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Pros and cons to air duct cleaning

Many homeowners consider having the ductwork in their homes cleaned. Mailers often tout the benefits of this service and warn of the potential hazards that could be lurking inside uncleaned vents and ducts. But whether or not air ducts need to be cleaned remains open for debate. A quick review of air duct cleaning can help homeowners make a more informed decision.

What is duct cleaning?

Before looking into the advantages and disadvantages to duct cleaning, it is advantageous to examine the process involved when cleaning air ducts. There are two ways to have the ducts cleaned in a home:rotary vacuum brushing or high pressure air washing.

Vacuum brushing utilizes a spinning brush to scrub dust and debris off the air vents and a vacuum to capture whatever is dislodged.

High pressure air washing uses pressurized air blown through the air ducts. A truck-mounted industrial vacuum is attached to the furnace, and all of the air register vents in the home are covered. Once all the air ducts have been blown clear, another air wand is fed into the end of the hot and cold air supply lines. Dust and debris is then drawn backward into the vacuum.


One of the more obvious advantages of air duct cleaning is improved health and hygiene in the home. Those prone to allergies may find that routine cleaning helps ameliorate the problems of sneezing and watery eyes. Duct cleaning can remove allergens and dust.

The Environmental Protection Agency says air duct cleaning is handy if there is a noticeable accumulation of dust and debris in ducts or if particles are actually released into the home from supply registers. If ducts are infested with rodents or insects, cleaning will make indoor air much safer.

Mold is another factor to consider when determining if ducts need to be cleaned. Mold spores floating in the air can lead to illness. Professional cleaning may be the only way to remove mold and mildew from the system.

Homeowners who have fireplaces may find the air becomes dirtier faster. That's because of the residue put into the air from burning wood and other fuel. This residue not only builds up inside of the chimney in the form of creosote, but also can form a sticky, sooty layer inside of ductwork. Cleaning the ducts can remove this soot.


The EPA advises that no research has definitively shown that duct cleaning prevents health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. This is because much of the dirt in air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space. What's more, dirty air that enters the home from outdoors or indoor activities, such as smoking or cleaning, can actually cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts.

There also is no evidence that cleaning ducts and components of the heating/cooling system will make the furnace or air conditioner work any more efficiently.

Air duct cleaning is an expensive undertaking. On average the cost of such a service can range from $400 to $1,000, depending on the extent of the cleaning and the size of the home.

Cleaning the ducts also can be dirty and time-consuming. Cleaning may spread contaminants that were lodged inside of the vents throughout the air more readily.

Some cleaning services will advise the use of chemical biocides to treat the interior of vents. These are designed to kill microbiological contaminants. The EPAwarns chemical biocides have yet to be fully researched, and homeowners should be fully informed before deciding to permit the use of biocides or chemical treatments in air ducts.

Homeowners should never attempt to clean air ducts themselves. If the decision is made to have the cleaning done, it should only be on an as-needed basis and completed by a reputable cleaning service.