Yes, ducts can look terribly dusty. However, that dust will not become aerosolized during the normal operation of your furnace. There is an easy way to test this. Rent a particle counter and test the air flowing out of your registers before and after cleaning. You will not see any improvement in the air quality or any reduction in the airborne dust level. Think of it this way. Duct cleaning companies tell you that you need to clean your ducts when you can see a layer of dust in your ducts. Yet that very layer of dust is proof that duct cleaning is unnecessary, because that dust proves that the air movement in your furnace is not fast enough to re-aerosolize the dust.
When these aren't properly maintained and sanitized, they can build up dust, pollen, and even mold. This means when the air conditioner or heater turns on, the spores are released into the air for you to inhale. While some are less harmful, people who have allergies or sensitivity to certain spores will react negatively. Plus, mold is dangerous for anyone to ingest and should be avoided by regular maintenance.
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
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.
Did you know that cleaning your ducts and vents can help airflow and increase energy efficiency? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), keeping your air ducts and vents clear can increase energy efficiency and indoor air quality. While the cost to clean ducts and vents might sound high, the benefits to homeownersespecially those sensitive to allergensis worth considering.
EPA does not recommend that air ducts be cleaned except on an as-needed basis because of the continuing uncertainty about the benefits of duct cleaning under most circumstances. EPA does, however, recommend that if you have a fuel burning furnace, stove, or fireplace, they be inspected for proper functioning and serviced before each heating season to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning. Some research also suggests that cleaning dirty cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers can improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems. However, little evidence exists to indicate that simply cleaning the duct system will increase your system's efficiency.
I have been a plumbing/gas/hvac tech for 19 years, before that I installed ductwork in commercial buildings and office towers. As the article states, unless you have undergone some type of extensive reno, or ducts have become contaminated, paying for cleaning is pointless. Its one thing if you have a 30 year old home that has never had a duct cleaning and you can actually see mounds of dust built up , especially in the return side, then go for it. Keep in mind that most duct cleaning companies will only get 80% of the dust , or less at best. Keep in mind that most of the dust in your home is lint from clothes and linens, and skin cells from you and your pets and is constantly being generated. Dust that builds up in ductwork , generally stays in the ductwork. The power of suggestion, scare tactics, up sell!!!
In addition, the service provider may propose applying chemical biocides, designed to kill microbiological contaminants, to the inside of the duct work and to other system components. Some service providers may also suggest applying chemical treatments (sealants or other encapsulants) to encapsulate or cover the inside surfaces of the air ducts and equipment housings because they believe it will control mold growth or prevent the release of dirt particles or fibers from ducts. These practices have yet to be fully researched and you should be fully informed before deciding to permit the use of biocides or chemical treatments in your air ducts. They should only be applied, if at all, after the system has been properly cleaned of all visible dust or debris.