I guess I should present my credentials first, I am a 30 year veteran of the heating and cooling industry. I started at the bottom and have participated in every area of the trade. Installer, service, maint. Ownership, rep, territory manager and so on. A forced air duct system is a large vacume. Like your vacume it has an air intake (return air) and an exhaust (supply registers). A filter just like a vacume (located next to furnace or air handler). Now I want you to visualize something. Put your head inside your vacume cleaner and breath. Get the picture? This is what your duct work looks like. Do you clean your vacume when it’s dirty? If it’s full and the filter is dirty you lose performance and it starts poluting the air you breathe. It’s common sense. I recommend hiring a duct cleaning outfit that you have researched to be honest, background checked, drug tested, insured, and highly recommended by your piers in the area. The service is a necessity, but like everything, it should be done by a qualified company.

I thought the price advertised at 129.95 for duct cleaning was great and called to clean our ducts. When they came in to do the the job I could not be home and my wife dealt with them. My wife ended up paying 954.00. They convinced my wife that there was 1.5 inches of mold built up on the Evaporators and coils. It is not the money, my wife could not go to the basement to witness the mold build up or the coil fouling. We have not cleaned our ducts for at least 10 years. The last price we paid for our duct cleaning was 150.00. My concern is that they told my wife not to turn on the heat for 2 hours due the strong chemicals they used to kill the mold. Are these chemicals approved as safe?
If you think duct cleaning might be a good idea for your home, but you are not sure, talk to a professional. The company that services your heating and cooling system may be a good source of advice. You may also want to contact professional duct cleaning service providers and ask them about the services they provide. Remember, they are trying to sell you a service, so ask questions and insist on complete and knowledgeable answers.
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.
The next step was cleaning the cold air returns. He found a good spot to drill an 8” hole for his vacuum hose. The procedure matched the other air ducts except that when he finished at the two cold return registers he drilled several holes in the cold ducts in the basement and blasted air into them. Because of our houses age and the upgraded return system, I noticed that the main sheet metal return duct had no top but was just butted up against the ceiling in the basement. When he blasted air in, dust and crap shot out the edges along the ceiling. Once he finished that he removed the filter and “swept” out anything at the bottom of the return with his hand into the 8” hose.
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.
I have been a plumbing/gas/hvac tech for 19 years, before that I installed ductwork in commercial buildings and office towers. As the article states, unless you have undergone some type of extensive reno, or ducts have become contaminated, paying for cleaning is pointless. Its one thing if you have a 30 year old home that has never had a duct cleaning and you can actually see mounds of dust built up , especially in the return side, then go for it. Keep in mind that most duct cleaning companies will only get 80% of the dust , or less at best. Keep in mind that most of the dust in your home is lint from clothes and linens, and skin cells from you and your pets and is constantly being generated. Dust that builds up in ductwork , generally stays in the ductwork. The power of suggestion, scare tactics, up sell!!!
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.

There are many interesting comments from several informed individuals. The question that has not been answered is how do duct systems get dusty and dirty? As a RESNET Home Energy Rater, I perform pressure tests on homes and duct systems, and the one common thread is . . . most air delivery sytems have large amounts of air leakage. The solution is to seal the duct system, and pay particular attention to the return duct system and ductwork near the air handler (the 'blower'). As others have said, a captive (sealed) duct system with proper filter maintenance should be more then adequate for most occupants. For those who have allergy, asthma, or other breathing problems, a filter with a higher MERV rating (number should be listed on the package) or a HEPA filter are good choices. These filters will capture smaller particulates and should improve the indoor air quality. Again, make certain that the entire duct system is sealed, preferably with mastic, second choice UL-181 foil tape - never use cloth duct (also known as duck) tape.
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.
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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