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.
Greetings from Mama Duck from Ductz of Greater Atlanta. These are some awesome comments and a few are from high quality duct cleaners that I personally know. After 19 years in this industry I agree that a government agency is not always up to date with their knowledge but won't admit it. If they were out in the field with our technicians every day they would upgrade their info. I get calls all the time where customers have been taken advantage of by "go and blow" companies. The customers don't know what they don't know but many are too lazy to do the research and are just looking for cheap. The industry has gotten a bad rap due to these con artists but the customer has to take some responsibility. I ask them why they would want to do business with a company who lies to them in print? Are they stupid or just cheap? Thankfully there are those of us in the industry who are working diligently to raise the bar on quality, protect the consumer and perform high quality work. At Ductz all our technicians are NADCA certified, trained by the best in the industry and know how to clean the entire system.
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.
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.
I live in a 1950's ranch house in the South. The prior owners were smokers. Based on recommendations from one of the local conservation organizations, I decided to have a home energy audit done. As part of their findings, they recommended additional insulation in the attic and duct cleaning and sealing. This turned out to be a very problematic process. In terms of the ducts, it was necessary to remove the metal grates. However, these grates had been painted over many times and shoe molding covered the bottom of the grates. The vendor was not able to remove the grates without damaging them in the process. Because these grates dated back to the 1950's, it was difficult to find appropriate replacements. The ones I finally discovered were correct except they were 1/4" wider. This meant that the shoe molding had to be carved out. The duct cleaner could not provide any assistance with this problem. It took me a month of long evenings replacing the vent covers myself, carefully chiseling out the shoe molding and repainting. In terms of the extra installation in the attic, the same vendor used blow in insulation. Unfortunately, they did not recognize that the 13 floodlights whose mounting extended into the attic were not designed to be buried under insulation. The problem manifested itself in terms of expensive flood light bulbs failing continually. So, I had to have all of the light housings replaced. Yet another unexpected expense. Despite the expense, pain and suffering, I cannot report any improvement in my heating costs or the "quality" of the air. To be fair, I do not have any allergies and did not undertake this for air quality improvements but rather heating efficiency improvements.
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.
In addition, the black dust was found in most of the heat registers. He could rub it off on his fingers but did nothing but spray compressed air on it which didn’t make it disappear since it wasn’t loose. Also, in the register in the basement he described the black dust as being oily. The reality of that situation is that I had the AC on until the morning of the service and minutes after he snaked the hoses in my back door it started raining. The basement register had condensation from the humidity all over it. It was not oily but wet. He asked for an old towel and wiped it out. Never saw anything so black – because I never had to clean soot. That is what I have in my ducts. Soot from years of the old coal furnace.
yes get a good company and pay the price, I found so much dust and dirt and wood and paint chips and bugs and even bottle caps in my ductwork. I hired a major plumbing company who cleaned ductwork and i will say they did an excellent job cleaning my vent. they did miss one point in my ductwork because i still started to see dust all over my furniture and i realized that my retunduct work that was connected with a piece of sheet metal beam which was 16" across , the contractor that built my condo used a 16" wide sheet of sheet metal to connect the vent system to my return for the air to return back into my condo. The contractor should have built a 8" x16" square duct by 6 feet long to connect my intake to my return instead of using a sheet of sheet metal 16" wide by using two 3' sections by 16 inches wide. That was a shor cut which caused a major problem fir me.
Vacuum the ducts as much as possible. Consider renting a heavy duty vacuum for this purpose. The standard household vacuum isn't powerful enough to clean deep into the crevices of the ducts. Make sure that the vacuum you rent has a long hose to reach deep into the ducts. This is important, as there may be mold and mildew growing inside the air ducts [source: Repair Home]. If you want the ducts to be cleaned more thoroughly, consider hiring a professional to do the job.
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts as a means to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold) and prevent future biological growth. They may also propose the application of a "sealant" to prevent dust and dirt particles from being released into the air or to seal air leaks. You should fully understand the pros and cons of permitting application of chemical biocides or sealants. While the targeted use of chemical biocides and sealants may be appropriate under specific circumstances, research has not demonstrated their effectiveness in duct cleaning or their potential adverse health effects. No chemical biocides are currently registered by EPA for use in internally-insulated air duct systems (see Should chemical biocides be applied to the inside of air ducts?).