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.
Quality and price should come hand in hand, a too-good-to-be-true price for an efficient air duct cleaning will not give you the quality that you wanted. To make sure you are getting your money’s worth, check reviews of air duct cleaning companies, certifications from industry since this work requires continuous learning due to new techniques and research breakthrough from time to time. Make sure to shop around and get written estimates first.

Do not hire duct cleaners who make sweeping claims about the health benefits of duct cleaning — such claims are unsubstantiated. Do not hire duct cleaners who recommend duct cleaning as a routine part of your heating and cooling system maintenance. You should also be wary of duct cleaners who claim to be certified by EPA. Note: EPA neither establishes duct cleaning standards nor certifies, endorses, or approves duct cleaning companies.
If the system is sealed air-tight and a really good filtering system is in place then you should NEVER have to clean your ductwork. Most dust people see in their homes (on beds furniture etc....) is broken down insulation that is being blown into the home from the attic (venturi effect) where the duct bucket (box etc...) is not sealed at the sheetrock ceiling. On the return side, ANY leaks in the ductwork will pull hot attic air and dust into the system, clogging up everything.
We moved to a house built in 1965 from a 1915 house with a dirt basement. Against what I anticipated, the 1965 house was much dustier. It was like felt on top of everything. I cleaned and cleaned and it did become less dusty over time. We then found out a cat lady with over 2 dozen cats lived in the house in the past. We then had to get our furnace replaced and I was able to look down some of the duct work, the dirt and debris was 3-5 inches deep. Additionally, the basement ducts were entirely plugged with debris including dirt, seeds, ants, toys, etc. I had already removed what I could from those. We had our ducts cleaned last year, and the dust in the house is greatly reduced. Also have lost the runny nose I got after moving here. There are duct cleaning con artists out there, but ours did a good job.
You and your family spend hours sitting on your favorite chairs, couches and sectionals. Over time, dander and body oil become trapped in the upholstery, but with regular cleanings you can keep these delicate fabrics looking, feeling and smelling great. We examine your furniture and select the best process to safely clean and protect any kind of upholstery, including leather. 
As one of the duct cleaners that do it right it disgusts me to hear the horror stories some of my past customers have had with the companies using scare tactics, bait and switch schemes, and just plain intimidation to make a fast buck. The Ductz franchise as a whole has gone behind other "duct cleaners" in the last year to the tune of almost three-quarters of a million dollars. All of this expense could have been avoided had the customers been able to do some background research before hiring. NADCA is a great organization and should be a minimum requirement for finding a duct cleaner. Other great questions include "How long does the service take?" (2 techs, 4-5 hours for a small house, 7-9+ hours for a two system house), "Do you clean the entire system including all trunk lines and the air handler (blower motor and evaporator coil)?", "How do you validate the job you have done?" (before and after picture reports work great). Beware of duct cleaners that say their process will solve all your air quality concerns. Duct cleaning is one of several steps to take to rid your home of unwanted dust, dirt, mold, and other allergens.
Duct cleaning is a complete scam, I was a “duct cleaning technician” for a whole week before I was fired for not upselling elderly widowed women $2000 extra for “toxic mold remediation” when their ducts were spotless to begin with. The last two days I was employed there I worked as a “helper” alongside a technician thats been with the company 7 years. He scammed every customer on mold and would at times get as much as $2500 extra for treating “toxic mold” in a typical 3 bedroom house in the suburbs. Wait…it gets even better, the “Biocide” the company used was simply a cheap $4.99 per gallon bought at Home Depot air freshener with no anti-microbial properties that was fogged into the HVAC system for 5 minutes, maybe using 1/2 cup of the stuff. In order to provide the customer with evidence of “mold infestation” the technician would be given bogus mold tests that always resulted in “toxic spores present” regardless if you swabbed the actual duct or nothing at all. Not to mention the actual duct cleaning job (typically $400) did basically nothing and the homeowner could’ve done a better job with a shopvac
I can't believe the number of people saying a good properly installed central heating system never needs to be cleaned. Maybe they live in hermetically sealed cells? One look into a cold air return and you can see that it definitely needs periodic cleaning. The air in the house "always" has some dust in it and that's where it ends up. We just had ours cleaned and I saw what came out of it, disgusting. But always ask if they use the "air whip" to sweep/beat the inside of the metal duct. If not, don't bother. These folks used a little whip on the end of a pressure hose and swept the entire length of all the ducts. I have lighted bore scope that allowed me to see into the duct after he was done and it was spic and span. But do change your filters often, 2 or 3 times a year.

