I’m a heating and air conditioning contractor. I’ve been in the trade for over 15 years. I’ve witnessed numerous duct cleaning projects and talked with many duct cleaners. Duct cleaning as it’s usually promoted is a fraud. Most duct cleaners claim to deliver cleaner air. They deliver exactly the opposite. The studies on duct cleaning prove it, including a May 1998 study sponsored by NADCA and the EPA! The stories are compelling, but they can come up with stories that “prove” anything they want. Internet searches are dominated by results from those who are paid to tell you that duct cleaning is worthwhile. Search a little more and you’ll find the truth.

Internal insulation provides better acoustical (noise) control. Flexible duct is very low cost. These products are engineered specifically for use in ducts or as ducts themselves, and are tested in accordance with standards established by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Many insulated duct systems have operated for years without supporting significant mold growth. Keeping them reasonably clean and dry is generally adequate. However, there is substantial debate about whether porous insulation materials (e.g., fiber glass) are more prone to microbial contamination than bare sheet metal ducts. If enough dirt and moisture are permitted to enter the duct system, there may be no significant difference in the rate or extent of microbial growth in internally lined or bare sheet metal ducts. However, treatment of mold contamination on bare sheet metal is much easier. Cleaning and treatment with an EPA-registered biocide are possible. Once fiberglass duct liner is contaminated with mold, cleaning is not sufficient to prevent re-growth and there are no EPA-registered biocides for the treatment of porous duct materials. EPA, NADCA and NAIMA all recommend the replacement of wet or moldy fiber glass duct material.

Duct cleaning is a band aid, like washing you hands is. Under your description, why wash your hands more than once? If it gets cleaned once, it shouldn't get dirty again. Well that is, unless they touch something dirty. Keeping your hands completely clean is virtually impossible. Same as keeping dust out of your home. You clean your ducts and over a 3-5 year span they get dirty again. Also, duct cleaners are not licensed but should be certified by NADCA(National Air Duct Cleaning Association).
Simply living in your home creates dust and dirt. Have you ever seen dust floating in the air in your home when the sun shines in?  Dust, dirt, pet dander, mold spores, and allergens get pulled into the air handling system in your home. They build up in the ductwork; some of it gets recirculated back into your home, and some of it can be captured by a good quality air filter. Eventually, enough debris builds up to the point where most of it blows back into your home. Your furnace or air conditioner must run longer to cool or heat your home, which costs you more in utility bills. With a service call from Sears Air Duct Cleaning, you can feel comfortable knowing that the accumulation of dust, dirt, dander, mold, and allergens has been cleaned from your HVAC duct system.
In addition, the black dust was found in most of the heat registers. He could rub it off on his fingers but did nothing but spray compressed air on it which didn’t make it disappear since it wasn’t loose. Also, in the register in the basement he described the black dust as being oily. The reality of that situation is that I had the AC on until the morning of the service and minutes after he snaked the hoses in my back door it started raining. The basement register had condensation from the humidity all over it. It was not oily but wet. He asked for an old towel and wiped it out. Never saw anything so black – because I never had to clean soot. That is what I have in my ducts. Soot from years of the old coal furnace.
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.
Professional cleaning involves getting the dust and debris outside, so they use outdoor ventilation equipment. It is so important that homeowners make sure the professional contractor is using good equipment then, as they could otherwise spread the spores into the home and further agitate sensitive family members. In the case of mold, a cleaner will only be able to tell you it is there, followed by needing an additional mold professional to come out and test or remove the mold. Air duct cleaning industries do not require state licensing, so make sure to check for a company with references.
I’m having my duct work cleaned this Saturday. Have a coupon for $49 through Amazon. Job normally $249. Had my basement remodeled about 18 months ago. The contractors were very thorough at blocking the vents, as far as I can tell. The offer is for HVAC and dryer vent cleaning. My house is 11 years old. I figured, $49 is not much. I appreciate your tips on not getting talked into any additional service, not to use solvents to clean, the certification information and before and after pictures. Very useful and I’ll be sure that all I spend is the $49 for the voucher.

I was with you until you said avoid steaming cleaning or moisture, there is no way you can remove mold or any other type of biological without moisture. The best way to do this is in fact with a steamer using a commercial disinfectant and a non reactive odor remover so your home smells refreshed and not like a hospital . This is directly contradictory to your article.

What if you move into a 20 year old house and find that the people who owned it previously NEVER replaced the filter? It was so dirty that the HVAC system did not work at all. For most people - duct cleaning is NOT a waste of time or money. You must not have allergies. I have very bad ones plus asthma. It makes it very hard for me if I don't get it done every few years. By the way - the ducts get dusty just sitting there - especially without air going through them. Dust settles on them just like it does the furniture.
One of the best ways to ensure that the air in your home is clean is to clean your air vents. The air ducts in your house contain millions of particles of dust, hair, dirt, pollen, spider webs and other allergens [source: Alpine Air Duct]. Cleaning your air vents will also save you money on heating and air conditioning. So read the tips listed below and learn about how you can clean the air vents in your house.

