If not properly installed, maintained and operated, these components may become contaminated with particles of dust, pollen or other debris. If moisture is present, the potential for microbiological growth (e.g., mold) is increased and spores from such growth may be released into the home's living space. Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or other symptoms in people if they are exposed to them. If you decide to have your heating and cooling system cleaned, it is important to make sure the service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is qualified to do so. Failure to clean a component of a contaminated system can result in re-contamination of the entire system, thus negating any potential benefits. Methods of duct cleaning vary, although standards have been established by industry associations concerned with air duct cleaning. Typically, a service provider will use specialized tools to dislodge dirt and other debris in ducts, then vacuum them out with a high-powered vacuum cleaner.

You may be familiar with air ducts that are constructed of sheet metal. However, many modern residential air duct systems are constructed of fiber glass duct board or sheet metal ducts that are lined on the inside with fiber glass duct liner. Since the early 1970's, a significant increase in the use of flexible duct, which generally is internally lined with plastic or some other type of material, has occurred.

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.
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.
Yes, ducts can look terribly dusty. However, that dust will not become aerosolized during the normal operation of your furnace. There is an easy way to test this. Rent a particle counter and test the air flowing out of your registers before and after cleaning. You will not see any improvement in the air quality or any reduction in the airborne dust level. Think of it this way. Duct cleaning companies tell you that you need to clean your ducts when you can see a layer of dust in your ducts. Yet that very layer of dust is proof that duct cleaning is unnecessary, because that dust proves that the air movement in your furnace is not fast enough to re-aerosolize the dust.
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,
I just had my blower module replaced because my AC coil was frozen over. The underside of my coils had a thick mat of dust because I had never had it cleaned. I cleaned it myself by using a soft brush attachement on a shop vac. The inside of the blower appears to have a white/green growth, and I am sure the ductwork of my 30 year old house can’t be in good condition.
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. This is because much of the dirt in 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 your health.
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