Air Duct Cleaning 101: Everything You Need to Know About Air Duct Cleaning

When was the last time you had your air ducts cleaned? Most homeowners are unaware of the challenges posed by dirty air ducts. Essentially, it is the main contributing factor to indoor air pollution.

The air ducts in your home serve as the pathway for cool and heated air to travel throughout your home. Air circulates within ducts multiple times throughout the day, circulating dirt, dust, and other pollutants.

The ducts are part of your heating and cooling system (HVAC) and contain filters that ensure pollutants are captured without recirculating. However, filters get clogged over time and become inefficient.

Changing the filter helps, but even that becomes useless when there are many pollutants present in the ducts. Air duct cleaning is your only option. By the end of this guide, you’ll be able to understand why air duct cleaning is essential for your home.

Air Duct Cleaning 101

What is an Air Duct?

If you want to avoid your home from being an inferno or becoming a popsicle, you need ducts that deliver air conditioning, heating, and ventilation throughout your home. You can think of ducts as a passage or tunnels for airflow to heat or cool a room.

Why Clean Your Air Ducts?

Your HVAC system attracts a lot of dust and dirt. Over time these particles start to build up in air ducts. In the process, homeowners face three challenges: poor air quality, foul odor, and higher energy bills.

By cleaning your air duct, you can expect to experience the following:

Improved indoor air quality

Think of your HVAC system as lungs, sucking air in and releasing it out. Air pollutants such as dust, dander, and chemicals are inhaled by the HVAC unit and recirculated multiple times throughout your home.

Eventually, contaminants build up in the duct. You will not notice immediately, but air duct buildup can lead to respiratory health problems or allergies. By cleaning your air duct cleaning, you minimize or eradicate contaminants that pollute the air in your home.

Save energy

Contaminants force your HVAC system to work harder than usual. This adds stress to the unit and shortens its lifespan and efficiency. Having a higher electric bill is one painful sign of knowing if your A/C unit is being overworked. By cleaning your air ducts regularly, you can have a more efficient A/C unit, resulting in cooler air and a lower bill.

If you have pets, smoke indoors, or have occupants with allergies and asthma, give you more reasons to clean your air ducts. Pets and cigarettes increase the pollutants in your home, while people with allergies and asthma will have a hard time breathing.

Eliminate bad odor

Air ducts play a vital role in the smell around your house. If there are mold, pollutants, or rodents present in the ducts, a musky odor will follow. The odor is eliminated when your ducts are cleaned, and the source is gone.

How Often Should You Clean Your Air Ducts?

Many homeowners make the mistake of assuming that the filter in the HVAC system will clean itself. I know we live in the technological age, but we’re not quite there yet. You’ll have to bring out the elbow grease, pop your knuckles, and manually clean the ducts yourself. Or you can do what I do—pay someone else to clean.

How often you need to clean your air ducts depends on the following factors:

  • The level of pollution around your home can cause build up in your ducts. For example, if you live in the country, chances are you’ll have to clean more than if you are living in a metropolitan area.
  • The number of people and pets living in your home affects your air ducts.
  • The number of times you switch out air filters.

On average, you should have your ducts cleaned every two to four years—two years for those that live in an area with high pollution with pets. Four years for homeowners that have their filters changed twice a year and properly maintain their HVAC system while living in an area with relatively low air pollution.

To help determine if your ducts need immediate cleaning, you can look out for the following signs:

  • A dusty home: Typically, you only need to dust once a day. But if you find yourself dusting more than once, it could be due to dirty ducts. Check your supply and return vents to see if they are dirty to determine if they’re the reason why and need to be cleaned.
  • Mold forming in the furnace or air conditioning system: Homes in humid climates are at risk of developing mold in the HVAC system due to condensation. Contact professionals to look at the mood and remove it, cleaning the duct in the process.
  • Higher energy bills: Numerous factors contribute to a higher energy bill, from an outdated HVAC system to a window or door air leak. However, obstruction due to dirt and debris in the duct is more common than you think. Determine the reason for higher energy bills and find a solution accordingly.
  • Insects and rodent infestation: If you notice rodents and insects coming out of your ducts, it’s time to get them cleaned.

