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.
One of the best ways to know if your ducts or vents need to be cleaned is to just check them. Your eyes will be able to check for indications of mold, dust or pollen buildup. You might also be able to smell the presence of mold, which would be a clear indicator. Ductwork will have some buildup of dust, since the return registrars pull air back in. However, this doesn't mean your ducts have too much debris, and you can easily clean them with a duster or vacuum.
Manufacturers of products marketed to coat and encapsulate duct surfaces claim that these sealants prevent dust and dirt particles inside air ducts from being released into the air. As with biocides, a sealant is often applied by spraying it into the operating duct system. Laboratory tests indicate that materials introduced in this manner tend not to completely coat the duct surface. Application of sealants may also affect the acoustical (noise) and fire retarding characteristics of fiber glass lined or constructed ducts and may invalidate the manufacturer's warranty.
I'd have to disagree with all of your statements. Not only are they derived from no experience in the field, you are missing keys facts. Ducts even if air tight will get dirty. If they are not getting dirty, it means they are not working. Your returns side of the duct work is always under negative pressure when the system is operational.Therefore it is always drawing air in. Seeing how dust is made up mostly from dead skin humans shed daily. Around 1.6 Pounds of skin a year per human. Living in your home anything that is air born will be drawn back towards the cold air returns. That is what they are designed for, to draw stale air back to the system to be filtered and sent back through the house.Homes with carpet will actually have cleaner duct work than home with all tile or hardwood. This is because carpets hold onto dust particles and you vacuum them up. Whereas on hardwood or tile, dust can run freely back to the returns. Even if a duct system was sealed 100%, which is next to impossible to achieve 100% would still need to be cleaned. The cleaning may only have to be every 7-10 years for example. Most homes require every 5-7 years. And that's if it was done properly the first time. If you constantly hire people that have no or minimal knowledge of duct cleaning, You home would require cleaning more often. Every 2 years. That's a trade secret, The longer they recommend before the next cleaning, the odds are they did it right. That's not to say there aren't people that lie, because there are. Just have your duct cleaner take pictures before and after cleaning. Not just an outside view. Get in there, picture entire joist liners, Whole main runs and even long round pipes. Also it helps to have a company that guarantees their work. If it's not done right, they will come back and do it until it is. Most companies that do this make sure it is right the first time. Your not getting paid to do the job twice.
All of the products discussed above are registered solely for the purpose of sanitizing the smooth surfaces of unlined (bare) sheet metal ducts. No products are currently registered as biocides for use on fiber glass duct board or fiber glass lined ducts, so it is important to determine if sections of your system contain these materials before permitting the application of any biocide.
I have a white gritty dust throughout my whole house. Dust and it comes right back. We have central air. In 2013 had all the air conditioning tubing in the attic replaced. Old ones were completely clean. Why?? Thought dust would be in there. Put everything in plastic containers. Furniture everything is always covered with this. Problem is always there year round. Furnace people said it is not coming from furnace. We built house in 1971. Only started with this @ 19 years ago. Thinking when air conditioning went in. We cough all the time and sneeze. I do not have friends come here because I hate how dirty my house looks.
2. If air quality is so important and duct cleaniliness is so uncertain, why not adopt doubling filtering; that is, in addition to the existing main furnace filter, add a filter at each air outlet. I understand replacing so many filters would be a burden, but air outlets can be designed for easy filter replacement. The builders and home design engineers should bear responsibility to provide good and low maintenance homes, rather than prioritizing on fancy or costly featuers for homes.
In addition, the service provider may propose applying chemical biocides, designed to kill microbiological contaminants, to the inside of the duct work and to other system components. Some service providers may also suggest applying chemical treatments (sealants or other encapsulants) to encapsulate or cover the inside surfaces of the air ducts and equipment housings because they believe it will control mold growth or prevent the release of dirt particles or fibers from ducts. These practices have yet to be fully researched and you should be fully informed before deciding to permit the use of biocides or chemical treatments in your air ducts. They should only be applied, if at all, after the system has been properly cleaned of all visible dust or debris.