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How Often Should You Clean Home Air Ducts?

Updated on April 26, 2022 by Joseph D. Nielson

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Do you love a clean home as much as we do? Then like us, you probably have a cleaning routine you stick to through thick and thin. 

It’s easy to keep on top of this schedule when it comes to daily chores like doing the dishes or sweeping the floors. With one quick look at your kitchen sink or bathroom floors, you know if it’s time to break out the dish soap or broom.

But what about the areas of your home that you don’t see every day? 

Your Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system is largely hidden from view, with air ducts built into the rafters and walls of your home. Dust, dirt, and other debris like to collect in these metal channels, and you can’t rely on easy visual cues to tell you when they need cleaning. 

If you’re worried about what common allergens your HVAC system is circulating through your home, you’re in the right place. You can find out how to clean home air ducts and improve your breathing quality in this guide below. 

But more importantly, we’ll answer the big question: how often should you clean home air ducts?

Is Air Duct Cleaning a Ripoff?

First thing’s first — let’s address the elephant in the room. Is air duct cleaning a ripoff? 

No, vent cleaning through a legitimate company is never a ripoff. It’s a great way to treat air quality and keep your HVAC system running smoothly.

But we’ll admit, some scams exist. The industry has earned some bad press over the years thanks to some bad apples. 

There’s a good chance you’ve encountered some of these bad apples. 

Maybe you’ve received a flyer in the mail advertising $99 air duct cleaning. Perhaps you’ve picked up the phone only for an offshore telemarketer to ask if you’d like your ducts cleaned [1]. Or worse — you’re hunting through classified ads trying to find an ultra-cheap air duct cleaning service.

These shameless advertising methods raise a few red flags. 

Red Flag #1: They’re Untrained

There’s a good chance these so-called “blow-and-go” companies don’t hire trained or certified technicians to clean your duct work. Without this key accreditation, they could do a poor job of cleaning or damage important parts of your HVAC system. 

Red Flag #2: They Stretch the Truth

They may also make untrue claims about what they can do for your home. 

Any company that says they can eliminate smoke or other contaminants from your living space is fibbing. Duct and vent cleaning won’t remove smoke from your home. If this is your concern, you’re better off saving your money and looking at these air purifier for smoke reviews instead. 

While vent cleaning does remove dust and other allergens from your duct work, note that it’s not a miracle cure for everything wrong with your home’s air quality.

Red Flag #3: They Promise a $99 Air Duct Cleaning

Their pricing schemes are the biggest warning. The promise of a $99 air duct cleaning is simply too good to be true. In many cases, scam companies use a lowball price to hook you in. 

Once they’re at your house, they’ll apply an extra charge for each register, blower fan, and air handler. They may even try to upsell you on additional services. What starts as a $99 air duct cleaning can wind up being a lot more, leaving you on the hook for a big bill you weren’t expecting. 

How Do I Find the Best Air Duct Cleaning Near Me?

If $99 air duct cleaning is a scam, knowing what a reasonable rate is for this service can help you find a legit company. 

According to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), a reputable company will charge $450 to $1,000 for the average-sized home [2]. At this price, it may not be the most economical option for improving the air quality of your house, but it may be worth it if you have a lot of dust build-up in your ducts. 

The cost of your home may be more or less depending on your house’s size, the type of duct work, and how many crew members are sent on the big day.

A legit company will consider these factors before giving you an informed estimate that falls somewhere within the NADCA’s range. So expect to share details about your home with a representative. 

You can also put on your sleuthing hat and do a thorough background check of any company that gives you an estimate. 

Check to see if they’re listed on the NADCA’s online directory — this will let you know if you’ve found a certified air duct cleaning service. 

Next up, read online reviews left by previous customers. These reviewers will give you insights into how a company conducts itself, letting you know if their technicians are friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient. 

How to Clean Home Air Ducts in Your Home Yourself

So you’re ready to give your HVAC system a good cleaning. Should you give this part of your home a polish on your own? 

Before you type in something like “how to clean home air ducts” into Google, know this: generally speaking, you don’t do this job yourself! 

While we’re all for rolling up our sleeves and applying good old-fashioned elbow grease here at Fresh Home Guide, we can’t recommend duct cleaning as a DIY chore. 

The average homeowner simply doesn’t have the specialized tools this job requires. So, while you might be able to clean your heat registers with a vacuum, you can’t possibly reach the inner duct work. And in trying anyways, you can easily damage your ducts. 

That’s why we recommend leaving this job to the professionals. You can start your search by typing this into your next Google search: duct cleaning near me.

What Can You Do to Keep Your HVAC System Clean?

Leaving your duct work to the professionals, you can focus on routine maintenance you can reasonably do on your own. 

  • Keep the indoor and outdoor areas around your furnace and air conditioning system clean, free of dust and debris. 
  • While air conditioning your home, check for refrigerant leaks once a month.
  • Replace your air filters at least once every three months to improve air quality and your HVAC’s efficiency [3].
  • Clean your heat exchangers every year to reduce sediment buildup from making your furnace work harder than it has to.
  • Consider calling an HVAC specialist to inspect your furnace and air conditioning system once a year.

