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The Ultimate Guide on How to Clean Ceiling Fans

Updated on September 29, 2022 by Joseph D. Nielson

Table of Contents

Up angle of a wood panel ceiling with an electric ceiling fan.

Spring brings with it several surprises: the odd, unseasonably hot days; sudden bursts of budding flowers on the trees; flash downpours of rain that make you run for cover under a nearby awning. But those aren’t the only surprises spring has up its sleeve.

How about the first time you flick the switch on your ceiling fan after it’s laid dormant for a long winter? Expecting a cool breeze to cut through the spring warmth, you are met instead with a face full of accumulated dust. Gross!

Ceiling fans are like any other surface in your house – they’re prone to dust, dirt and grime if left alone for too long. However, unlike the other surfaces in your home, ceiling fans are fast-moving objects that will circulate any particulates in their immediate vicinity. If they’re clean, they circulate fresh air to cool your home. If they’re dirty, they make the entire room dirty by proxy.

Don’t worry – Fresh Home Guide has your back. We’re big fans (pun intended) of cleaning even the unseen corners of your home, offering indispensable advice on how to clean high ceilings, HVAC ducts, oven grill elements and more. In that same spirit, we offer this ultimate guide for how to clean ceiling fans.

Below, we’ll cover how to clean ceiling fans with vinegar and baking soda, how to clean ceiling fans with pillowcase covers, how to deep clean ceiling fans with all-purpose cleaner and more. Above all, we want to teach you how to clean ceiling fans without making a mess.

Grab a sturdy step ladder and join us for a whirlwind (again, pun intended!) trip into ceiling fan cleaning!

How Do Ceiling Fans Get Messy?

Let’s begin by answering a common – perhaps obvious – question. How do ceiling fans get dirty in the first place?

Ceiling fans get dirty in a number of ways, but the main culprit is usually dust. Household dust comprises various particulates: dead skin cells, clothing fibers, pollen, insect debris, mites, hair and more. These particulates are so light that they freely circulate around the home, lifted and redeposited by small gusts of air. Eventually, these particulates land on a sticky enough surface that they cease to move – and the only way to remove them is through physical wiping or compressed air.

Dormant ceiling fans (and even moving ceiling fans!) are a natural resting place for dust. Ceiling fans are up high, out of reach, and often feature a fine film of grease onto which the dust can stick.

That leads us to our second point: grease. Ceiling fans in or near the kitchen can get particularly grimy due to airborne oil particles. When you stir-fry, stew or deep fry foods, you release cooking oil fumes into the surrounding area. These oil particulates form a slick coating on surfaces like your ceiling fan, which can attract dust.

Normally, we’d advocate for steam cleaning to remove dust and built-up grease, pointing you to our helpful steam cleaner reviews. But steam cleaning isn’t an option with a ceiling fan! Luckily, you can learn how to clean high ceiling fans with items you have readily on hand.

Why Clean Your Ceiling Fans?

There are three central reasons for cleaning your ceiling fans: general cleanliness, health and wellbeing, and operational efficiency. Let’s take a closer look:

  • General cleanliness: Who wants their ceiling fans to be a safe haven for dust accumulation? Just because it’s out of sight, doesn’t mean it’s out of mind!
  • Health and wellbeing: Dust particulates circulated by a dirty ceiling fan can exacerbate allergies, cause pulmonary discomfort, and contribute to an overall decline in household air quality. It’s never a bad idea to tackle hard-to-see dust at home!
  • Operational Efficiency: According to the EPA, ceiling fans are an energy-efficient way to make your home feel four degrees cooler – if they work properly. Dust and dirt inhibit fan blade efficiency, using up more energy to cool your home. 

Now that we’ve explored the mechanisms behind ceiling fan buildup and why you should clean them, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. 

A tidy guest bedroom with a rocking chair, antique twin bed and dusty ceiling fan

How to Clean Your Ceiling Fans without Making a Mess

Luckily, you have several options for how to clean ceiling fans without making a mess. In this section, we review popular ceiling fan cleaning methods. You may choose to execute all of these cleaning methods or pick one or two that work best for you.

