A Guide to Air Duct Cleaning & Maintenance and How It Affects Air Circulation

Lauren Murphy
Written by Lauren Murphy
Updated January 11, 2022
An open-space living room with an air duct
Photo: IPGGutenbergUKLtd / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Having your air ducts cleaned isn’t required, but may benefit you and your family.

  • Cleaning your entire system may improve indoor air circulation.

  • HVAC systems may last longer and perform better with regular maintenance.

  • Hiring a professional to clean your air ducts every few years is ideal for a thorough clean.

  • Professionals use several different specialized tools to clean air ducts.

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If you’re noticing dust and debris near your vents, you may be tempted to call in a pro to clean your air ducts. After all, keeping the air in your home clean and flowing freely is a top priority. Hiring a pro to clean your air ducts may be worth it in some situations, especially when it comes to air quality. We’ll break down everything you need to know before hiring.

Air Duct Cleaning May Improve Air Circulation and Quality

Your HVAC system is essentially the lungs of your home, circulating air throughout the space. Over time, dust and debris can build up in the ducts that help deliver air to all of the rooms in your home. Dust, pet hair, dander, and even mold can be inadvertently circulated throughout your entire home if your ducts are extremely dirty. 

Cleaning your air ducts aims to get rid of buildup and open them up for optimal airflow. Thorough cleaning will eliminate dust, pet hair, dander, mold, and any other debris so that your HVAC system isn’t circulating the dirty air. If your ducts have heavy mold, vermin, or debris buildup or if someone in your household suffers from allergies and respiratory issues, your system can benefit from a good cleaning, according to the EPA.

Clean Air Ducts May Enhance Your HVAC System’s Performance

When dust and debris pile up in your air ducts, your system has trouble circulating air efficiently. According to the EPA, cleaning all of the components of your HVAC system may improve the efficiency and, in turn, extend the life of your HVAC system. However, cleaning only the ducts may not result in a longer-lasting system on its own. That said, routinely cleaning them is still a good idea if you live with people suffering from allergies and respiratory issues.

It’s also worth noting that a 2016 study by the National Air Duct Cleaning Association (NADCA) found that “cleaning even lightly fouled heating and cooling systems can result in energy savings of 11%.”

HVAC systems cost $7,500 on average and last around 15 years. With routine duct cleaning and repairs, they can last 20 years or more.

How Often Should You Clean Your Air Ducts?

A man ready to clean an air duct
Photo: The Toidi / Adobe Stock

The NADCA suggests cleaning your air ducts every three to five years. If you have a furry friend who is a heavy shedder and someone in your home who’s allergic to them, consider cleaning them more frequently to get rid of pet hair and dander that tends to build up in the ductwork. 

The Environmental Protection Agency suggests having your air ducts cleaned if someone in your home is suffering from allergic reactions or unexplained illness. You can visually inspect or perform a smell test to determine if it’s time for a cleaning or repair. If there’s a moldy or musty smell in your vents, you likely need to address a moisture problem.

Ultimately, it will be up to you to decide if you’ll get an air duct cleaning and how often. Speaking with a local air duct cleaning pro can help you to make an informed decision.

Can You Clean Your Air Ducts Yourself?

While you can technically clean your air ducts yourself, hiring a pro will be more effective. The best tools for cleaning dirty ducts include industrial vacuums, specialized scrub brushes, snake cameras for duct inspections, and compressed air tools.

Cleaning your air ducts costs between $270 and $490 on average. This process involves inspecting the ducts to assess how much debris needs to be removed, accessing the entire duct system, loosening the debris with brushes and compressed air, and vacuuming it out.

That said, if no one in your home suffers from allergies or respiratory illness and if you can’t see any noticeable buildup inside your ducts, hiring a professional to clean them may not be necessary just yet. As the vents on your system get dusty over time, vacuum them or remove and clean them.

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