All these pro duct cleaners answer with "it's common sense, everything operates better when cleaner" etc. But your explanation is correct. Especially so with flex tube ducting where dust gets "stuck" between the lowest valleys (between wire coil supports) where air flow is drastically reduced -- which is more than 50 pct of the entire interior surface area of the flex ducting. That sounds like a bad thing but also has a good effect of trapping dust from escaping.
The original furnace was a coal fired “octopus” design which had no blower to circulate the air but relied upon warm air rising to distribute the heat. That also means that the system breathed air in from the basement and most of this type did not have a cold air return system. At some point (probably in the 1940’s) the system was upgraded to a forced air gas furnace. The upgrade included replacing the 12″ diameter air ducts exposed in the basement with 6″ ducts and a cold air return system of ducts from the two (only two) air returns on the first floor.
Your HVAC unit and air ducts deliver heated or cooled air throughout your home year-in and year-out. The air your HVAC unit produces travels through your ductwork and heats or cools your home via the air vents in each room. The dust and other particles in your home’s air are known as particulate matter, which the EPA defines as "a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets." The EPA also notes that "particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles." Having clean air ducts means fewer of these particles moving through your home. If you remove your furnace filter and hold it up to the light, you can probably see several hundred of these minuscule particles floating in the air.
Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of growing concern and increased visibility. Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail, or been approached directly by a company offering to clean your air ducts as a means of improving your home's indoor air quality. These services typically — but not always — range in cost from $450 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on:
Before you choose any duct cleaning service provider, interview as many service providers as you can. Ensure that the service provider is certified by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association or NADCA. Make sure that they hold a good standing in the Better Business Bureau and have all the necessary certifications and license. Be clear about their terms of service. Make sure they have the right equipment to do the job. It is best to go for a company that has been tried and tested successfully by any of your acquaintances or opt for a service provider that has been in the business for quite some time.
What about ringworm? If the fungus is as contagious as doctors warn, and the spores can live several months, doesn’t it make sense to spray some sort of fungus killer into the HVAC system to kill the spores that it has sucked in from the air? Duct cleaning would not be helpful at all here; these spores are microscopic and it could actually spread them further. But given how severely contagious ringworm is, body and especially scalp, does anyone make an aerosol product that will clean the system and kill the fungus? One the resident can use, not call an HVAC company; you can’t do that when you are in an apartment. I hear it’s not the same as mold, it is much more difficult. Truth?
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.