How to Clean Your Bathroom Exhaust Fan

Keep your bathroom fresh by striking this exhausting task from your cleaning list 

Lauren Wellbank
Written by Lauren Wellbank
Reviewed by Asya Biddle
Updated June 21, 2022
Brother and sister brushing teeth in the bathroom
Photo: dglimages / Adobe Stock
Difficulty

Simple

Flex your DIY muscles.

Time to complete

1 hour

Under an hour.

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Rags or sponges
  • Screwdriver to remove cover
  • Pan, bucket, or sink for soaking
  • Mild dish soap
  • Shop vacuum or vacuum with attachments
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Flashlight

Bathrooms can often become breeding grounds for mold and mildew thanks to high humidity and low light. While each may get wiped away as part of your regular cleaning routine, there’s a surprising place where mildew, dirt, and grime may build up in your bathroom: the exhaust fan.

"By maintaining the exhaust fan in the bathroom, homeowners are eliminating the amount of dust that may circulate throughout the room, as well as eliminating any source of mold and bacteria," said Asya Biddle, Angi Expert Review Board member and manager of The Dustbusters, a family-owned and operated janitorial company in Williamsport, PA.

Because these fans, which remove moist air from your bathroom and redistribute it outside, are often hidden by covers, you may overlook a crucial step when it comes to cleaning your home. Follow these steps or bring in a local handyperson twice a year to ensure you’re breathing a bit easier whenever you use your bathroom’s exhaust.

  1. Cut the Power

    Man turning the power off from the breaker box
    Photo: The Toidi / Adobe Stock

    As with any time you work around electricity, make a trip to your circuit breaker box and cut power to your bathroom. If your bathroom is short on natural light, you’ll want to have a flashlight on hand for the next part.

  2. Remove the Vent Cover

    Handyman removing exhaust fan cover
    Photo: bildlove / Adobe Stock

    Screws, snapping mechanisms, or magnets may hold your vent cover to the wall. However it’s attached, you’ll want to gently remove it and place it in a tub of warm soapy water to soak while you tackle the rest of the fan mechanism.

  3. Pull Out the Fan Blades

    Handyman installing bathroom vent blades
    Photo: bildlove / Adobe Stock

    Reach into the fan’s housing and gently grasp the fan and motor assembly. Twist them slowly to the left (or counterclockwise) until it detaches, and then remove it from the vent. Place it in a safe, dry area where you won’t accidentally knock it to the floor. 

    If your fan doesn’t come loose using this method, you can follow the same method from Step 4 with the fan and motor in place.

  4. Clean the Fan and Housing

    Using a vacuum attachment small enough to get into the fan’s casing, gently vacuum out any visible dust, dirt, or debris. When done, run the vacuum over the motor and assembly you previously pulled out. Next, wipe down the blades and motor using a damp cloth.

  5. Scrub the Grate

     Scrubbing vent cover with a toothbrush
    Photo: tab62 / Adobe Stock

    After you’ve cleaned out the fan, move onto the grate. Depending on how dirty it is, you may need to let it soak a bit longer or use some elbow grease and a more abrasive sponge to remove stuck-on grime. Rinse it with warm, clean water and set it aside to air-dry.

  6. Ensure Everything Is Dry

    Everything will need to dry before you return your fan and motor to the housing. If any of the pieces are still damp, you can wipe them down with a dry microfiber cloth.

  7. Return the Fan and Motor

    Handyman installing bathroom fan cover
    Photo: bildlove / Adobe Stock

    Grasp the fan and motor in a similar way as when you removed it, place it back into the housing for the exhaust fan, and twist it clockwise until you feel it connect. Give the fan a gentle spin to make sure the motor has attached itself to the mechanism. Once the grate dries, you can return that as well.

  8. Flip the Breaker

     Bathroom exhaust fan mounted on the wall
    Photo: Gavial / Adobe Stock

    After you’ve returned all of the parts of your exhaust fan, you can restore power to your bathroom. Test the exhaust fan to ensure everything is back in working order. If not, revisit Step 7 and make sure you fully twist all pieces of the fan and motor back into place and that nothing is preventing the fan blades from spinning.

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