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.
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”.
I noticed a lot of negative feedback, though unfortunately there are many dishonest companies out there. I currently work with a company that cleans duct work and we DO NOT use any scare tactics or up sell services or equipment. Once every 10years of course there are exceptions. We clean supply, returns, air handler, housing, motor, and fan. Though be discerning when qualifying anyone to work in your home. I would ask for REAL REFERENCES to contact.
The cooling coils the air comes into contact with appear to need UV-C lights on them in humid climates. That's the biggest thing. If the ducts have never been cleaned, then getting that done goes without saying. But those coils need to be cleaned, disinfected, and then UV-C light(s) installed to prevent mold & bacteria build-up in the future on them. That appears to be chiefly responsible for the dirty laundry and/or sour milk smell coming from forced-air AC systems in humid regions.
A small number of products are currently registered by EPA specifically for use on the inside of bare sheet metal air ducts. A number of products are also registered for use as sanitizers on hard surfaces, which could include the interior of bare sheet metal ducts. While many such products may be used legally inside of unlined ducts if all label directions are followed, some of the directions on the label may be inappropriate for use in ducts. For example, if the directions indicate "rinse with water", the added moisture could stimulate mold growth.
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts as a means to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold) and prevent future biological growth. They may also propose the application of a "sealant" to prevent dust and dirt particles from being released into the air or to seal air leaks. You should fully understand the pros and cons of permitting application of chemical biocides or sealants. While the targeted use of chemical biocides and sealants may be appropriate under specific circumstances, research has not demonstrated their effectiveness in duct cleaning or their potential adverse health effects. No chemical biocides are currently registered by EPA for use in internally-insulated air duct systems (see Should chemical biocides be applied to the inside of air ducts?).