Duct cleaning is a complete scam, I was a “duct cleaning technician” for a whole week before I was fired for not upselling elderly widowed women $2000 extra for “toxic mold remediation” when their ducts were spotless to begin with. The last two days I was employed there I worked as a “helper” alongside a technician thats been with the company 7 years. He scammed every customer on mold and would at times get as much as $2500 extra for treating “toxic mold” in a typical 3 bedroom house in the suburbs. Wait…it gets even better, the “Biocide” the company used was simply a cheap $4.99 per gallon bought at Home Depot air freshener with no anti-microbial properties that was fogged into the HVAC system for 5 minutes, maybe using 1/2 cup of the stuff. In order to provide the customer with evidence of “mold infestation” the technician would be given bogus mold tests that always resulted in “toxic spores present” regardless if you swabbed the actual duct or nothing at all. Not to mention the actual duct cleaning job (typically $400) did basically nothing and the homeowner could’ve done a better job with a shopvac
The bottom line is: no one knows. There are examples of ducts that have become badly contaminated with a variety of materials that may pose risks to your health. The duct system can serve as a means to distribute these contaminants throughout a home. In these cases, duct cleaning may make sense. However, a light amount of household dust in your air ducts is normal. Duct cleaning is not considered to be a necessary part of yearly maintenance of your heating and cooling system, which consists of regular cleaning of drain pans and heating and cooling coils, regular filter changes and yearly inspections of heating equipment. Research continues in an effort to evaluate the potential benefits of air duct cleaning.
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.
If you don't agree with duct cleaning, fine. If there are some things that HVAC people can do to make the system need cleaning less often fine, but to suggest that I need to GO TO JAIL????? If you need to knock others to make yourself look better....... If duct cleaning is such a scam, why are their governing bodies like NADCA (which I do NOT belong to),several manufacturers of equipment, and national restoration franchises (I'm not a franchise either) who provide this service? I guess the whole world is stupid and only HVAC people are smart. I suppose I am scamming them when I clean puff backs, water damage, fire damage, and clean their carpets too? Or did I wake up one morning and say "ya know, it is great to be a hard working, honest owner operator, but I would love to provide a service that unlike everything else I do is a con and rips off the 90% referral business I busted my butt to earn"
On average, we (Indians in Ontario) receive 3-5 calls per day for duct cleaning services from India. I did get ducts cleaned twice in 25 years. For a newly built house, it should be done as material goes into the ducts. Every year, before turning the heat on, I clean the ducts, using the vacuum pipe or with wet towel. Most of the dust, pet hair, small items get to the ducts from the top floors, not where system is installed. Even in winter months, I open 2-3 windows for air circulation for 15 minutes, specially right after cooking, almost daily. We breath in the same stale air, develop health issues. Also, I have an added air cleaning and fileration system installed. At a low rate, this system constantly cleans the inside air and also that it pulls from the outside. Duct cleaning is a scam, there are other efficient and cost effective methods we can use to purify the inside air.
If you want to get some of the dust and debris out of your ventilation system, you can mix household cleaners like bleach with water, dip a cloth in the mix and then the wipe out the system. This will remove a layer of the spores, which could increase the quality of air a bit and help with the flow of air throughout the house until a pro can come out.
I purchased one of those Amazon air duct cleaning coupons for 49.99. When the company showed up, they removed the vent closest to the air intake and immediately told me I needed $1800.00 for all new duct work. They said they could not clean the system until new duct work was installed. I thanked them and said I would give them a call. The only call I made was to Amazon to get a refund. I know I didn’t need new duct work. Be careful to not fall for unscrupulous salesmen and their pitches and scare tactics.
Well, I had the cleaning done. The handler is definitely much quieter. It was explained to me that with the coils clean, the condensation will be able to sweat off instead of sticking to the dust and dirt, therefore the humidity (lots of humidity in florida) will be removed better. I feel as if it was worth it, but, I will definitely change that filter every 3 weeks or so from now on. I don’t want to pay that cost again.
I guess, I will start with saying that air duct cleaning is almost never needed. It is not a scam, but it is certainly something that uneducated homeowners get suckered into. In regards to air flow, a well balanced HVAC system should be able to deliver more than enough air flow. If you are not getting good air flow, it's because your system may be out of balance. Additionally, regular cleaning/changing of the air filters will solve about 95% of your problem. Though you would be surprised how many people either a. don't have a filter or b. don't know about it and leave it there for 10+years. a washable one should be cleaned every 6 months(spring and fall) and a disposable one should be replaced every 3-4 months.
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”.
What about ringworm? If the fungus is as contagious as doctors warn, and the spores can live several months, doesn’t it make sense to spray some sort of fungus killer into the HVAC system to kill the spores that it has sucked in from the air? Duct cleaning would not be helpful at all here; these spores are microscopic and it could actually spread them further. But given how severely contagious ringworm is, body and especially scalp, does anyone make an aerosol product that will clean the system and kill the fungus? One the resident can use, not call an HVAC company; you can’t do that when you are in an apartment. I hear it’s not the same as mold, it is much more difficult. Truth?
The bottom line is: no one knows. There are examples of ducts that have become badly contaminated with a variety of materials that may pose risks to your health. The duct system can serve as a means to distribute these contaminants throughout a home. In these cases, duct cleaning may make sense. However, a light amount of household dust in your air ducts is normal. Duct cleaning is not considered to be a necessary part of yearly maintenance of your heating and cooling system, which consists of regular cleaning of drain pans and heating and cooling coils, regular filter changes and yearly inspections of heating equipment. Research continues in an effort to evaluate the potential benefits of air duct cleaning.
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