I can't believe the number of people saying a good properly installed central heating system never needs to be cleaned. Maybe they live in hermetically sealed cells? One look into a cold air return and you can see that it definitely needs periodic cleaning. The air in the house "always" has some dust in it and that's where it ends up. We just had ours cleaned and I saw what came out of it, disgusting. But always ask if they use the "air whip" to sweep/beat the inside of the metal duct. If not, don't bother. These folks used a little whip on the end of a pressure hose and swept the entire length of all the ducts. I have lighted bore scope that allowed me to see into the duct after he was done and it was spic and span. But do change your filters often, 2 or 3 times a year.
My vent covers have lots of mildew. They look bad! I live in a very humid climate in a condo. The handyman here has offered to take those down, wash them, sand, & then spray paint them with a mildew resistant paint. He said that he will leave them off overnight to dry. I am wondering if this is safe to breath the AC blowing out into the open all night??. ! Guess it is better than the mildew!?
Equipment used to clean ducts varies widely. The cheaper the equipment used the more you are just wasting money. This is why it's typically not worth doing. In some situations it may be beneficial, but only after determining and investigating the duct system. This should be done by a licensed HVAC contractor and not a duct cleaner that typically do not hold and HVAC license. (Duct cleaners aren't required to be licensed in HVAC in many areas.)
1. Ducts need cleaning mostly because they were not installed properly. There should be regulatory inpection and approval of clean and proper duct works on new houses. I was extremely unpset when I looked and found significant amounts of construction dust in parts of the ducts in my new house. There is apparently no way to hold the bullder to be responsible for clean ducts.
I am in need of HVAC ADVICE!! I need a new furnace badly, mine is cracked. I have bought both a 95 % AFUE furnace and a 5 Ton evap coil, I figured it should all be replaced at once for both cost and efficency. My question is with all the negaitive things I have heard about companies ripping you off, what type of price should I pay someone for putting in those two items and bringing everything in my attic up to code? I have been quoted $550 - $ 3300. Wide margin here!! Then of course comes the licencing part!! I know in my heart that I should use a licenced contractor but I have had such bad luck and prices from them that honestly one that was licened in Ga. and just not here in TN and is a tech. which charges 1100 - 2200 less sounds good as so long as I pay some type of Profenial HVAC person say $100 to inspect the work after its done and before I pay them.

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.