Should I Have the Ductwork in My Home Cleaned?

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You and your family just spent the last several months quarantined in your home. No doubt that means there’s been more cleaning to do. With the coronavirus pandemic, concerns about indoor air quality have also grown. So, in addition to deep cleaning the floors and the furniture, are you thinking about getting your HVAC ductwork cleaned as well?

Cleaning the air ducts seems wise on an intuitive level, doesn’t it? After all, if your ducts are clean, all that air flowing out of your vents should come out clean too, right?

Not necessarily.

Some duct cleaning companies advertise health benefits or suggest that duct cleaning will lower your energy bills by improving your system’s efficiency. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no data to back up these claims. Even if your ducts are very dirty, cleaning them won’t necessarily provide any measurable benefits. What the little independent research performed on duct cleaning indicates is that the process can stir up so much dust that it creates an even bigger problem.

The EPA concludes: “Duct cleaning does not prevent 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. … Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to your health.”

 The EPA recommends cleaning ductwork only when:

  • You recently renovated your home: Vents need to be sealed off during home renovations. Otherwise, dangerous dust and debris can become lodged inside the ductwork.
  • Animals like mice or insects have made themselves at home: When there’s evidence of animal infestation or nesting in your ducts or HVAC system, have the animals removed then clean the ductwork and HVAC unit.
  • Mold is present: It is important to clean the ducts and HVAC system when there’s visible mold growth inside the ductwork.
  • A family member suffers from an unexplained, allergy-related illness: Taken every other possible step to decontaminate your home? Then have your ducts cleaned.

The EPA offers this further advice because of the continuing uncertainty about the benefits of duct cleaning under most circumstances: There’s no need to clean the ductwork, “if no one in your household suffers from allergies, unexplained symptoms or illnesses. And if, after a visual inspection of the inside of the ducts, you see no indication that your air ducts are contaminated with large deposits of dust or mold, having your air ducts cleaned is probably unnecessary. It is normal for the return registers to get dusty as air is pulled through the grate. This does not mean that your air ducts are contaminated with heavy deposits of dust or debris. The registers can easily be vacuumed or cleaned.”

If you do hire a duct-cleaning service

While the jury is still out on the benefits, there’s no evidence that suggests duct cleaning is detrimental – if done properly! Here are some tips to help when you decide to proceed:

  • Hire a reputable contractor. Ask your HVAC for referrals or check the NADCA website for companies in your area. Check references and get several estimates.
  • Insist on a thorough inspection before you sign up for a cleaning. Ask for proof of dirt, mold, or vermin problems. If there are leaks or the ductwork needs repair, call your HVAC company to fix the problem first.
  • Go with a cleaning plan that protects your home and your air. Ask how the contractor will keep dust and pollutant levels low during the job.
  • Think twice about antimicrobials and other chemicals. Ask for information about the risks and benefits of pesticides, sealants, deodorizers, and any other chemicals the contractor suggests using. The National Institute of Health recommends avoiding them, noting, “even EPA-registered biocides may cause eye, nose and skin irritation.”
  • Inspect the work.  You shouldn’t see any signs of dirt, mold, or animals. Some companies even provide remote photography to show hard-to-access spots.

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