4 Myths About Air Duct Cleaning You Need to Know

air duct cleaning myths

The Actual Work of Ductwork  

You may think that periodic air duct cleaning is a good way to ensure cost-efficient heating and cooling and to avoid unnecessary repairs. In fact, the opposite is usually the case.

Here’s what a duct cleaning does, as well as some of the myths about what duct cleaning actually doesn’t do.

  • Air ducts can get clogged by debris caused by pest damage, lack of routine maintenance or home reconstruction.
  • Ductwork cleaning may be necessary to remove debris, but once removed ongoing preventative maintenance is sufficient. Routine periodic cleaning is unnecessary.
  • Ductwork cleaning does not improve air flow (and can actually help impede it), does not permanently remove mold or odors, and, depending on the type of ductwork, actually cause damage.
  • Consult a certified HVAC specialist to determine the best solution to maintain your ductwork.

What’s a Duct and Why Should I Care?

A duct is the pipe that runs through your house to provide for the forced transport of air. This airflow could come from inside your home from your furnace or air conditioner, or it could take in air from outside, or exhaust inside air out. Typically ducts are made out of fiberglass, flexible plastics or metal. While ducts are typically round, they can be fashioned into all kinds of shapes depending on how ducts need to be routed through the house to properly disperse and return conditioned air.

About the only place you’re likely to see air ducts is in exposed ceilings or walls, most likely in your basement or attic. So, out of sight means out of mind. However, dirty ductwork can cause problems.  

If your HVAC  (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system is not properly maintained over time, the ductwork can accumulate a variety of dirt, dust, debris, pet dandruff, and other airborne particulates. In a typical six-room home, up to 40 pounds of dust is created annually through everyday living. Dirty air ducts force your heating and cooling system to work harder, expending more energy in operating less efficiently. This problem can be made worse by any of the following:

  • Rodent nests and other animal or insect pest damage
  • Lack of routine maintenance
  • Home renovations and remodels that render existing ductwork inadequate
  • Improperly sealed ductwork and floor supply registers
  • Deterioration of sealants and tapes adhesive ·   

If you see substantial mold growth, rodent or insect infestation inside your HVAC system and/or dust coming through your vents, a duct cleaning service is appropriate.

Cleaning Your Ducts 

Some homeowners might think they can clean ducts themselves with a vacuum cleaner and a long dust brush. Not a good idea. Cleaning air ducts is not a do-it-yourself job. Only use a certified technician who has the right tools and equipment.

Air duct cleaning is performed by using a high-end roto bristol brush machine with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter and vacuum. Starting at the furthest duct run from the furnace, the brush is run through the ductwork multiple times

Starting at the furthest duct run from the system, a technician moves the machine through each run multiple times to remove dirt and debris. It is then best to perform a complete furnace and indoor coil cleaning to ensure all particulates have been removed. 

So if you want your HVAC system to continue to run cost-efficiently, it must be a good idea to do periodic air duct cleaning to vacuum up dust, right? 

Well, not necessarily. 

The Truth About Duct Cleaning

Ongaro and Sons does perform air duct cleaning for our customers when the situation warrants. However, there are a number of widespread myths about duct cleaning that need to be cleared up before considering whether a duct cleaning is really the best option to keep your HVAC  in top condition, 

1. Duct Cleaning Improves Air Flow

False. If you currently have air flow issues, hot or cold spots or lack of heating or cooling coming into your home, duct cleaning is not a permanent solution. Duct cleaning only removes small particles that have settled throughout your duct system over time. It will not change the layout of your duct design, increase the airflow in your duct system or rebalance your duct system. Nor can cleaning seal any breaches in your duct system. 

