Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts or go down after cleaning. This is because much of the dirt that may accumulate inside air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space. It is important to keep in mind that dirty air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to health.
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.
What if you move into a 20 year old house and find that the people who owned it previously NEVER replaced the filter? It was so dirty that the HVAC system did not work at all. For most people - duct cleaning is NOT a waste of time or money. You must not have allergies. I have very bad ones plus asthma. It makes it very hard for me if I don't get it done every few years. By the way - the ducts get dusty just sitting there - especially without air going through them. Dust settles on them just like it does the furniture.
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.
The answer to your question is most likely "Yes," but not defiitely. It depends on where the dust is coming from. Now, if your house is more than say, 12 years old then you likely do have leaks in your ducts that can let in insulation particles and dust from your attic. If this is the case then cleaning of the ducts-PROPER CLEANING, which like the article sas doess include EVERYTHING that the conditioned air passes through, such as your indoor evaporator coil and blower housing assembly-is definitely a good first step to getting that dust under control! Of course I highly recommend that you also have your ducts SEALED as well, or else you will have to repeat the cleaning some time down the line. As a 3rd step, consider an electronic air filter. I always thought they were a scam, personally, so I never bothered selling them to my clients. Then one day my manager sent me to install one for a senior couple in a mobile home. The wife had bad allergies, and her eyes were constantly watering and puffy and red. Well, I did a quality check 60 days later and she could not stop praising that air filter! Keep in mind that in a mobile home, duct seals are not as complete as those in other homes due to access issues.
Good article, but it fails to point out that leaky return-side ducts could be drawing dust and allergens into the duct system from the enclosed spaces in which they run, e.g. between walls, below floors, attic. So duct cleaning may only be a temporary solution. The homeowner can get a home energy audit -- free in many states -- to determine if they have significant duct leakage. An Aeroseal dealer may be able to effectively seal up the duct system without needing to tear into walls etc to get to the ducts.