As a homeowner and an owner of rental property I can tell you that the air ducts sometimes need to be cleaned. If you have had pets or anyone smoking in your home (even a visitor) for any length of time, having the ducts cleaned is really good idea. I had a tenant who did not smoke, but got married to a smoker more than year after moving in. When I realized someone was smoking I had them move out, but the smell was awful. I had the ducts cleaned and sanitized (it was a bit extra). The ducts were shiny like new afterwards. I left the windows open for a few days and we cleaned the place super clean and then replaced the carpets. The duct cleaning was worth every penny because the house looked, smelled, and felt new afterward. I plan to have my own house ducts cleaned again this year as we have two cats. We had them cleaned about 12 years ago and they found building materials in the ducts! If you move into a house that has never had them cleaned, it is good to do it. If you have allergies, clean the ducts to see if it helps. You never know what is in your ducts if you have never had them cleaned.
To find companies that provide duct cleaning services, check your Yellow Pages under "duct cleaning" or contact the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) at the address and phone number in the information section located at the end of this guidance. Do not assume that all duct cleaning service providers are equally knowledgeable and responsible. Talk to at least three different service providers and get written estimates before deciding whether to have your ducts cleaned. When the service providers come to your home, ask them to show you the contamination that would justify having your ducts cleaned.
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 amount of time it takes to clean a residential HVAC system depends on many variables such as the size of the home, the number of systems, the extent of the contamination and the number of HVAC cleaners performing the job. Ask at least two contractors to inspect your system and give you a time estimate for your particular system. This will give you a general idea of how long the job should take as well as an idea of how thoroughly the contractor plans to do the job.
I replaced all the ducts but the trunks in my 1969 home when I replaced the horizontal furnace under the house with a gas pack. I got advice from a friend who was an HVAC contractor. I was surprised to find the trunks and other ducts very clean. I replaced the individual runs with flex primarily for the insulation. I wrapped the trunks with insulation also.
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.