Equipment and Supplies

The first step in any deep cleaning task is gathering supplies. Thankfully, most (if not all) of the supplies you need for cleaning your ceiling fan should be readily available in your home already. They are:

  • A Drop Cloth or Sheet to keep dust from covering your floors and surfaces as you work.
  • A Safe, Sturdy Ladder to reach the ceiling fan. Optionally, you may wish to elect a family member or roommate to “spot” you as you work – for added safety.
  • The Cleaning Product of Your Choice: Below, we give options for cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, or all-purpose cleaner.
  • A Microfiber Cloth or Rag to clean according to the “vinegar and baking soda” or “all-purpose cleaner” methods outlined below.
  • A Pillowcase to clean according to the “pillowcase method” outlined below.
  • An Extendable Duster to tackle light buildups of dust.
  • A Compressed Air Canister to clean hard-to-reach spots in the crevices or motor.
  • Optional Gloves, Mask and Goggles if you have dust allergies or sensitivities.

Use the bullet points above as a checklist as you clean your ceiling fan.

Getting Started

Regardless of which method(s) you choose, you will need to perform a few tasks to get started.

The first thing to do is lay down your drop cloth or sheet. The goal here is to cover a wide enough area to catch any errant dust. Don’t just cover the floor; lay your drop cloth or sheet so that it covers every nearby surface. When you finish the job, you can neatly fold up the corners of the drop cloth to capture any fallen dust at the center of the cloth. Then, simply dispose of the fallen dust outdoors.

The next preliminary step is setting up your ladder. Choose an even area free of obstructions or potential tripping hazards (and kindly escort any curious pets or children to another room!). Before climbing up to clean, use both hands to test the sturdiness of the ladder. Here’s a link to a fantastic ladder safety article, in case you want to know more.

The last thing to do – and this should be pretty obvious – is turn off your ceiling fans. Trying to clean a whirring ceiling fan is like trying to bathe a running child – it doesn’t work!

Without further ado, let’s start cleaning!

The Pillowcase Method – Cleaning Top and Bottom, Mess-Free

We love “the pillowcase method.” It’s an ingenious way to clean the tops and bottoms of fan blades simultaneously – without creating a mess. Here’s how to clean ceiling fan blades without getting dust everywhere by using the pillowcase method.

Spray the inside of a pillowcase with all-purpose cleaner or vinegar. Fit the pillowcase over a single fan blade and lightly squeeze the end with both hands. Slowly pull the pillowcase back toward you, catching any accumulated fan blade dust as you pull. Think of it like pulling the sheath off a sword!

Repeat this process with each fan blade. (You may need to swap your pillowcase for a fresh one midway through if your fan blades are especially dusty). When you finish, take the pillowcase(s) outside, invert them, and shake them out. Throw the pillowcases straight into the washing machine.

Voila! A straightforward, simple way to clean your ceiling fan blades.

Using a Duster for Light Buildup

Now, let’s say you’re only dealing with a light buildup of dust – do you need to break out the pillowcases? No, you can tackle light dust with a duster. Here’s how to clean a ceiling fan in 60 seconds.

Using an extendable duster, start by wiping the tops of your fan blades before wiping the undersides of each blade. Do not apply too much pressure, as this may strain the fan blades or cause misalignment. Use roughly the same pressure as combing your hair. You’re not looking to scrape your scalp; you want smooth, semi-firm strokes.

If your current dusters aren’t up for the job, check out Fresh Home Guide’s review roundup to find a good duster.

Using All-Purpose Cleaner – How to Clean Greasy Ceiling Fans

Everyone thinks that a simple dusting will do the trick – until they get up there. Then, most people realize that there’s more filmy grease than they expected. That’s okay. If dusting didn’t do the trick (and if you don’t want to dirty any pillowcases), you can clean greasy ceiling fans with all-purpose cleaner and a microfibre cloth.

Moisten your microfiber cloth with a gentle all-purpose product, and avoid spraying cleaner directly onto the blades. Apply gentle pressure to avoid straining the blades and wipe the tops and bottoms of each fan blade. If you come across any stubborn patches, you can use the scouring side of a clean sponge.

Close-up shot of a woman in olive-green shirt holding a spray bottle and cloth for cleaning the ceiling fan

Using Natural Cleaning Products – How to Clean Ceiling Fans with Vinegar and Baking Soda

We hear from many home cleaning enthusiasts who want natural, vegan, environmentally friendly cleaning options. Our favorite natural cleaning method is the classic “vinegar and baking soda combo, ”a reliable one-two punch that tackles nearly every type of grime.

