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.
fact is most homes have bad filter racks. when you insert the filter it doesn’t seal well to the sides so some of the air and dust bypass it and end up in the supply ductwork and into the house. Most of the dust in the supply ductwork settles down and doesn’t get blown in the house but some of it does when the blower starts up or when you put a new filter. If you have allergies or other health problems put in an electronic air cleaner, get your ducts cleaned and run the fan as much as you can afford. you can also get an ECM motor installed which is going to be worth it if you want to run the fan 24/7. If you have uninsulated metal ducts take down the ones you can and wash them. Then put them back and seal the joints. Cleaning the ductwork also improves airflow which is important to AC and Heat pump systems for efficiency. An electronic air cleaner will also improve airflow and static pressure because they usually have a much larger filter surface area. An electronic air cleaner also keeps the ac coil clean like new which means better efficiency and no cleaning needed. AC furnaces sometimes grow mold around the coil because of the condensation. Electronic air cleaners should be able to filter mold spores but the best remedy is installing a UV light next to the coil which will kill the mold.
I am very interested by your post. We recently had a lead inspection on our property and one thing the lead inspector suggested was to get the air ducts cleaned out. We had our ducts cleaned last year after we under went a large renovation project (since we have a toddler in the house). This year we decided to go for lead compliance and had all our lead removed (we moved out for the work). Recently, my son had a false positive lead test, which prompted us to get a lead dust inspection around the house (including having the vents dust-wiped on the inside). The levels inside the ducts weren't crazy high (but more than would be acceptable for a floor). As it turned out my son's lead levels are very low (but not zero). Is it possible however that lead dust from the inside of a vent can come out? Would this be a scenario where you think air duct cleaning would be beneficial?
I've been in business in Florida for 25 years and purchased a $12,000 duct cleaning system 4 years ago. In the last four years I've cleaned 5 duct systems charging around $400 each. Not a very good return on investment. What I have been doing most the time is I get a call by someone panicked because they called some low priced company to inspect their system and were told they have dangerous black mold. Then they call me to have a look. Most the time they don't have mold, ducts look very clean. However the coils are dirty and the inside of the air handler cabinet needs cleaning. Keep in mind not every system can handle supper high efficiency filters! These filters can block air flow quite a bit right out of the package. Many older systems can't handle pleated filters due to increased static pressure. "Back rooms with low air flow". I have taken many hours of classroom study on indoor air quality. Never got any certification because I don't want to pay another organization dues yearly. I think the problem with duct / system cleaning is most people are suckers for low priced scams that are rip- offs . People call me all the time and ask how much? When I tell them average $400 they hang up. I know I do the job correctly and honestly, and they are going to get racked over the coals by the scam artists by calling $79 whole house duct cleaning guys. People need to check internet, angies list and BBB reviews. But keep in mind even reviews need to be sifted through your rational person filter.
In some older homes, there was a grey Mylar flexible duct. After years of use, it started to decompose. A duct cleaning company can come out and find why your air is so dirty and why your building doesn’t heat or cool like it used to. This is a savings on your part. You could also be sucking in Hot, dirty attic air. However, sometimes when a duct cleaning company comes out to clean it, the old duct can be destroyed and have to be replaced. Someone with little experience can replace this ductwork but if it isn’t done right it can ruin a lot of things and cost a lot in repairs.
You should be aware that although a substance may look like mold, a positive determination of whether it is mold or not can be made only by an expert and may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation. For about $50, some microbiology laboratories can tell you whether a sample sent to them on a clear strip of sticky household tape is mold or simply a substance that resembles it.