Some research suggests that cleaning heating and cooling system components (e.g., cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers) may improve the efficiency of your system, resulting in a longer operating life, as well as some energy and maintenance cost savings. However, little evidence exists that cleaning only the ducts will improve the efficiency of the system.
In most modern homes with up-to-date heating and air conditioning systems, filters are changed regularly through the year, so you may not even need to hire a professional. However, keep your eyes open for the accumulation of dust, dirt, dander and mold. If you see it despite regularly changing your filters it could be an indication you need a high-pressure cleaning.

All of the products discussed above are registered solely for the purpose of sanitizing the smooth surfaces of unlined (bare) sheet metal ducts. No products are currently registered as biocides for use on fiber glass duct board or fiber glass lined ducts, so it is important to determine if sections of your system contain these materials before permitting the application of any biocide.
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.
My 48 yr old house (mine for the last 4 yrs) has considerable dust in the return plenum (fiber duct). I’m remodeling and recently re-sealed the return plenum AND the site-fabbed transition built when the new unit was installed, 2013. The return was leaky no doubt drawing musty, dusty air from the crawl space due to the Red-Neck fab & seal job! Pitiful craftsmanship! It took me 7 hours to fix the new transition piece. Anyway, the dust in the house is the same “color” as whats in the return duct and I’m getting way too much & too often in the house. I’ve also cleaned my coils, which were not that dirty.
This is where i found where the major problem was for the dust problem in my home. I took down the sheet metal that was 16" wide down by taking the screws out that keep it attached and when i took it down i, could not beleive the amountbof dust that was up there, inhad to put on breathing nasks to actually scoop out all the cust with my hads and then i used my shop vac then bleached everything, i would say that i filled up a 5 gallon maybe more not counting all the dust that was attached to the side of the beams that was all wood , because the contractor did not actually build a 16" wide return all out of metal , butvinstead used the sheet metal plate as a short cut to make a suare box using my beams in my basement to make a suare box. I was told contractors do that often and i feel that should be outlawed because it caused my sinus and allery problems,nwhich almost caused me to die. so everyone should make sure their ductwork was made properly. Yes seal it . Cover all openings. So it was not the contractors fault that my vents still had dust, in them, he was afraid tomgetvon top of my pool table to try to get iside the short cut ductwork with the 16" wide sheet metal. To everyone, make sure you clean your vent system. And make sure you could see it visually like i did , neither i or the contractor had no clue the problem was right above my pool table because of the make shift ductwork. The contactor shoul have made a squrae duct like the rest instead of using my beams as a short cut. That could be whyba lot of people start to have major allergy problems and maybe even ashma.so coverall holes to prevent dust to be taken in and all bugs etc. then make sure you clean your ductwork as you see reasonable, they say every 5 years , but i say evry 2 to 3 years, but you can do it yoursely.. You need a good air hose and suction vacum like a shop vac, do a little research. I invented something a while back like 18 to 20 years ago , and now it is on the market to help homeowners such as ourselves with this dust problem. I cannont say anymore because i have to make sure that it was not my research and idea that solved my problem and for all the others that are using what i invented ..there was nothing on the patent search that i hired an invention company to do, back then. Once yor vents are cleaned properly younwill be very happybif you are an allery sufferer. Stop the children for throwing things into the ductwork and sweeping things into the ductwork, keeping your vent system is clean once youbclean it right the first time, just maintain it , you dhould keepmthe hvac system clean such as coils etc it truly helps,people vome into my condo and they cannont beleive how cold it igets and how my system works so well. it is because i have my whole duct system sealed outsid with the duct sealant and my coils i vleaned my self and take the time that the furnase fan is cleaned because that could have a lot of major dust attached to it, mine had a lot of caked on dust it was like hard dirt. Yxounwill save on allergy bills nasal sprays, i wish I could say more because incould say something to really keep your whole duct system clean for years once you do a first good cleaning of intake and return vents. until i email one of the major companies to see where they got my idea from. Intrulybhope it was not from the invention company i hired years ago who did the patent search for my idea. I becam
Hi guys if your not convinced yet that duct cleaning is a waste of time. I’m a HVAC business owner install heaters and air conditioners. Simple facts if you have an old system get a new return air fitted with a filter it will catch all the dirt and dust. If you still have as many do black flecks and stuff coming through it is the lining inside your ducting that has perished. So somewhere you have a hole or very old ducting. If you had rats etc its a hole somewhere. To clean, stick your vacuum in the outlet and push the hose as far as it will go this gets 99% of toys and coins fur and alike. Think about it if the object is not heavy it will come out the duct when unit is on. Service the heaters or air con units but not the ducting. I would go further to say that duct cleaning actually damages the ducting in my opinion.
I recently did some remodeling and figured I’d get the air ducts cleaned in our 12 year old home. After obtaining 4 estimates between $572 and a whopping $3,075 for 25 vents and 2 air handlers, I knew I was in for a ride. I read through this blog and decided to use a $79 inspection camera I just found online (Home Depot) to take a look at all my ducts by removing the ceiling grilles first and then try to get into the ducts from the other end. From what I have just learned here, I believe that will take care of my “concerns”.
Just had my air ducts cleaned. They used a high pressure air hose in all the heat ducts and cold air returns. He showed me the stuff that came out, the reason for the duct cleaning was the fact that I had a problem. With rodents. There was quite a few mummified rats and mice, and he said I wouldn’t have to have them done again unless I incur another problem or have renovations done. Cost me 345.00 for a 2 storey large old home. Not a bad price as I had them done when I moved in 28 years ago and it cost me 500.00. Lots of dog hair, toys, balls and assorted goodies came out as well. Took them 2 hours. I did have sanitizer put in the ducts because of the dead rodents.
If no one in your household suffers from allergies or unexplained symptoms or illnesses and if, after a visual inspection of the inside of the ducts, you see no indication that your air ducts are contaminated with large deposits of dust or mold (no musty odor or visible mold growth), having your air ducts cleaned is probably unnecessary. It is normal for the return registers to get dusty as dust-laden air is pulled through the grate. This does not indicate that your air ducts are contaminated with heavy deposits of dust or debris; the registers can be easily vacuumed or removed and cleaned.
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