Follow steps from the section above, swapping all-purpose cleaner for a vinegar and baking soda mixture. Combine one part baking soda, two parts vinegar and two parts soda water in a small dish. Dip your microfiber cloth into the dish and wipe each blade top, cleaning top and bottom. Keep a clean cloth on hand to remove any residual vinegar-baking soda mixture.

Cleaning Ceiling Fans with a Vacuum

“How to clean ceiling blades without ladder” is a surprisingly popular search term online! While we recommend cleaning your ceiling fan with a ladder and one of the methods above, you can get away with a light cleaning using a vacuum ceiling attachment. You can even find vacuum ceiling fan tools that enclose the fan blades. As with previous methods, ensure that you apply only a firm amount of pressure to avoid bending the blades.

Cleaning the Fan Light or Glass Globe

Now that your fan blades are clean, you can turn your attention to the fanlight – sometimes called the “glass globe” or simply “globe.”

Leave the ceiling fan and light off for roughly 30 minutes to ensure the globe is cool enough to handle. Unscrew or unlatch the globe. Chances are you will find a fair amount of dead bugs in your ceiling fan globe, as household insects gravitate to light and warmth, so be prepared.

Submerge the globe in a sink filled with mild detergent and warm water. Leave the globe to soak for roughly 15 minutes (during which time you can clean the fan blades using one of the methods above). When you finish soaking the globe, wipe it clean with the soft side of a clean sponge, or a microfiber cloth. Allow the globe to air dry completely before re-attaching to the fan.

Removing Dust from the Motor

The motor portion of the ceiling fan is a patchwork of crevices, gears and hard-to-reach crannies. In other words, a duster or cloth won’t cut it.

To clean the motor, use a compressed air canister. Spray each vent area, corner and opening in the head section, taking care to shield your face from flying debris!

Wiping the Pull Chain

Lastly, if your ceiling fan has a pull chain, you will need to clean this as well. Spritz your microfiber cloth with your cleaning product of choice (see above) and unfold the cloth into one open hand. Close your clothed hand around the pull chain, using the other hand to secure the top of the chain (you don’t want to yank the chain from base!). Applying gentle pressure, draw your hand downwards, catching any accumulated dust or debris.

Once you are finished this last cleaning step, carefully dismount the ladder, tidily gather the drop cloth, and use the best carpet cleaners you have to tackle any carpet debris left behind.

What to Avoid: Baby Wipes, Alcohol-Based Cleansers and More

You’ll notice that we do not advocate for using alcohol-based cleaners, alkaline cleaning products or baby wipes. That’s because each of these products contains compounds that can stain or tarnish your ceiling fan blades.

Stick to a gentle all-purpose cleaner or vinegar-baking soda combo to preserve the integrity of your ceiling fan.

Preventative Measures: How to Maintain Clean Ceiling Fans Year-Round

You did it! You cleaned your ceiling fans with minimal fuss and zero muss. As you wipe the sweat from your brow, you may wonder to yourself: will this be a regular job for me now!?

It doesn’t have to be. You can take proactive, preventative steps to ensure that your ceiling fans remain dust- and grease-free. Here are a few tips for preserving your ceiling fan’s cleanliness:

  • Endust, Pledge or Fabric Softener Solution: Endust and Pledge are brand-name furniture polishes that control dust. Alternatively, some resourceful home cleaners recommend rubbing a dilution of one part fabric softener/two parts water on the fan blades, which acts as a DIY dust-repellent.
  • A HEPA-Filter Air Purifiers: Tackle dust before it has a chance to set up camp on your ceiling fan. Set up HEPA-filter air purifiers in your home to filter dust particulates.
  • Frequent, Short Dusts with an Extendable Duster: If you don’t love the once-a-year deep cleaning, try dusting your ceiling fans frequently (once every two weeks) to tackle buildup on a rolling basis.
  • Kitchen Ventilation: As mentioned, cooking fumes can coat ceiling fans in a fine layer of grease. To combat grease buildup, ensure proper kitchen ventilation with open windows and a proper range hood.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our ultimate guide to cleaning your ceiling fan. Check back on Fresh Home Guides for more cleaning guides, and read our in-depth reviews of popular cleaning and household products. Happy cleaning!

Joseph and Family
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!