How to Clean Ducts
If you want to know how to clean air ducts yourself instead of hiring and looking for an affordable air duct cleaning service or air duct cleaner, then this AC duct cleaning guide is for you. While we generally recommend that you first conduct a professional test of your ducts to see if they even need cleaning, and then use a professional to perform the necessary duct cleaning, some DIY-inclined homeowners do undertake the task themselves (dryer vent cleaning is a much DIY-friendly project). If you are one of them – or you’re concerned about air duct cleaning cost (pricing is actually very reasonable) – follow the steps and recommendations below carefully and consistently to clean your air ducts.
Let’s take a look at:
- What ducts do?
- When is duct cleaning necessary?
- Equipment required to clean ducts yourself
- How to clean air ducts yourself—a step-by-step guide
- The advantages of not cleaning air ducts yourself
- How to prevent dust accumulation in your ducts and avoid the need to clean air ducts yourself
Before getting into air duct cleaning, let’s first dive into an overview of how your ducts work. Your ductwork comprises a system of pipes that run throughout your house to transport conditioned air from your HVAC system. In addition, occasionally ducts are used to take in outside air and transfer inside air to the outside in the form of exhaust. Ducts are usually round in shape (though they can be bent to fit where they need to go) and made out of fiberglass, flexible plastic, or metal. They run through your walls and ceilings, so the only place you are likely to actually see ductwork is in exposed areas such as crawl spaces, attics, and basements, as well as any ducts that lead outside of the house. In older homes, the metal ducts could be wrapped in asbestos, these ducts should not be cleaned because that could cause the asbestos to become airborne and enter the home. If your home was built before 1979 and your duct work has not been replaced, you should hire a professional to inspect the ductwork for asbestos.
There are two types of ducts: return and supply. Return ducts take air out of the room and back to the HVAC system. Supply ducts transport conditioned air from the HVAC system to the room.
As you’ll see in the instructions below, you need to locate the supply duct to begin cleaning the air ducts yourself. There’s an easy way to determine whether a duct is a supply or a return type. Put a tissue on the vent. If the tissue sticks, it is a return duct. If the tissue doesn’t stick or blows off, it is a supply duct.
Dirt, dust, and various other forms of debris (such as pet hair and pest infestation) can accumulate inside your home’s ductwork decreasing your indoor air quality. In a typical six-room home, up to 40 pounds of dust is created annually through everyday living.
The problem isn’t so much that dust is circulating in your air, but that excessive debris in your ductwork is impairing air flow and the efficiency of your HVAC system. Dirty air ducts force your heating and cooling system to work harder, expending more energy and operating less efficiently. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 25 to 40 percent of the energy used for heating or cooling a home is wasted.
So it seems reasonable to expect that regular duct cleaning is a good practice. Actually, it isn’t. No matter what the air duct cleaning scams from less-reputable companies may tell you.
In fact, our recommendation is that you don’t need to clean air ducts yourself if:
- Ductwork is properly sealed
- You regularly change filters according to the manufacturer recommendations
- Floor registers are cleaned with a vacuum every six months to avoid dust buildup
Generally, duct cleaning is required when and if:
- There is noticeable deterioration of sealants and tape adhered to ductwork and/or those that weren’t properly sealed in the first place (which, of course, require repair in addition to duct cleaning)
- Home remodeling and renovations that create considerable dust and/or require adding/replacing ductwork are being done
- Extensive pest damage and animal nests are present
- Substantial mold growth is present (if you have mold, however, do not clean air ducts yourself; test to verify mold infestation and call an expert to remove potentially dangerous mold)
- Ductwork is at least seven years old and you perform a certified Home Energy Rating System energy audit that indicates duct leaks
- Recommended routine maintenance is not performed
If you feel you need to perform AC vent cleaning and also clean the ducts yourself, or you’re concerned about air duct cleaning costs, the following equipment is required:
- High-powered vacuum; your standard household vacuum isn’t powerful enough to suck up and contain debris from ductwork
- Heavy duty gloves, gas mask or goggles
- New furnace filter
- Stiff brush to scrape debris
- Microfiber cleaning cloth
- Power drill or screwdriver to remove screws from vents
- Paper towels
Here’s how the air duct cleaning process works for a DIY homeowner.
- Remove screws from air duct covers, air vents and return-air grill plates.
- Cover supply vents (see how to test for supply vents above) with paper towels and cover vents not currently being cleaned. Lift supply vent and place a paper towel between the vent cover and the wall or floor. There is no need to re-screw the covers back.
- Set the thermostat to the “fan on” position and heat and cool mode to “off.” If your thermostat doesn’t have a “fan-only” setting, run the heat. (If the thermostat doesn’t have a fan-only setting, it’s pretty old; you might consider upgrading.)
- Use a brush to loosen any buildup of dust in the ductwork.
- Lift register and insert vacuum hose as far into the piping as it can go. Turn the vacuum on to capture as much dust as possible that the fan is pushing through the ductwork.
- For how to clean AC vents, when finished vacuuming, use your brush to remove any built-up dust in the register.
- Reach down into the duct as far as you can with the microfiber cloth and wipe the interior clean. Rinse the cloth repeatedly as needed.
- Remove and dispose of the paper towels.
- Clean the return registers with your brush.
- Shut off the fan and then power off the furnace via the service switch or breaker panel.
- Remove the panels on the front of the furnace and access the blower compartment and the return air boot. Use your vacuum to sweep up the dust built up in the blower compartment, return air boot, and furnace fan.
- Replace the furnace air filter. You won’t get the complete benefit of clean ducts if your filter remains clogged with dust and contaminants.
Ongaro and Sons is an air duct cleaning business that has certified HVAC technicians who employ specialized tools that the average homeowner doesn’t have, not to mention their experience in performing tasks as efficiently as possible with less potential disturbance to your HVAC system. In fact, improper duct cleaning can lead to more problems than the original issue of dirty ducts. Certain kinds of ductwork in particular are susceptible to damage if improperly cleaned; the older the ductwork, the greater the likelihood of damage. Which is why many experts recommend you don’t clean ducts yourself and instead hiring an air duct cleaning company.
Professional air duct cleaning is performed using a high-end roto bristol brush machine with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter and vacuum (typically on-hand at reputable air duct cleaning companies). Starting at the furthest duct run from the furnace, the brush is run through the ductwork multiple times to remove dirt and debris during air duct cleaning services. For residential duct cleaning, it is then best to perform a complete furnace and indoor coil cleaning to ensure all particulates are removed in your air duct system.
If you perform regular routine HVAC maintenance, install the right filtration and purification system, and the ductwork is properly sealed and shows no sign of sagging or tearing, you probably don’t need to clean air ducts yourself or to have your air ducts cleaned professionally. The best way to keep a clean home environment and ensure your HVAC system is running properly is to consult a certified HVAC specialist with a demonstrated record of professional service and integrity. If you’re concerned and looking for “air duct cleaning near me” or “dryer vent cleaning near me”, Ongaro and Sons helps make sure all your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning ducts are all in a condition that benefits your health and your pocketbook.