Will Duct Cleaning Help Your Allergies or Asthma?

Besides ensuring every inch of your home is squeaky clean, are there other benefits to this chore? A lot of people think it might alleviate their allergies or asthma. 

Woman with allergies holding a respirator to her mouth

In reality, the jury’s still out on this one. There is no scientific evidence that proves allergies or asthma improve with this particular cleaning chore. However, some allergists think it’s a good way to hedge your bets.

A spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says it’s better safe than sorry for people with underlying asthma, allergies, or breathing problems [4]. 

Minimizing your exposure to dust, mold, and other indoor allergens could be a smart move if you’re very reactive to them. That could include your HVAC system. But your fight to keep the air clean should go beyond regular duct cleaning. 

To understand your air quality, you’ll want to find a device that can monitor indoor air and alert you to issues. The right device will warn you when common allergen levels (like dust, mold, or pet hair) spike in your living space.

Another thing that could be making your allergies or asthma worse? Your HVAC system itself! 

Even when your HVAC system runs smoothly, it circulates dry heated or cooled air throughout your living spaces. Heated and cooled air lowers the humidity in your home, which can lead to drier air passages, chapped lips, and dry skin. 

You can fight dry air by running an air purifier humidifier combo alongside your furnace and air conditioning system. This convenient two-in-one appliance removes common allergens from the air while adding much-needed moisture to your living space. 

Ideally, you’ll want to keep your home at these doctor-approved levels:

  • Temperature: 68 to 71°F (20 to 21.6°C)
  • Humidity: 40–50% [5]

A regular cleaning routine can also help combat allergies and asthma. Make sure you dust and vacuum regularly, using a specialty carpet cleaner to release ground-in dirt and allergens once a season.

How Frequently Should You Clean Home Air Ducts?

And finally, we get to the burning question on your mind. How often are you supposed to clean home air ducts?

The answer? It’s on an as-needed basis. 

That means this isn’t the kind of chore that you have to do on a regular schedule, like spring cleaning or winterization tasks.

Instead, you’ll have to check the condition of your heat registers, duct work, and air flow to make your decision. You only have to clean this part of your home when something flags your concern.  

How often should you inspect your furnace and air conditioning system? Make this check a part of your annual maintenance. While it’s doubtful you’ll need to clean your ducts every year, it helps you get into the habit of looking at this part of your home. 

How Do I Know if My Air Ducts Need to Be Cleaned?

Don’t be alarmed if you spot some dust clinging to your heat registers. This is a normal by-product of your HVAC’s air flow. And, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there’s no evidence that a little bit of dust could pose a health risk [6].

The EPA changes its tune when dust and other crud build up to significant levels. The agency suggests you consider cleaning your ducts if your HVAC system is infested with pests, shows visible mold growth, or has excessive amounts of dust and debris. 

So, what does that really mean? 

If you’ve never had your duct work cleaned — or there’s no record of the previous homeowners having this service done — there’s a good chance you should hire air duct cleaning services soon. 

This rule of thumb is especially helpful if you live in a century home. These older homes have had many decades to accumulate an impressive amount of dirt.  

Besides timing, there are some visual signs that indicate you may need to book an appointment. Check them out below:

  • Floor registers are visibly clogged with dirt and debris
  • Air filters get clogged within a few days (remember, the average filter will last roughly three months) 
  • Vents emit an unpleasant or dusty smell
  • Air flow is inconsistent throughout the house
  • Furnace or air conditioning system is growing mold or mildew
  • Evidence of pests have been living in your vents
  • Furnace or air conditioning system makes unusual sounds
  • A big home renovation just wrapped up
smiling air duct cleaning service technician fixing an appliance

Bottom Line: Is Duct Cleaning Worth It?

While air duct and vent cleaning isn’t an everyday chore, it is certainly a good thing to do every once in a while. This is especially true if you live in an older home, just completed a messy renovation, or suffer from allergies or asthma.

Watch for how much dust collects at your registers, keeping an eye out for mold, mildew, or pests. These signs indicate it’s time to clean your HVAC system more than any calendar schedule. If you spot any of the issues we shared above, you’ll want to get this part of your home cleaned by a professional. 

Knowing your HVAC system is blowing dusty, allergen-infused air throughout your home isn’t a pleasant thought. But you don’t have to fear what lurks in your duct work. An air duct cleaning service can help you give this hidden area of your home some TLC whenever you need it. 

Resources:

[1] Offshore Telemarketers Sell Ripoff Duct Cleaning, Expert Says CBC

[2] Cost and Time Estimates National Air Duct Cleaners Association 

[3] Heating & Cooling Energy Star

[4] Should Air Ducts Be on Your Spring Cleaning List? Allergy Asthma Immunology of Rochester

[5] Humidifiers and Indoor Allergies American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

[6] Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned? Environmental Protection Agency

About Joseph D. Nielson

Former journalist and editor for various press groups, I now dedicate my time to reviewing products for the home and family life. When I get time to myself, I enjoy rock climbing, taking my dirt bike for a rip, and most importantly providing my family with the best home possible!