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.
EPA does not recommend that air ducts be cleaned except on an as-needed basis because of the continuing uncertainty about the benefits of duct cleaning under most circumstances. EPA does, however, recommend that if you have a fuel burning furnace, stove, or fireplace, they be inspected for proper functioning and serviced before each heating season to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning. Some research also suggests that cleaning dirty cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers can improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems. However, little evidence exists to indicate that simply cleaning the duct system will increase your system's efficiency.
Having evaporator and condenser coils cleaned could cost between $100 and $400. If your coils can be accessed in-place, you'll be looking at a lower service cost. If your technician needs to remove the them first, the cost should be around $400. Having the evaporator and condenser coils cleaned can have a significant impact on the efficiency of your system. If your coils are excessively dirty, they won't be able to do their job and your system will have to work harder. Keeping up with the hygiene of these components can save you money in both the short and long-term. For example, replacing evaporator coils can cost anywhere from $650 to $1200.
If you are replacing your air conditioning system, make sure that the unit is the proper size for your needs and that all ducts are sealed at the joints. A unit that is too big will cycle on and off frequently, resulting in poor moisture removal, particularly in areas with high humidity. Also make sure that your new system is designed to manage condensation effectively.

Some of the research I have done suggests to have your ducts cleaned when you first purchase a new home to remove drywall dust. Maintain your system well and you shouldn't have to do it again until you want to sell. Those are the two times cleaning was suggested. So for peace of mind maybe it is a good idea to do it even if you buy a used home and then maybe every 5-10 years.

I'd have to disagree with all of your statements. Not only are they derived from no experience in the field, you are missing keys facts. Ducts even if air tight will get dirty. If they are not getting dirty, it means they are not working. Your returns side of the duct work is always under negative pressure when the system is operational.Therefore it is always drawing air in. Seeing how dust is made up mostly from dead skin humans shed daily. Around 1.6 Pounds of skin a year per human. Living in your home anything that is air born will be drawn back towards the cold air returns. That is what they are designed for, to draw stale air back to the system to be filtered and sent back through the house.Homes with carpet will actually have cleaner duct work than home with all tile or hardwood. This is because carpets hold onto dust particles and you vacuum them up. Whereas on hardwood or tile, dust can run freely back to the returns. Even if a duct system was sealed 100%, which is next to impossible to achieve 100% would still need to be cleaned. The cleaning may only have to be every 7-10 years for example. Most homes require every 5-7 years. And that's if it was done properly the first time. If you constantly hire people that have no or minimal knowledge of duct cleaning, You home would require cleaning more often. Every 2 years. That's a trade secret, The longer they recommend before the next cleaning, the odds are they did it right. That's not to say there aren't people that lie, because there are. Just have your duct cleaner take pictures before and after cleaning. Not just an outside view. Get in there, picture entire joist liners, Whole main runs and even long round pipes. Also it helps to have a company that guarantees their work. If it's not done right, they will come back and do it until it is. Most companies that do this make sure it is right the first time. Your not getting paid to do the job twice.

I spent a lot of time reading all these posts and frankly I can’t believe the way some people think. 1. If there is dust and dirt of any kind in my HVAC system I want it out, the mentality that it can stay there and it’s fine is fulish as the system turns on and off microscopic particulates will move in and out of your living space and you will definitely breath them in. The air quality of your home or office will only be as clean as the system that produces it. We don’t not clean things simply because we can’t see them, it’s what we can’t see that can do the most harm. Dust will build up in a system fairly quickly and will get damp at times allowing mold to grow and mold releases spores without any movement as part of its defense meconisam so don’t tell me that when your system turns on it won’t blow the spores out into the living spaces of your home. A build up of dust will cause failures to your system over time, equipment that works harder to do its job will run hotter with more strain and this will lead to brake downs and until then the system will run less efficient then it should. The system was engineered to move a certain volume of air through a specific duct size, when that duct size starts to become narowed down with dust build up your system has to work harder to move that air this is why you will end up with a loss of efficiency and eventually breakdowns or failures. I have seen systems develop a significant amount of dust build up in as little as two years, just look at how fast the filter gets clogged up and it isn’t all that hard to believe. As for all the scams that are out there they hurt the industry because people can’t decipher between them and the legitimate companies, BBB is helpful. Recommendations from HVAC contractors will be a good resource and a good company will provide a written estimate with a complete brake down of what they are going to do and why, most of which is comen sence once they explain it to you, then if you spend about 5 minutes watching them once they are set up you can see they are doing what they said they would do and let’s get real would you do a job that should take approx 3 hours per system for $29/$39/59 or something close to that, if you think you are going to get a good job from a comp that has to make money at that price you shouldn’t be mad at anyone but your self for trying to get quality work at a scam price. If it’s done right it will be very beneficial and depending on the size of your system and where you are in the world it’s going to cost you approx $300 to $600 per system large and or older systems may cost even more. Remember a quality job isn’t wasting money but a lousy job is, even if it’s only $29. I’d rather spend $600 on a quality job then $29 on a lousy job!! Good luck..
I own an HVAC company. Dirt in your ducts stays there and hurts no one. It is like dirt on the ground outside. This industry was infiltrated by a bunch of money grubbing low lifes years ago. As a credible company, we do not clean air ducts. Some who were credible probably signed on not knowing what else to do or to try to make a buck another way. These companies, because they also do HVAC work not only rip off private homeowners, they are ripping off legitimate HVAC company's customers and the integrity of what can and should as a rule be a great service industry. Some probably have gotten into this to simply offer what competitors who were ripping off their customers were offering. Anyone cleaning ducts is in my opinion raising a big red flag that they cannot and should not be trusted. Political pressure from NADCA, advertising dollars, manufacturers and marketers of duct cleaning equipment, and intense competition for the customers is the only reason the government and adverstising companies have not run them out of business and that this cancer perpetuates itself.
The most effective way to clean air ducts and ventilation systems is to employ Source Removal methods of cleaning. This requires a contractor to place the system under negative pressure, through the use of a specialized, powerful vacuum. While the vacuum draws air through the system, devices are inserted into the ducts to dislodge any debris that might be stuck to interior surfaces. The debris can then travel down the ducts to the vacuum, which removes it from the system and the home.
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply a chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold), and prevent future biological growth. Some duct cleaning service providers may propose to introduce ozone to kill biological contaminants. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that is regulated in the outside air as a lung irritant. However, there remains considerable controversy over the necessity and wisdom of introducing chemical biocides or ozone into the duct work.
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.
A house breathes just like you an I.For example every time your clothes dryer comes on it automatically creates a negative pressure inside the home.So if air goes out of the living area it has to be look above the ceiling fan see the cover...underneath that is a hole straight to your attic....Now the stuff on your ceiling fan you call it insulation,rat fecies or anything else that is in your attic that could be pulled in your due to a negative pressure.

Pay particular attention to cooling coils, which are designed to remove water from the air and can be a major source of moisture contamination of the system that can lead to mold growth. Make sure the condensate pan drains properly. The presence of substantial standing water and/or debris indicates a problem requiring immediate attention. Check any insulation near cooling coils for wet spots.

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,
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: