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 am NADCA Certified Air Systems Cleaning Specialist. Over the years I have learned on simple answer to this questions: there air duct cleaners and there are pretenders. There will be no benefit at all if you use on the very cheap pretender because they will not really clean anything. On the other hand if you call a qualified air duct cleaner with a NADCA Certification you will, like 99% of my customers, report improvement with your respiratory problems, you will see less dust and the job will pay for itself with energy savings and repair prevention.

He proceeded to clean each heat register by removing the grille and blasting it with an air pressure hose toward the duct opening thinking that the dust would magically be sucked inside. In one room this caused a ceiling smoke detector to go off because the excess dust fooled it into thinking there was smoke. I put my hand in front of a register he wasn’t working on and could hardly feel a suction. Although we discussed how I open and close damper doors, I realized later that he never checked, opened or adjusted them during the cleaning. He could have closed all but the one he was working on in order to increase suction results. His next step was to blast air into the duct and then attach a “squid-like” device that slapped around inside the duct as far as he could reach. This is important! In a newer house, ducts have long straight runs from the furnace. In older houses like mine they can turn and twist. In fact, the duct we have a problem with runs straight up from the basement inside a wall and turns 90 degrees into a soffit for three feet then into two 90 degree turns to get into the floor joist area for another two feet and finally a 90 degree turn up to the second floor register. When he cleaned this one he could only get three feet into the register with the hose or squid because of the turns. That was the case with most. Hardly what could be described as a decent cleaning.
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.
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.
No one has addressed mfg homes and doesn't seem any of the comments are from people in So CA which of course does make a difference as my dust comes from the outside not from the vents. My windows are open pretty much 365 days a year. Secondly mfg homes don't have basements or attics I keep mine clean with my vacuum as they are only about 2 ft deep. I purchased my home 10 yrs ago and it is a high end home but have never had a problem. I clean my furnace filter about twice a month as I have cats and most everything in there is cat fur. I am not saying they don't ever need to be cleaned but I am questioning mfg homes, I also clean my own filters in my AC unit outside as the HVAC guy told me too he QUATITY they would sell. I use this same company every year now for my tune up and inspection which takes them about 10 minutes. Not a bad return for them and I don't mind the $79 fee. If anyone has more info than this on mfg homes please let me know!

Venice warns homeowners to beware of air duct cleaning scams, especially the sort where unscrupulous cleaners offer a $49 special deal but start piling on extra fees. “It’s a bait and switch scam where they say they’ll offer unlimited cleaning, but then they throw around terms you might not understand, such as extra fees for a ‘main duct line,’” he says. “And many times, these cleaners end up walking out the door with twice the amount of money a reputable duct cleaner would charge. They’ve gotten very sophisticated at upselling.”
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.
We are all getting migraines several times a month. I have asthma but not ever as bad as it has been and my 2 year olds dr just informed me she potentially has asthma too. We all get sinus infections regularly and eczema and contact dermatitis. None of us have been this way until recently in our apartment. A roof leak with mold was repaired recently mold was sealed off not removed. We also had lead paint removed from a few window trims this year. I wasn’t here to see if they covered the vents. We had mice too. I vacuum everyday we have hardwood floors no one wears shoes past the font door and I’m getting over a cup full of dirt every time I vacuum. Dust on everything daily. White dust. It’s a 4 room apartment with 1 intake. They are filthy from what I can see when I change the filters. The filters are black after a few months. I feel bad to ask the homeowner to get the system cleaned, can’t afford to move (we live in the city & it’s expensive). I am going to try the shop vac to remove what I can. Any experienced hvac people please give your opinion. Should I just get it done and pay for it myself? We have lived here for 13 years. It’s never been cleaned since ive been here. Is it something I can do with a shop vac? Can i use a wet rag to get the powder dust on the inside of the vents off. One vent has what looks like chunks of dry wall or thick paint sitting in the vent and none of the vents screw into the wall, the screws just fall out. No one ever reinforced the area so the wall just basically crumbles. Kind of useless to spend the money on filters since the air and dust just blows out around the sides of the vents and one of the vents just falls right out of the wall when the heat is turned on. I don’t know why the owner doesn’t fix it. He’s been here to replace filters and saw the condition.

Despite Bergendahl's experience, Vinick says NADCA's certification standards have improved the situation. "A lot of [service companies] weren't going about it the correct way," he says. “We have an anti-fraud task force, and we’ve gone after some fraudulent duct cleaners with the help of state attorneys general.” He suggests that in addition to NADCA membership, homeowners make sure their cleaners are an established business, have appropriate insurance and are registered to do business in their state and locality.

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.

As one of the duct cleaners that do it right it disgusts me to hear the horror stories some of my past customers have had with the companies using scare tactics, bait and switch schemes, and just plain intimidation to make a fast buck. The Ductz franchise as a whole has gone behind other "duct cleaners" in the last year to the tune of almost three-quarters of a million dollars. All of this expense could have been avoided had the customers been able to do some background research before hiring. NADCA is a great organization and should be a minimum requirement for finding a duct cleaner. Other great questions include "How long does the service take?" (2 techs, 4-5 hours for a small house, 7-9+ hours for a two system house), "Do you clean the entire system including all trunk lines and the air handler (blower motor and evaporator coil)?", "How do you validate the job you have done?" (before and after picture reports work great). Beware of duct cleaners that say their process will solve all your air quality concerns. Duct cleaning is one of several steps to take to rid your home of unwanted dust, dirt, mold, and other allergens.
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.

Equipment used to clean ducts varies widely. The cheaper the equipment used the more you are just wasting money. This is why it's typically not worth doing. In some situations it may be beneficial, but only after determining and investigating the duct system. This should be done by a licensed HVAC contractor and not a duct cleaner that typically do not hold and HVAC license. (Duct cleaners aren't required to be licensed in HVAC in many areas.)
This article was very good. It should be noted that the EPA building in Washington, DC, was cited years ago as one of the worst "sick building syndrome" buildings. Wish you had mentioned about having people's dryer vents cleaned since they can cause so many fires in homes. Most homeowners forget to check the air flow on the dryer vent. Our company, which cleans by NADCA standards, does both air ducts and dryer vents. Thanks again for keeping the public informed, especially regarding the cost of air duct cleaning...you get what you pay for...don't be fooled by the lowest cost out there. Frequently these are bait and switch companies or will keep adding on features they say a customer needs until the price is so high it's ridiculous.
Since most states and municipalities don’t license air duct cleaners, you need to check their professional credentials instead, such as NADCA membership. EPA recommends all duct cleaners follow NADCA standards. Member companies must keep at least one technician on staff who has passed a NADCA test. “They have to pass rigorous testing to earn the certificate, and our code of ethics is very important,” Vinick says.

I live in Port Orange, FL. I purchased a double wide mobile home and was saddened to learn that the previous owners were HEAVY smokers! They did a good job “hiding” the smoke smell the day we viewed this place. I did not have a home inspection done unfortunately. My question is: can duct cleaning remove the smoke smell from this place. The ceilings have been treated with Kilz and paint. I personally scrubbed down every wall, floor or surface. I also purchased a ODORFREE OZONE machine. It seemed to remove the odor for a short period of time but my friends are again complaining about the “smoke” odor in my home. The Ozone machine was $400 and I’m terribly upset that it didn’t clean the air as was promised.
We are all getting migraines several times a month. I have asthma but not ever as bad as it has been and my 2 year olds dr just informed me she potentially has asthma too. We all get sinus infections regularly and eczema and contact dermatitis. None of us have been this way until recently in our apartment. A roof leak with mold was repaired recently mold was sealed off not removed. We also had lead paint removed from a few window trims this year. I wasn’t here to see if they covered the vents. We had mice too. I vacuum everyday we have hardwood floors no one wears shoes past the font door and I’m getting over a cup full of dirt every time I vacuum. Dust on everything daily. White dust. It’s a 4 room apartment with 1 intake. They are filthy from what I can see when I change the filters. The filters are black after a few months. I feel bad to ask the homeowner to get the system cleaned, can’t afford to move (we live in the city & it’s expensive). I am going to try the shop vac to remove what I can. Any experienced hvac people please give your opinion. Should I just get it done and pay for it myself? We have lived here for 13 years. It’s never been cleaned since ive been here. Is it something I can do with a shop vac? Can i use a wet rag to get the powder dust on the inside of the vents off. One vent has what looks like chunks of dry wall or thick paint sitting in the vent and none of the vents screw into the wall, the screws just fall out. No one ever reinforced the area so the wall just basically crumbles. Kind of useless to spend the money on filters since the air and dust just blows out around the sides of the vents and one of the vents just falls right out of the wall when the heat is turned on. I don’t know why the owner doesn’t fix it. He’s been here to replace filters and saw the condition.
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.
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.
Good article, but it fails to point out that leaky return-side ducts could be drawing dust and allergens into the duct system from the enclosed spaces in which they run, e.g. between walls, below floors, attic. So duct cleaning may only be a temporary solution. The homeowner can get a home energy audit -- free in many states -- to determine if they have significant duct leakage. An Aeroseal dealer may be able to effectively seal up the duct system without needing to tear into walls etc to get to the ducts.
I live in a 1950's ranch house in the South. The prior owners were smokers. Based on recommendations from one of the local conservation organizations, I decided to have a home energy audit done. As part of their findings, they recommended additional insulation in the attic and duct cleaning and sealing. This turned out to be a very problematic process. In terms of the ducts, it was necessary to remove the metal grates. However, these grates had been painted over many times and shoe molding covered the bottom of the grates. The vendor was not able to remove the grates without damaging them in the process. Because these grates dated back to the 1950's, it was difficult to find appropriate replacements. The ones I finally discovered were correct except they were 1/4" wider. This meant that the shoe molding had to be carved out. The duct cleaner could not provide any assistance with this problem. It took me a month of long evenings replacing the vent covers myself, carefully chiseling out the shoe molding and repainting. In terms of the extra installation in the attic, the same vendor used blow in insulation. Unfortunately, they did not recognize that the 13 floodlights whose mounting extended into the attic were not designed to be buried under insulation. The problem manifested itself in terms of expensive flood light bulbs failing continually. So, I had to have all of the light housings replaced. Yet another unexpected expense. Despite the expense, pain and suffering, I cannot report any improvement in my heating costs or the "quality" of the air. To be fair, I do not have any allergies and did not undertake this for air quality improvements but rather heating efficiency improvements.
I called a company name “GREEN RHVAC” with their $29.00 one system air duck cleaning. When the guy came with a truck I asked him to tell me how much he will charge and he said that if he gave me price and I didn’t want the service then he would charge me $89 or he would tell me how much he charge me after he finished the work. I immoderately sense that I made mistake to call him to my house. To cut my lost I asked him to give me the price and it was $1600 for two systems house. I paid $100 to him for my lesson to learn and search online to find this site is very helpfully and I should do it before to call anyone for air duck cleaning.
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.
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