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....

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.

Sounds like your first hvac company was ripping you off. Ask your new company to go to your coil and see if there is a leak. If there isn't the last company was just lining their pockets. If you have had ducts unhooked for a long time I would recommend duct cleaning, trust me I'm not a fan of duct cleaning myself. I have done hvac for 20 yrs. in GA. When I just bought a home built in 1996, we had all the ducts replaced immediately.
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.
I agree, if you replace (or wash depending on type) your air filters regularly AND vaccum, then you probably don't need the ducts or air coils cleaned. However, if you purchase a pre-owned home, and the previous owners did not regularly change the air filter or vaccum the home, then duct cleaning is worth the expense especially if you are sensitive to allergens. Especially if the previous owners had pets.
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.
All of you have dentists, you have doctors, you have preachers, you have mechanics. You don’t have to know everything about everything but you have to have people in your life that you can trust. Don’t just open up the phone book and pick a mechanical (HVAC) contractor. Call your friends and family and ask for referrals. There are no black and white (scam or not a scam) answers here.
I am a service technician [since '92].....and as to double filtering.....I have never recommended it. Granted.....it would be noticeably helpful if the fiberglass filters are the main ones used [which I also never recommend.....as long as system can deliver appropriate air flow with a pleated cotton filter...and any decent service tech can check the air flow for proper cfm]. Any particles small enough to pass through a pleated cotton filter are going to pass through a second filter as well....unless the second filters are so tight that the system is starving for air flow. Has anybody ever accidentally put two filters in their automatic drip coffee maker? What if cars used two fuel filters or air filters? I have told some homeowners to try using second filters at each register [the black thin filter material cut-to-fit....same type used in many window air conditioners].....but I only suggest this when I know they will still get at least 400 cfm per ton of air flow [350 absolute minimum]......as some homeowners know others who say it has helped and it gives them a peace of mind knowing they are doing something to help contribute to a solution, so it HAS to help [even though I think it falls in the "one-born-every-minute" category.....similar to duct cleaning].
He proceeded to clean each heat register by removing the grille and blasting it with an air pressure hose toward the duct opening thinking that the dust would magically be sucked inside. In one room this caused a ceiling smoke detector to go off because the excess dust fooled it into thinking there was smoke. I put my hand in front of a register he wasn’t working on and could hardly feel a suction. Although we discussed how I open and close damper doors, I realized later that he never checked, opened or adjusted them during the cleaning. He could have closed all but the one he was working on in order to increase suction results. His next step was to blast air into the duct and then attach a “squid-like” device that slapped around inside the duct as far as he could reach. This is important! In a newer house, ducts have long straight runs from the furnace. In older houses like mine they can turn and twist. In fact, the duct we have a problem with runs straight up from the basement inside a wall and turns 90 degrees into a soffit for three feet then into two 90 degree turns to get into the floor joist area for another two feet and finally a 90 degree turn up to the second floor register. When he cleaned this one he could only get three feet into the register with the hose or squid because of the turns. That was the case with most. Hardly what could be described as a decent cleaning.
Furnace cleaners are mostly young men, I know this, I have been one for 15 years or so……so heres the truth, if there are any allergies, children, older people with health issues, we are GOING to make money. do not tell the company you have hired about any health complication. they are salesmen. and they don’t care about you. or your money. make sure they do a good job, then kick them out. you don’t need all the bells and whistles they wanna sell you. any idiot can clean duct work, like I said, I am one of them. I am very good at it, but I don’t have the back bone to sell a widowed old lady a humidifier that she doesn’t need for 500 bucks, overall, if you think you need this service done, which you probably don’t, get it done, do not spend anything over 300$ and do not do it again for at least ten years.

Most organizations concerned with duct cleaning, including EPA, NADCA, NAIMA and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) do not currently recommend the routine use of sealants to encapsulate contaminants in any type of duct. Instances when the use of sealants to encapsulate the duct surfaces may be appropriate include the repair of damaged fiber glass insulation or when combating fire damage within ducts. Sealants should never be used on wet duct liner, to cover actively growing mold, or to cover debris in the ducts, and should only be applied after cleaning according to NADCA or other appropriate guidelines or standards.
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.
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.
The key to the continued and efficient operation of your heating and cooling system is periodic maintenance. Cleaning the air duct vent system, and servicing you heating and cooling equipment will keep the system operating at its peak performance. Air ducts are cleaned for two reasons. One: to prevent debris from entering furnace and air conditioning components. Two: to prevent debris from cycling through the home. The air duct cleaning contractor needs to employ cleaning methods which successfully removes debris, and ensures that debris does not enter the occupied space. Most contractors can verify the results of the cleaning through video or pictures.
While your HVAC filter is designed to trap particulate matter and prevent it from entering your air ducts, particles often still get through. The number of particles your HVAC filter traps is directly connected to the quality of air in your home: the lower the quality of air, the more particles will be present, and the more particles are likely to get through the filter. If these particles are allowed to build up, your HVAC system can become less efficient, operating longer to heat or cool your home. An inefficient HVAC system can result in inconsistent heating or cooling, higher utility costs, and expensive HVAC unit repairs, such as an A-coil or blower motor replacement if the problem is left unchecked. Air duct cleaning from Sears, which focuses on the dirt in your air ducts, can boost the efficiency of a dirty HVAC system, cleaning out the particulate matter that can hinder HVAC effectiveness and affect your health.
The short answer is yes, duct cleaning, done right by a reputable company will help with the smell. It is likely though the smell is coming from another source, ie the crawl space. It could also be that another rodent is dead in the duct work. A visual inspection would be in order to check for any breach in the duct system. A duct pressure test would be able to tell you how much air is leaking from the system over all. A hole large enough for an animal to enter would loses a great deal of air, over 300 CFM. It would be worth looking into having this test done and it should cost around $200. Cleaning the air handler and evaporator coil will greatly improve the performance of the air conditioner. Dirt and dust on the evaporator acts as insulation and reduces the amount of cooling done be the coil. Any quality duct cleaning should include cleaning the air handler and coil, and the tech should allow you to watch him perform the work as it is done.

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.
Metal is way better than flex duct or ductboard. It gets better airflow, holds up to critters and duct cleaners. I know of no hvac company here that cleans ductwork. (there probably is one somewhere) The mfg's of duct cleaning equipment keep trying to sell us hvac people on their benefits and profit potential but most all hvac people know that unless you have metal ductwork you are NOT doing the customer any favors.
If the system is sealed air-tight and a really good filtering system is in place then you should NEVER have to clean your ductwork. Most dust people see in their homes (on beds furniture etc....) is broken down insulation that is being blown into the home from the attic (venturi effect) where the duct bucket (box etc...) is not sealed at the sheetrock ceiling. On the return side, ANY leaks in the ductwork will pull hot attic air and dust into the system, clogging up everything.
in response to this reply " should your ducts be cleaned", i have to politely correct the person who answered this. you are not using common sense. first, most of the country uses metal duct work, so for you to say what you did, is wrong. second, the duct system in a house is a circulatory system. that means it draws air into the furnace, it gets filtered, and then it is blown out into the house to heat or cool. So, obviously that air is being brought into the house from somewhere right? Yes, its coming from the outside where there are many allergens and dust particles . For you to says that about whether a duct system is sealed or not, makes no difference. The air is coming from somewhere right? It has to originate from somewhere right? Just look on top of your cieling fan. If there is a bunch of dust up there, then there is obviously a bunch in your ducts. And the duct air is being circulated every day, and every hour through your house. Its simple, dust collects everywhere in your house. Imagine if you never dusted your shelves, or tv? There would be a ton of dust after a while. Well, now think about the air in the duct system. Of course theres gonna be a ton of dust in there. For you to say that it is not benififcial to clean the ducts, is plain ignorant. 90% of the air we breathe is in our household. Wouldnt you want that air to be as dust and allergen free? I could go on for hours about the benifits of duct cleaning, but i just wanted to make a quick point that the person whose says it is not benificial to clean them, is not using common sense. Not to mention, giving the people who clean ducts for a living, a bad name. Use your head .
Your cleaning service should involve all aspects of your duct work to maximize energy efficiency and air quality. This includes attending to the heat exchanger, blower, drain pan, plenum and coils as well. In the process, your service provider may find that you're facing larger issues than debris and build-up. The professional may recommend having your furnace repaired if they notice, for example, damage to your heat exchanger or blower motor. Generally, a furnace repair costs between $130 and $500. They may also find that an A/C coil needs to be replaced rather than cleaned and would then recommend A/C repair.
I read your article with interest and think it is a good start. One service that is always talked about is fogging ductwork for sanitizing. Many companies offer this service for disinfecting or adding a clean smell to the ductwork. Before any chemical or disinfectant is used, please read the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). You might be surprise on what you are putting into the air stream. This is a high profit service and should be explored thoroughly before purchasing,

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.
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