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Spring Cleaning? What About Air Ducts?

2012 March 27

By Kelly Hunt

It’s spring. How can I tell? Mailings about air duct cleaning. It makes sense that they come now, while us home dwellers prep for the warmer months by cleaning and doing home repairs. But do I need to get the air ducts in my home cleaned? Can this affect the air I breathe indoors? Does that impact my health?

Lucky for me, I work with experts who happily helped me navigate this question. Don’t you fret, though — all of their words of wisdom are on EPA’s Web page on air ducts for you to view anytime, so you’ll be able to make the best decision for you.

Things I learned:

  • First, be familiar with general indoor air quality tips to reduce risk: control pollution sources in the home, change filters regularly and adjust humidity.
  • Air duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Scientific studies are inconclusive on whether dust levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.
  • Indoor pollutants that enter from outdoors or come from indoor activities — like cooking, cleaning or smoking — may cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts.
  • You need to inspect your air ducts to determine whether or not they need to be cleaned.

You should consider air duct cleaning if:

  • There’s substantial, visible mold growth inside the ducts or on parts of your HVAC system. (If there’s mold, there’s likely a moisture problem. A professional should find the cause of the water problem and fix it.) If you consult a professional, make sure they SHOW you the mold before moving forward.
  • The ducts are infested with rodents or insects. Not okay.
  • The ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris that are actually released into the home from vents.

If you find any of those problems, identify the underlying cause before cleaning, retrofitting or replacing your ducts. If you don’t, the problem will likely happen again.

There’s little evidence that cleaning your air ducts will improve health or, alone, will increase efficiency. To learn about HVAC maintenance and efficiency, see our Heating and Cooling Efficiently page.

Decision, decisions. If I decide to get my air ducts cleaned, I’ll make sure to follow the advice of EPA experts. I’ll also carefully check the service provider’s track record before doing anything. And I’ll remember to SEE, with my own eyes, mold growth or other problems before making a final decision.

About the author: Kelly Hunt, is a communications specialist with EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Her career in public affairs began in 2001 and she now focuses on emergency response, outreach and engagement for radiation and indoor air issues.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. kiyohisa tanada permalink
    March 28, 2012

    The cleaning of the air duct is particularly effective for “an allergic patient”.
    I clean using “the cleaning function of the air-conditioner”.
    In addition, I attach “a catch sheet” of the dust collecting to a mop and clean.
    The present catch sheet is well-done.
    I take the dust without injuring a thing to wipe off.
    This is my cleaning method.

  2. Richard Lantz permalink
    March 30, 2012

    When picking a duct cleaning provider, be sure and visit NADCA: The HVAC Inspection, Maintenance and Restoration Association, otherwise known as the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), was formed in 1989 as a non-profit association of companies engaged in the cleaning of HVAC systems. Its mission was to promote source removal as the only acceptable method of cleaning and to establish industry standards for the association.

  3. bob permalink
    April 8, 2012

    I cleaned out my ducts as I was having some alergy issues yet i have no alegies. I had the dust tested and found high levels of Barium, Aluminum and sulfure. I urge everyone to test for these toxins around there home as they are highly toxic.

  4. Make Money Online From Home permalink
    April 9, 2012

    I was doing a research online for my case study and finally found this website with this spectacular content. I am looking for additional information I can put on my website and start a new topic for people to read. Than you for posting this.

  5. April 25, 2012

    1. Have both the supply and return air ducts inspected for problems before cleaning. Examine for air leaks, daylight (for sections outside), defects (including disconnected, restricted or blocked ductwork), deteriorating or improperly connected flex ducts, openings to building cavities (where air and contaminants from wall or ceiling cavities or gaps/cracks in the foundation could enter or exit), water or other stains, debris (including construction or remodeling), biological contaminants including fungal growth and lumber yard wood fungi, insects, rodent dung, pet hair, etc.), shedding or unlined/exposed fibrous glass, asbestos or other insulation (including vermiculate), areas with no or insufficient insulation, sewer pipes, chemicals and unusual odors (including deodorizers). Perform needed repairs before the air ducts are cleaned (if required).
    2. Have the heating and air conditioning unit inspected annually for proper operation by a professional. Also have the blower, motor, cooling coils and unit inspected to determine if they need cleaning or repairs. The coils, blower, gas lines and heat exchanger (for gas units) insulating liner, drain line, condensation drain pan, emergency drain pan (for attic mounted units) should also be inspected for problems. This includes areas that have clogged or leaking condensate water or water stains, gas, exhaust leaks or insufficient combustion, shedding or insufficient insulating liner, air leaks/gaps, sump pump cloggage, debris or fungal growth on coils, motor or other areas. Have any required performed before the air dusts are cleaned.

    If the ducts and unit need cleaning, choose a reputable company that has the proper equipment and can show you that the ducts are sufficiently cleaned afterwards. Many companies cannot clean deep inside long runs of the air ducts. Occasionally I’ve found IAQ problems exacerbated by duct cleaning when the companies loosened matted debris or caused insulation liner to break up and release fine, respirable fibrous glass.

    Russell B. Olinsky, M.S. Environmental Specialist
    Helping to make homes and workplaces healthier!

  6. July 2, 2012

    really useful.thanks

  7. james permalink
    May 1, 2013

    Thank you very much for this article. I did take a lot of thinking and could make my marketing strategy more precise.

  8. sam kelly permalink
    March 31, 2014

    Air duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Be familiar with general indoor air quality tips to reduce risk control pollution sources in the home, change filters regularly and adjust humidity.

  9. garry permalink
    April 21, 2014

    A lot of people think they got a clean house.With dirty air ducts you never have.

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