What You Need to Know About Ductwork Cleaning

What You Need to Know About Ductwork Cleaning

What You Need to Know About Ductwork Cleaning

Air duct cleaning is very beneficial to your home’s indoor air quality, but how does it work? Who does it? What’s all the fuss about?

Removing dirt, dust, and other large particulate matter from your air ducts can improve your home’s indoor air quality while at the same time maintaining a clean HVAC system.

Dirty air ducts mean more air contaminants in your house. There can be multiple layers of dust and lint on the interior of both the return and supply air duct surfaces.

These layers are built up through years of pet hair, smoking, renovation debris, humidity, and any other dust and dirt that makes its way into your home.

So having said all that, what can we do about it?

Air Duct Cleaning Services

duct cleaning

Some folks call it duct cleaning, some call it HVAC system cleaning, and there is a difference; however, an air duct cleaning service technician will be able to inform you which is the better option based on your individual home.

The difference between the two is subtle, with duct cleaning literally meaning that just the air duct system in your home is the only part being cleaned.

An HVAC system cleaning, on the other hand, is the full air duct cleaning plus air filter hangout, blower wheel cleaning, and, depending on accessibility, cooling coil and heat exchanger cleanings as well.

Again, each home will differ.

Some will need a basic air duct cleaning, while others will need the full HVAC cleaning, and others could just need a dryer vent cleaning.

No matter your choice, it can and most likely will result in added benefits.

Benefits of Air Duct Cleaning

woman breathing fresh air

There are many reasons to have your air ducts cleaned, and one of the leading health benefits is maintaining your heating and cooling systems.

As odd as that sounds, HVAC ducts can accumulate visible mold growth that can have an adverse effect on your home’s indoor air quality.

Each living space has at least 1 supply register and usually 1 return air vent.

That means whatever contaminants are in your air ducts will most likely be spread throughout the entire HVAC system and your home.

A duct cleaning every 3-4 years also contributes to maintenance cost savings.

Having your home’s HVAC system cleaned regularly can save money over time as there will be less build-up within the heating system and cooling coil.

For example, a clean electric fan motor won’t have to work as hard as a dirty electric fan motor, prolonging its life by not drawing higher than normal amperage when it starts up.

How to Clean Air Ducts

air duct inspection

A typical air duct cleaning service begins with an inspection of your air ducts. 

The first thing to look for is access to your home’s supply vents and the return and supply air plenums.

A 6″-8″ round hole will be cut into your largest supply and return air ducts, where the bulk of the dirt and dust is located.

The high-powered suction unit, sometimes located on a truck outside but most commonly on a portable cart inside, is turned on, and it is time to pull dust and get those air ducts cleaned.

During the duct cleaning, a long hose, usually between 25′ and 50′, is run into each hole made in the last step.

This hose is equipped with an internal cable attached to a spinning brush head.

This spinning action results in most dirt, lint, and other contaminants getting loosened and tossed up while the vacuum hose sucks it all back into a collection bag.

The next step is to patch up each hole, run the air duct cleaner hose down every supply vent and return air register.

This will clean back to each duct fitting on the main supply and return trunks.

Once all of the air ducts have been cleaned, it is time to run your HVAC system for a minimum of 5 minutes for any large pieces that the vacuum may have missed to return back to the furnace air filter.

Now change the air filter and keep an eye out for how long it takes the new one to get dirty.

For example, I recommend changing the filter every 3 months, but some houses with dirty ducts would need to change it every 1-2 months.

A good professional air duct cleaner will take before and after pictures.

These illustrate the advantages of having your home’s air ducts cleaned.

Average Air Duct Cleaning Cost

figuring out home maintenance costs

Air duct cleaning prices will vary depending on the state you live in, the size of your home, and how many air vents your HVAC system has.

Typically a duct cleaning company will provide up to 15 vent runs plus both the main return and supply plenums in the initial cost.

This can be as low as $250 or as high as $1000, depending on where you live.

What Affects Air Duct Cleaning Costs

residential ductwork

A couple of main factors determine air duct cleaning costs, like the size of the house, number of vents, accessibility, type and size of ductwork, labor costs, and duct system locations.

🧰 Size of Your Home

One rule of the duct cleaning world is the larger your home, the more expensive it will be to clean.

This is because larger homes will have a larger HVAC system or possibly multiple HVAC systems for different areas of the home.

🧰 Number of Vents

Some air duct cleaners will base their cost on the number of supply vents in your HVAC system.

Remember, 15 runs is about the average, but some companies will charge for each one, while others may offer more than that.

🧰 Accessibility

The design of your home will determine the accessibility the professional air duct cleaners have to clean the air ducts.

If the return and supply air plenums are hard to access, the air duct cleaning cost will rise.

🧰 Size Of Ductwork

Similar to how the design of your home can affect its accessibility, it also determines the size of your ductwork.

A larger home with a more powerful heating and cooling system requires larger duct work.

🧰 Type Of Ductwork

As mentioned in a previous article, there are three main types of ductwork:

  • Sheet metal
  • Fiberboard
  • Flex duct.

