Vacuum the ducts as much as possible. Consider renting a heavy duty vacuum for this purpose. The standard household vacuum isn't powerful enough to clean deep into the crevices of the ducts. Make sure that the vacuum you rent has a long hose to reach deep into the ducts. This is important, as there may be mold and mildew growing inside the air ducts [source: Repair Home]. If you want the ducts to be cleaned more thoroughly, consider hiring a professional to do the job.
The original furnace was a coal fired “octopus” design which had no blower to circulate the air but relied upon warm air rising to distribute the heat. That also means that the system breathed air in from the basement and most of this type did not have a cold air return system. At some point (probably in the 1940’s) the system was upgraded to a forced air gas furnace. The upgrade included replacing the 12″ diameter air ducts exposed in the basement with 6″ ducts and a cold air return system of ducts from the two (only two) air returns on the first floor.

Greetings from Mama Duck from Ductz of Greater Atlanta. These are some awesome comments and a few are from high quality duct cleaners that I personally know. After 19 years in this industry I agree that a government agency is not always up to date with their knowledge but won't admit it. If they were out in the field with our technicians every day they would upgrade their info. I get calls all the time where customers have been taken advantage of by "go and blow" companies. The customers don't know what they don't know but many are too lazy to do the research and are just looking for cheap. The industry has gotten a bad rap due to these con artists but the customer has to take some responsibility. I ask them why they would want to do business with a company who lies to them in print? Are they stupid or just cheap? Thankfully there are those of us in the industry who are working diligently to raise the bar on quality, protect the consumer and perform high quality work. At Ductz all our technicians are NADCA certified, trained by the best in the industry and know how to clean the entire system.
You may be familiar with air ducts that are constructed of sheet metal. However, many modern residential air duct systems are constructed of fiber glass duct board or sheet metal ducts that are lined on the inside with fiber glass duct liner. Since the early 1970's, a significant increase in the use of flexible duct, which generally is internally lined with plastic or some other type of material, has occurred.
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.
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.
Pay particular attention to cooling coils, which are designed to remove water from the air and can be a major source of moisture contamination of the system that can lead to mold growth. Make sure the condensate pan drains properly. The presence of substantial standing water and/or debris indicates a problem requiring immediate attention. Check any insulation near cooling coils for wet spots.
I was told that 15 out vents would be cleaned and one main vent. the guy came over and gave me an estimate of $500. I had acquired a groupon for $49. the guy said just doing the out vents and one main vent would accomplish nothing. Now I am in dispute with the groupon people for a refund which they won’t give and have to go ahead and waste the money and let them do it. Is their doing the 15 outvents and one main one going to accomplish anything?
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.
Demonstrate visible evidence of microbial growth in your duct work. Some service providers may attempt to convince you that your air ducts are contaminated by demonstrating that the microorganisms found in your home grow on a settling plate (i.e., petri dish). This is inappropriate. Some microorganisms are always present in the air, and some growth on a settling plate is normal. As noted earlier, only an expert can positively identify a substance as biological growth and lab analysis may be required for final confirmation. Other testing methods are not reliable.
Here in Atlanta we get 6 to 10 $49 coupons in the mail weekly…I have always consider them a complete scam….just had my master bathroom& bedroom and guest bath completely remodeled down to the studs…Had my 3 returns nearest the area sealed to prevent sheet rock dust to spread…it worked and I personally cleaned all 7 returns when a 5 HP , new Rigid shop Vac($99 from HD)…took one hour and I found little evidence that “I need my ducts cleaned” Had quotes from $400 to $600…I use the best air filters for my air handler and change it every 2 to 3 months…..any dust is trapped in it and I believe the Air Duct folks are all cons….

20 yrs ago I bought the house I am in and a Central H/A was installed at that time. At the beginning of ea season I have the unit serviced. Every yr since I have owned the house I have had to have freon added and been told that I must have a freon leak. Fast forward to this yr when I hired a new company to do the service. They went up into the attic as part of their overall servicing. Nobody else has ever done that. He came down showing me pics on his camera phone of ducts that were not even connected to anything and in my estimation have probably been laying there for 20 yrs. Of course he fixed this. I have not needed freon this year either. I have been complaining to friends about the huge amount of dust and how I can't keep up with the cleaning away of it for a long time. Now it makes so much sense.To me it is like that duct work was just up there laying around and every time my unit was blowing, all the insulation, debris, dust and whatever else over the years was just randomly filling up those ducts. What now that they are re-connected? Will it be better? Or am I someone that needs to have my ducts cleaned? I am so confused after reading all these comments. Can one of you experts tell me what you would do before I spend a bunch of money that I don't really have? Thank you for any input you can provide. Also, feel free to respond to email address denise@digitalflak.com
It’s 11 years plus in the industry I have only had to sanitize two systems both were slab systems that were in concrete and could be cleaned with a different method than normal duct cleaning. We were able to use water to rinse out the disinfectant. Would you use a chemical on anything else you use to eat or drink with and not rinse it off? The ducts in your home should be thought of as your homes heart and lungs and breathe the same air that you do. And just like us we wouldn’t use bad chemicals in our lungs and heart.
The jury is out on whether or not cleaning your air ducts and vents has a significant enough impact to be necessary. A proven connection between immaculate duct systems and air quality in the home has not been made. However, if your vents display any of the signs listed above, cleaning would certainly be in your best interest. Allowing mold, debris and bacteria to fester could create bigger problems down the line. If having your system disinfected is within your budget, you may prefer to take care of these issues rather than ignore them.
While your HVAC filter is designed to trap particulate matter and prevent it from entering your air ducts, particles often still get through. The number of particles your HVAC filter traps is directly connected to the quality of air in your home: the lower the quality of air, the more particles will be present, and the more particles are likely to get through the filter. If these particles are allowed to build up, your HVAC system can become less efficient, operating longer to heat or cool your home. An inefficient HVAC system can result in inconsistent heating or cooling, higher utility costs, and expensive HVAC unit repairs, such as an A-coil or blower motor replacement if the problem is left unchecked. Air duct cleaning from Sears, which focuses on the dirt in your air ducts, can boost the efficiency of a dirty HVAC system, cleaning out the particulate matter that can hinder HVAC effectiveness and affect your health.
When water damage strikes, you need to act quickly. Time is of the essence. We're available 24/7 to dispatch trained, certified crews, equipment and inspection tools specializing in water damage. With our national footprint and large coverage areas throughout the country we will arrive on site and begin work quickly, minimizing the damage to your home. 

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.
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.
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.
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