Duct Cleaning: Is it a Waste of Money?

Man performing a residential home air duct cleaning using special tools.

There are two leading opinions about duct cleaning. One says you should clean ducts every year, the other says ducts should be left alone. Are ducts a harbor of hidden dust and pollen? Or are they a simple mechanical necessity of the HVAC system? Many will say that cleaning your ducts is a waste of time and money, that they keep themselves clean and don’t need maintenance. But is it true?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is unique to every home. Your home’s air pollution, filter quality, and the unique airflow from room to room will also determine the state of your ducts. Some homes need duct cleaning once every few years at most, some benefit from duct cleaning every year. So is duct cleaning a waste of money? It depends on how dirty your ducts are.

Understanding Home Air Quality and Air Filters

So why doesn’t the filter keep all the dust out of your ducts? The answer is that no system is perfect. First, some amount of dust can get in through the vents, especially when the blowers are off.

Second, most filters aren’t the highest possible quality of particle-stopping fabric. Some dust motes and pollen spores get through. Many HVAC systems have gaps in the ductwork, allowing outside air in. You may also have an air/heat exchanger that pulls air in from the outside — often near the roof. And how often do you change that filter?

If your intake air filter gets old, more dust and pollen can get into the system this way. In other words, air quality can be maintained with regular clean filters and duct repair maintenance, but usually, dust and pollen get into the system over time. The only question is how quickly.

What Lurks in the Ducts

Inside your ducts is evidence of your HVAC system’s internal cleanliness. It’s true that a perfect system would only push fully purified air through the ducts and therefore the ducts could not get dirty. 

Dusty Duct Corners

A certain amount of dust runs through every home system. Over time, that dust builds up inside the ducts and on the vent registers. It puffs out each time the blowers kick on and re-spreads dust when the fan pulls from the dust piles in the duct corners. When dust is being ejected from your ducts, you probably need duct cleaning.

Off-Season Allergens

Sneezing when the AC comes on is another clear sign you need duct cleaning. Old spores from seasons past can get stuck inside your ducts and then shake loose when the blower pushes new air through. If you’re getting at-home hay fever during the wrong season, dusty ducts are your primary culprit. Old pollen can hide and haunt your nose seasons later.

Mold Growth

One of the biggest risks is mold growing in the ducts. Unsealed or insulation ducts can become damp and harbor colonies of mold which circulate spores throughout the home’s vents. If this happens, duct cleaning becomes vital to family health and no longer optional.

Dusty Vent Registers

When getting your ducts cleaned, don’t forget the vent registers. These should be wiped down fully and polished to a gleam. Vent registers also collect a lot of dust that re-distributes when you turn on the AC or heat to cycle through the house.

When Duct Cleaning is Beneficial

In homes with new or recently cleaned ducts, there’s no need to clean before the dust builds up. In this way, your friends are right about avoiding a pointless task. But if there’s dust and pollen emitting back into your home with each air circulation, your ducts may be the issue. Once every year to five years, depending on your house is the right pace for duct cleaning.

Do your ducts need to be sealed and swept clear of all old dusty allergens? We’re here to help

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