Each type has its own characteristic when it comes to duct cleaning.

For example, fiberboard ducts can be vacuumed, hand-washed, or power-brushed.

While great care should be taken when dealing with flex ducts.

Also, not every company offers flex duct cleaning.

However, sheet metal ductwork is far easier to clean, and almost every professional air duct cleaning company will cover this type.

🧰 Labor Costs

Most duct cleaning companies do not charge by the hour, rather they will quote a package that includes a certain number of runs.

Any extras like cooling coils, air handling units, dryer vents, vent covers, and areas that need a more thorough cleaning will usually be added to the estimate before any work begins, so you have the choice to opt-in rather than be stuck with a higher air duct cleaning cost than anticipated.

How To Save on Air Duct Cleaning

We all know the cost of living has been rising rapidly over the past couple of years, so it makes sense to look for ways to save money.

One way to save on your air duct cleaning cost is to stop dirt, dust, and debris from getting into your air ducts before they get too contaminated.

You can do this by performing regular cleaning and HVAC maintenance along with these suggestions:

🔧 Change Your Air Filter

changing out a Furnace filter

Most HVAC service techs and air duct cleaners recommend your filter be changed every 3 months.

Some thermostats will have a reminder for every 90 days of run time, but if the filter appears clogged when you remove it, change it more often.

🔧 Vacuum Regularly

vacuuming carpets

With vacuum quality improving, there may be less dust buildup in your home today compared to a decade ago.

An old vacuum can not even compete for power with a Dyson.

This new cordless canister-style vacuum can get into those nooks and crannies that the old bulky vacuum with a hose and a bag simply could not.

🔧 Keep Moisture Out

humidity on indoor plant

If you live in a northern climate with cool winters, it is a good idea (and in some places mandatory) to insulate any fresh air ducting entering your home.

This would usually be a 4″ or 5″ round duct piped directly from the fresh air vent takeoff on the side of your house to the return air plenum.

On a cold day, that fresh air can condense on the uninsulated piping, leading to rusting, dripping, and moisture issues in your home.

Related Reading: Homeowners Guide to Duct Insulation

🔧 Regular HVAC Maintenance

AC Maintenance

This should be done yearly and include a visual inspection of the duct work and HVAC system.

In addition, the technician should also inspect things like the water heater, condensate drain pans, furnace filter, humidifier or dehumidifier, and any other accessories to the HVAC system.

Can I Do My Own Air Duct Cleaning?

Woman wondering what a forced air heating system is

🔧 DIY vs. Professional Air Duct Cleaning

Although it won’t be as thorough as a professional air duct cleaning company, it is entirely possible for a homeowner to clean most of their own air ducts.

To achieve clean air ducts, you, the homeowner, will need a few items:

A shop vacuum, an extended vacuum hose, a powered drill, some tin snips to cut out the hole in each plenum, some extra sheet metal, tin tape (not duct tape), and a brush with an extendable handle.

Once you’ve gathered up this equipment, follow the next steps to complete your air duct cleaning.

Remove and clean each return air grill and supply register.

Inspect the air ducts for dust, dirt, and lint buildup from the register’s back.

Cut a hole approximately 6″-8″ round in each plenum as close to the HVAC unit as possible. Watch for sharp edges, and wear cut-resistant gloves and eye protection.

Attach the vent cleaning brush to the power drill to break up any debris in the plenum.

Vacuum up debris with the shop vac.

If you need to rent or buy this equipment, you can do so from any large home improvement store such as Home Depot, Lowes, etc.

Unfortunately, this method will only clean about 10 feet into each vent.

The advantage of getting a professional duct cleaning is that it will be a faster, more thorough duct cleaning service, usually only a couple of hours.

Air Duct Cleaning for Dryer Vents

dryer vent cleaning

While air duct cleaning is only necessary every 3-4 years, dryer vent cleaning should happen at least once a year.

A blockage in your dryer vent is a major house fire risk and makes your dryer less efficient.

When connecting a dryer vent, the installer or homeowner should use some type of mastic tape.

Either aluminum foil tape or, as a last resort, duct tape.

When installing a new dryer vent, the biggest mistake is using screws to fasten each fitting or piece of pipe together.

Imagine a piece of lint getting caught on the tip of a screw and how easily it can build up to clog the vent piping.


Phyxter Approved Logo on Service Truck

When considering if duct cleaning is right for you, consider getting a quote for professional cleaning from a qualified duct cleaning company.

More often than not, they are priced fairly and can be done more thoroughly than a DIY duct cleaning.

The health benefits make it worth the price, plus the added benefit of having your HVAC’s entire system cleaned and maintained simultaneously.

Want to learn more about your home’s HVAC system? Feel free to check out our other HVAC articles!

Jim Dill

Jim is one of Phyxter's local HVAC gurus and is a proud co-owner and the HVAC Manager of Vernon Air Conditioning, Plumbing, and Electrical Services in the Okanagan Valley.

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