Factors to Consider When Picking a Duct Cleaning Service Provider

Finding a quality air duct cleaner requires some homework. Never opt for the first company you come across. When hiring a professional, here is what you need to consider:

  • Knowledge: Any cleaner that claims the cleaning process will result in health benefits would be wrong. There’s no clear evidence that links duct cleaning to any health benefits. So, if they claim that it does, you know they are not right for the job. Test their knowledge and see how much they know about the process.
  • Technique: The use of chemical biocides to clean ducts can result in damage. It’s best if you use the negative pressure technique to clean ducts.
  • Experience: Check for the experience. Ideally, you want to go with a cleaner that has worked in homes that are similar to yours.
  • References: Look for cleaners who have authentic reviews or testimonials in regards to their services. Be sure to check to see if anyone experienced problems with their HVAC system after getting it cleaned.
  • Licenses: Certain states require that air duct cleaners hold a special license. If you reside in California, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Arkansan, Michigan, or Florida, ask the cleaner for their license.
  • Price: Most cleaners charge by the hour. Shop around and get quotes from various cleaners so you can determine the market price. Make sure you get a written agreement before you agree to their terms and hire them.

Step-by-Step Guide to Air Duct Cleaning

While it is difficult to clean the vent and ducts yourself, it is still important to understand the process to enable you to select the best professional for the job. Since cleaning the ducts essentially eliminates mold, dust, or other contaminants it is critical for it to be done properly.

Air Duct Cleaning 101

The EPA explains the process of cleaning various HVAC system components, including all the air ducts, registers, cooling coils, heat exchangers, grilles, and diffusers. While the process may not be linked to any health benefits, it does reduce air contaminants in your home.

You will find that most professional air duct cleaners take the following four-step approach:

Step 1: Ducts inspection

The professional will start by inspecting the ducts and vents. This gives them an idea of the level of buildup inside the unit. Note: Never let a cleaner start cleaning your ducts without first inspecting them.

During the inspection, they will also look for leaks or kinks in the ducts. The inspection will help cleaners determine the best approach, the time required, and overall cost.

Step 2: Creating negative pressure

Most professionals use negative pressure technology to clean vents and ducts. The technology is essentially a vacuum that collects dust and debris from the ductwork. However, before they start the process, the following must proceed:

  1. First, connect the vacuum hose to the air handler. The air handler is the central part of the HVAC system. The professional will cut an access hole near this point, insert a vacuum hole, and seal it tightly.
  2. Next, they will use an adhesive cover to seal every register in each room of the house. This step is important because unsealed registers will make the vacuum ineffective.
  3. After completing these steps, the vacuum unit is turned on to suck up particles in the ductwork.

The vacuum method is proven to be the most effective approach to cleaning air ducts, which is recommended by the EPA. The EPA also recommends that you only clean your ducts when it’s required. To be clear, don’t make a habit of randomly cleaning your ducts.

Step 3: Ruffle the dust

The professional will now go from room to room and uncover each register. The process “ruffles” the dust, ensuring that the ducts are thoroughly cleaned throughout your house.

Step 4: Clean other parts of the system

To finish the process off, the professional will clean the drain pan, the blower motor in the air handler, and the evaporator coil. They will also inspect the filter and determine whether it needs to be cleaned or changed.

Overall, the process should take anywhere from two to four hours. It can take longer for older and or larger homes.

Steps you can take to prevent duct and vent contamination

As a homeowner, you want to take every measure possible to ensure your ducts and vents remain clean. It’s nearly impossible to ensure ducts are 100% pollutant-free, but the following tips will make sure they are clean enough.

  • Use high-quality air filters recommended by your HVAC system manufacturer.
  • Check your air filters every other month and look for clogs. If clogged, change them immediately. Ideally, you should change the air filters every five to six months.
  • Check to make sure that no holes are in the filter. When holes are present, air will enter along with dust, debris, and other pollutants.
  • Have your cooling coils and drain pans cleaned every time you have your HVAC system serviced.
  • Be sure to vacuum carpets often. A clean carpet will reduce the number of particles that the A/C may pick up.

You also want to take preventative measures to ensure your ducts will never get wet. There may be moisture from time to time, but it should never settle and remain.

Moisture in the system will result in mold and other issues. The following measures should keep your ducts dry.

  • Repair any leak or water damage in the system immediately.
  • Make sure the cooling coils are in full operation. The primary function of cancer is to remove water from the air and drain it on the condensate pan. Check the area near the cooling coil to see if there are any wet spots.
  • Spaces that don’t need air-conditioning should be properly sealed and insulated.
  • When replacing your HVAC system, make sure you get a system that is the proper size for your home. Getting a bigger unit will result in moisture build-up due to poor moisture removal by your duct system and other issues.

Our Final Thought

Air duct cleaning should be a part of your 2-4 year home maintenance plan. While you don’t need to clean the ducts annually, you should change the filters twice a year and have the ducts inspected as well.

You never know when a problem with the ducts may occur. A yearly inspection ensures that serious problems such as mold are dealt with before they spread. Also, call in the professionals anytime you notice any issues with your ducts.

Unless you’ve dealt with air ducts before, it is always better to let professionals handle the cleaning and maintenance. The last thing you want is to complicate the problem further.

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