Adequately addressing air flow issues requires a professionally-conducted Flow Hood test to measure the volume of air that is pushed through your HVAC system and a complete duct inspection. Possible solutions vary, but may encompass:

  • Adding an air flow balancing damper
  • Enlarging some or all duct system runs
  • A complete duct system redesign

2. Ducts Need to be Cleaned Every 3 to 5 Years 

Not at all. While air duct cleaning may be needed to remove accumulated particulates that are impairing cost-efficient HVAC operation, this should not be an ongoing issue every few years. Duct cleaning is not part of normal HVAC maintenance. If your ductwork is properly sealed, you regularly change filters according to the manufacturer recommendations, and you clean floor registers with a vacuum every six months to avoid dust build up, you should not need to do duct cleaning at all. 

The exception might be if you recently performed a major remodeling project or other new construction to your home that created a lot of dust. Then you might want to consider a duct cleaning. But, once the ducts are cleaned and you are back on track, there should be no need to do it again.

Taking simple maintenance steps you can perform on your own not only saves you money in terms of continued HVAC operational efficiency, it avoids future costly repairs and the need to clean ducts periodically.

3. Ducts Cleaning Eliminates Odors and Mold

Definitely not. Duct cleaning alone can not and will not eliminate odors coming from your HVAC system. While some companies include a microbial spray as part of cleaning your duct work, this is a temporary solution. The odors will come back!

Simply spraying over odors doesn’t get rid of what is causing odors in the first place. To completely eliminate the odors, you must remove the source. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Rodents
  • Pet droppings or fur deposits
  • Improperly sealed ductwork bringing in outside air from your crawl space or attic
  • Mold growth or moisture build up 

Air duct cleaning removes particulate deposits. It doesn’t eliminate what causes them. Look into adding or upgrading your air purification system once the odors are eliminated to help keep the air in your home healthy and clean.  

4. Duct Cleaning Does Not Damage Your Air Duct Work

It most certainly can! Certain kinds of ductwork are particularly susceptible to damage. Before you do any duct cleaning, you must determine if you have the following:

  • Flexible Ductwork: Flex ducts consist of a spring wrapped with a very fragile layer of plastic. A layer of insulation covers this thin plastic and blocks the heat from getting in or out of the duct. Around that is the outside cover of the duct itself. Over time the fragile layer of plastic surrounding the spring can become even more fragile due to the heat inside your attic or the walls of your home. This type of ductwork is most vulnerable to damage during a cleaning. The older the ductwork, the greater likelihood of damage. 
  • Aluma Flex Ductwork: This is a solid corrugated interior design covered by insulation beneath the outside cover of the duct itself. Consequently, there is less causing damage during cleaning and is actually easier to clean because the ductwork is less flexible and more durable.
  • Rigid (also called Solid Sheet Metal or KD) Ducting: Rigid ducting is made of solid sheet metal that is usually rated between 28-24 gauge. This ducting has the most integrity of all duct work if it is installed properly with the right sealant and insulation. So this has the least amount of risk for additional damage and best results for duct cleaning.

All of these types of ductwork include sheet metal distribution wires to help properly direct airflow to different areas of the home, balancing dampers to properly distribute air flow, sealant, straps and duct tape to properly secure the ducts. 

An HVAC specialist can thoroughly inspect your ductwork to determine the type of ducts and the condition of the various hangers and sealing points. Failure to do so could result in damage to the ductwork, resulting in impaired efficiency and potential future repair expense. For example, the roto brush can easily get caught in your balancing dampers, rip or disconnect improperly sealed or secured duct work. 

Equally important to inspection prior to duct cleaning is to determine if asbestos is present, which is a problem with older installations. Any asbestos must be removed before duct cleaning. Otherwise, you will be breathing a known cancer-causing material that becomes airborne as the result of the duct cleaning process. 

Consult an HVAC Expert 

Duct cleaning is a great solution for certain needs in your home. But the best solution is for you to perform routine maintenance, install the right filtration and purification system, and ensure ductwork is properly sealed. What’s the best way to keep a clean home environment and ensure your HVAC system is running properly? Consult a certified HVAC specialist with a demonstrated record of professional service and integrity. Ongaro and Sons does it all to make sure all your heating, ventilation and air conditioning ducts are all in a row that benefits your health and your pocketbook.