sheet metal ducts. While many such products may be used legally inside of unlined ducts if all label directions are followed, some of the directions on the label may be inappropriate for use in ducts. For example, if the directions indicate "rinse with water", the added moisture could stimulate mold growth.
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.
The cooling coils the air comes into contact with appear to need UV-C lights on them in humid climates. That's the biggest thing. If the ducts have never been cleaned, then getting that done goes without saying. But those coils need to be cleaned, disinfected, and then UV-C light(s) installed to prevent mold & bacteria build-up in the future on them. That appears to be chiefly responsible for the dirty laundry and/or sour milk smell coming from forced-air AC systems in humid regions.

The most effective way to clean air ducts and ventilation systems is to employ Source Removal methods of cleaning. This requires a contractor to place the system under negative pressure, through the use of a specialized, powerful vacuum. While the vacuum draws air through the system, devices are inserted into the ducts to dislodge any debris that might be stuck to interior surfaces. The debris can then travel down the ducts to the vacuum, which removes it from the system and the home.

This is where i found where the major problem was for the dust problem in my home. I took down the sheet metal that was 16" wide down by taking the screws out that keep it attached and when i took it down i, could not beleive the amountbof dust that was up there, inhad to put on breathing nasks to actually scoop out all the cust with my hads and then i used my shop vac then bleached everything, i would say that i filled up a 5 gallon maybe more not counting all the dust that was attached to the side of the beams that was all wood , because the contractor did not actually build a 16" wide return all out of metal , butvinstead used the sheet metal plate as a short cut to make a suare box using my beams in my basement to make a suare box. I was told contractors do that often and i feel that should be outlawed because it caused my sinus and allery problems,nwhich almost caused me to die. so everyone should make sure their ductwork was made properly. Yes seal it . Cover all openings. So it was not the contractors fault that my vents still had dust, in them, he was afraid tomgetvon top of my pool table to try to get iside the short cut ductwork with the 16" wide sheet metal. To everyone, make sure you clean your vent system. And make sure you could see it visually like i did , neither i or the contractor had no clue the problem was right above my pool table because of the make shift ductwork. The contactor shoul have made a squrae duct like the rest instead of using my beams as a short cut. That could be whyba lot of people start to have major allergy problems and maybe even ashma.so coverall holes to prevent dust to be taken in and all bugs etc. then make sure you clean your ductwork as you see reasonable, they say every 5 years , but i say evry 2 to 3 years, but you can do it yoursely.. You need a good air hose and suction vacum like a shop vac, do a little research. I invented something a while back like 18 to 20 years ago , and now it is on the market to help homeowners such as ourselves with this dust problem. I cannont say anymore because i have to make sure that it was not my research and idea that solved my problem and for all the others that are using what i invented ..there was nothing on the patent search that i hired an invention company to do, back then. Once yor vents are cleaned properly younwill be very happybif you are an allery sufferer. Stop the children for throwing things into the ductwork and sweeping things into the ductwork, keeping your vent system is clean once youbclean it right the first time, just maintain it , you dhould keepmthe hvac system clean such as coils etc it truly helps,people vome into my condo and they cannont beleive how cold it igets and how my system works so well. it is because i have my whole duct system sealed outsid with the duct sealant and my coils i vleaned my self and take the time that the furnase fan is cleaned because that could have a lot of major dust attached to it, mine had a lot of caked on dust it was like hard dirt. Yxounwill save on allergy bills nasal sprays, i wish I could say more because incould say something to really keep your whole duct system clean for years once you do a first good cleaning of intake and return vents. until i email one of the major companies to see where they got my idea from. Intrulybhope it was not from the invention company i hired years ago who did the patent search for my idea. I becam
Your HVAC unit and air ducts deliver heated or cooled air throughout your home year-in and year-out. The air your HVAC unit produces travels through your ductwork and heats or cools your home via the air vents in each room. The dust and other particles in your home’s air are known as particulate matter, which the EPA defines as "a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets." The EPA also notes that "particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles." Having clean air ducts means fewer of these particles moving through your home. If you remove your furnace filter and hold it up to the light, you can probably see several hundred of these minuscule particles floating in the air. 
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 have worked cleaning HVAC in my area for almost 5 years. I always do a thorough inspection and cleaning, providing before and after photos. I have completed some jobs where I felt that it was not entirely necessary, but ultimately what the customer wanted. With that being said, I have endless photos of unspeakable horrors. Hotels are usually nasty, post construction mess is certain, pets and kids create lots off debris, bugs congregate and die, then spiders set up and die, I have even had one supply that was nearly plugged with sand!

And if you have flex duct and/or fiberglass ductboard in your home- the last thing you want is a big brush or anything abrasive running through it. Even high-pressure air can erode ductboard so I wouldn’t clean it with anything. If it becomes contaminated, get rid of it and install real ductwork. If your ductwork is accessible in the basement – the best thing to do is take it down and manually clean it if it’s full of junk. It’s not going to cost a nickel more to do that than to pay $500-1000 for a ‘duct cleaning machine” AKA big blower and vacuum – to do the job.

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.
Duct cleaning generally refers to the cleaning of various heating and cooling system components of forced air systems, including the supply and return air ducts and registers, grilles and diffusers, heat exchangers heating and cooling coils, condensate drain pans (drip pans), fan motor and fan housing, and the air handling unit housing (See diagram).
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