One of the best ways to know if your ducts or vents need to be cleaned is to just check them. Your eyes will be able to check for indications of mold, dust or pollen buildup. You might also be able to smell the presence of mold, which would be a clear indicator. Ductwork will have some buildup of dust, since the return registrars pull air back in. However, this doesn't mean your ducts have too much debris, and you can easily clean them with a duster or vacuum.

I guess I should present my credentials first, I am a 30 year veteran of the heating and cooling industry. I started at the bottom and have participated in every area of the trade. Installer, service, maint. Ownership, rep, territory manager and so on. A forced air duct system is a large vacume. Like your vacume it has an air intake (return air) and an exhaust (supply registers). A filter just like a vacume (located next to furnace or air handler). Now I want you to visualize something. Put your head inside your vacume cleaner and breath. Get the picture? This is what your duct work looks like. Do you clean your vacume when it’s dirty? If it’s full and the filter is dirty you lose performance and it starts poluting the air you breathe. It’s common sense. I recommend hiring a duct cleaning outfit that you have researched to be honest, background checked, drug tested, insured, and highly recommended by your piers in the area. The service is a necessity, but like everything, it should be done by a qualified company.

Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply a chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold), and prevent future biological growth. Some duct cleaning service providers may propose to introduce ozone to kill biological contaminants. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that is regulated in the outside air as a lung irritant. However, there remains considerable controversy over the necessity and wisdom of introducing chemical biocides or ozone into the duct work.
The most effective way to clean air ducts and ventilation systems is to employ Source Removal methods of cleaning. This requires a contractor to place the system under negative pressure, through the use of a specialized, powerful vacuum. While the vacuum draws air through the system, devices are inserted into the ducts to dislodge any debris that might be stuck to interior surfaces. The debris can then travel down the ducts to the vacuum, which removes it from the system and the home.
All of you have dentists, you have doctors, you have preachers, you have mechanics. You don’t have to know everything about everything but you have to have people in your life that you can trust. Don’t just open up the phone book and pick a mechanical (HVAC) contractor. Call your friends and family and ask for referrals. There are no black and white (scam or not a scam) answers here.
Most organizations concerned with duct cleaning, including EPA, NADCA, NAIMA and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) do not currently recommend the routine use of sealants to encapsulate contaminants in any type of duct. Instances when the use of sealants to encapsulate the duct surfaces may be appropriate include the repair of damaged fiber glass insulation or when combating fire damage within ducts. Sealants should never be used on wet duct liner, to cover actively growing mold, or to cover debris in the ducts, and should only be applied after cleaning according to NADCA or other appropriate guidelines or standards.
The next step was cleaning the cold air returns. He found a good spot to drill an 8” hole for his vacuum hose. The procedure matched the other air ducts except that when he finished at the two cold return registers he drilled several holes in the cold ducts in the basement and blasted air into them. Because of our houses age and the upgraded return system, I noticed that the main sheet metal return duct had no top but was just butted up against the ceiling in the basement. When he blasted air in, dust and crap shot out the edges along the ceiling. Once he finished that he removed the filter and “swept” out anything at the bottom of the return with his hand into the 8” hose.
Had our ducts cleaned late April, 2016. Sodium Chlorite was sprayed into ducts after cleaning. Ever since, we have been bothered with eye and nasal passage irritation because of a “chemical” and “musty” odor. This odor is present whether or not a/c is on.) We are told the sodium chlorite (“EnviroCon, manufactured by Bio-Cide International) is used in hospital and nursing home settings and is not hazardous to health. The air duct company’s suggestion is that they come out and spray even more sodium chlorite…we absolutely don’t want this done! Have had various other recommendations about what we need to have done to remedy our problem. We will be unable to stay in our home if a resolution cannot be found. We’d be willing to replace the ductwork if necessary. (One professional suggested that the cleaning may have “knocked something loose” inside the ductwork and that is the source of the irritant.) This home was built in 1920…no idea when the present ductwork was installed. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
If the one noticeable spot is where the wall [or ceiling or floor] is white.......first.....take a pair of needle nose pliers and bend each louver of the register to a straight outward position [as they all come brand new with a slant to each side]....so the register is shooting all supply air straight outward. If its a round register [in ceiling].....no help there. You also should always burn soy or beeswax candles.
The Environmental Protection Agency says that “duct cleaning services typically – but not always – range in cost from $450 to $1000 per heating and cooling system, depending on the services offered, the size of the system to be cleaned, system accessibility, climactic region, and level of contamination” and type of duct material. Consumers should beware of air duct cleaning companies that making sweeping claims about the health benefits of duct cleaning – such claims are unsubstantiated. Consumers should also beware of “blow-and-go” air duct cleaning companies. These companies often charge a nominal fee and do a poor job of cleaning the heating and cooling system. These companies may also persuade the consumer into unneeded services with and/or without their permission. (If you have knowledge of a practicing “blow-and-go” air duct cleaner, contact your local Better Business Bureau to report the company, and your local, federal, and state elected officials to demand legislation.)
