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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.
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.
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.
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.

I just bought a home, and the sellers clearly never had the air ducts cleaned. This is, unfortunately, typical of their neglect of the home, so I am not surprised. I was cleaning around the wooden floor registers, and I took the registers off. I found nests of some sort...all kinds of really gross stuff!! I am calling now to schedule duct cleaning for my new home. Anyway, it is very easy to check to see if you really need duct cleaning. Remove the floor registers and use a flashlight if necessary to see if there is dust or debris in the ducting. If these look bad, I'd definitely have the system cleaned. I would also do it after a construction project, after installing a new furnace, etc. I have found that once I had my previous system cleaned, it seemed to remain spotless for 3 years. So it seems that if you just change your filters on time (I have an iPhone alert set for every 3 months), the system will stay clean for years. Hope this helps!
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.
In some older homes, there was a grey Mylar flexible duct. After years of use, it started to decompose. A duct cleaning company can come out and find why your air is so dirty and why your building doesn’t heat or cool like it used to. This is a savings on your part. You could also be sucking in Hot, dirty attic air. However, sometimes when a duct cleaning company comes out to clean it, the old duct can be destroyed and have to be replaced. Someone with little experience can replace this ductwork but if it isn’t done right it can ruin a lot of things and cost a lot in repairs.

#3 The ONLY time Duct cleaning is needed is when the home had a fire, Bad roof leak on to FIBERGLASS ductwork or house sat vacant for many years with out the air running. And its better to replace than to do “abrasive” duct cleaning. If the duct cleaning has a rotating brush it will remove part of the glue that is holding the Fiberglass in the ducts together, PERIOD no matter how much the say it don’t because the brush is soft.
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.
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.
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.
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