I always get a laugh at anyone claiming to be in the business for any length of time that doesnt understand the importance of cleaning out a ventilation system. Not only for better indoor air quality but for maintaining your heating equipment. I guess it makes more sense to some people that the furnace will just run better with a ton of dust and debris and maybe this wont be a big cause of sytem breakdown and malfunction. I mean really? Maybe this guy got a bad company and or cleaning and is a little jaded but to advise cleaning your grills , which does nothing, and replacing a filter....come on guy.
If the system is sealed air-tight and a really good filtering system is in place then you should NEVER have to clean your ductwork. Most dust people see in their homes (on beds furniture etc....) is broken down insulation that is being blown into the home from the attic (venturi effect) where the duct bucket (box etc...) is not sealed at the sheetrock ceiling. On the return side, ANY leaks in the ductwork will pull hot attic air and dust into the system, clogging up everything.
Preventing against air leakage is great, but the only way to keep dust and debris out of a duct system would be to completely seal off the return-air side of the system, which would render the system useless. Cold-air returns will always pull dust and other particles into the system. A high-MERV rated filter is definitely a good idea, but it does nothing to keep the return side of the system clean. Definitely agree though to use foil tape to seal seams, etc. Duct tape dries out over time and as it does can actually add more particles to the air.
I forgot about a pot of sweet water I had on the stove to boil. When I finally smelled it the kitchen and dining room I=was smoke filled. I mean thick smoke. I opened doors and windows for a few hours to remove the smoke but the smell is still here and terrible. I had to use the AC and that smell started coming out of the vents. Now what do I do? I have COPD emphysema so I have to be very careful about what I inhale. I already have inhaled too much smoke from all of this which has hurt my lungs even more. I can’t afford for them to get worse over this. How can I get the right person to come out and clean the ducts and furnace or is that the only way to remove that burnt smokey smell. The pot never caught on fire but it sure did produce a lot of smoke. I already have replaced the filter on the furnace. It needed it even though it had just been replaced just last week. I need help or really my lungs need help. Who do I call here in Indpls IN.
Although i love to burn candles, depending on the type your asking for problems big ones! At work one day i had been talking with co workers about these black shadows that were appearing on my ceilings and higher wall areas. They seemed to in the corners and along the stud supports , i could even see what i thought to be where all had been nailed. There would be dark shadows perfectly straight across my ceiling and then real dark circels every few inches within the lines. I thought it was the propane heat but learned quickly that oil heat will do that but not normally propane. A co worker brought me a magazine with a huge article about candles and what actually burns off them when lit, an ashy soot that is attracted to the areas on walls and ceilings that omit the most heat or warmth, of course where the drywall and studs meet and corners of the room. Its been about 8 years since i painted the entire house. I started bending to my love for candles again in the last 3 years, surprise i will be spending part of my summer re painting again!! No more candles ,well maybe at the holidays LOL
If your non metal ductwork is that dirty you should just have it replaced AND sealed. Also most duct systems are not very well designed. Look for proper sizing and do not go cheap with one or two intakes (return grills) You need them through-out the house. Here in Austin the duct cleaners are carpet cleaners and chimney swifts. (this is who the duct cleaning equipment mfgs call on when the hvac people do not get on board. They DO clean other types of ductwork and we (the hvac guys) have to fix them. I am not aware of any of these non hvac guys cleaning and servicing the actual equipment. Here in Texas it is against the law for them to do so. Treat the entire house as a system, not just the ductwork and /or hvac equipment. Home performance really does work to increase comfort and air quality while reducing operating costs.
Did not realize cost had gone up so much for this service. Two years ago I had furnace and ducts cleaned at my old house and it was under $400. Now the cost is $700 for this house. I will keep looking for someone to offer a lower price, check them out, and have it done. Or will find the paperwork to see who did it before. I liked this article and did learn some things. Thanks.
Hello, I read your comment and I know it was two years ago but I hope you see my message. I am trying to figure out what to do as I was told that there is some cat odor in the finished basement. I think with the air conditioning running that it may carry odor. The litter boxes are always kept clean. I wonder if odor can be trapped in the ducts, if Air Duct Cleaning could help, but it is quite expensive plus I'm concerned that it may not help. Please elaborate as to why you think it doesn't work that well. Do you have any other advise? Did you work in the field of Air Duct Cleaning? Thanks so much!
How exactly do you expect to kill or remove mold without it ? You can’t even clean your hvac systems coils without moisture of some type ,if you use a steam cleaner you can literally clean the whole system minus the electronics . You should do more research and possibly talk to people who do the work before posting , but don’t listen to me i only have a class A contractor license ,epa license , install /repair hvacs , rent and flip houses for a living .
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….
Interesting. Giuliano Cuete and Carlo Olcese have the exact same post about pretenders and being NADCA certified, word for word. So how do you become NADCA certified? And does that mean you are not a scam artist or a "blow and do" ripoff? hmmm, interesting. The EPA says that under normal conditions, a properly maintained system should NEVER need it's ducts cleaned.
Interesting. Giuliano Cuete and Carlo Olcese have the exact same post about pretenders and being NADCA certified, word for word. So how do you become NADCA certified? And does that mean you are not a scam artist or a "blow and do" ripoff? hmmm, interesting. The EPA says that under normal conditions, a properly maintained system should NEVER need it's ducts cleaned.
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.
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.
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