How Often Should You Clean Your Air Ducts?

Good air duct cleaners often use an external duct cleaning unit, like the one shown here. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Alisa R. of Palatine, Illinois)

Good air duct cleaners often use an external duct cleaning unit, like the one shown here. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Alisa R. of Palatine, Illinois)

Many homeowners who've worked with reputable air duct cleaning contractors are often pleased with the results. While experts generally agree that scientific evidence is lacking to prove that duct cleaning has a direct and significant benefit, they do agree that there is some benefit to having air duct cleaning performed.

Here's how to tell if it's time to call a professional who knows how to clean air ducts in your home.

When to clean your ducts

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends cleaning air ducts when:

  • You suspect that mold exists in the ducts.
  • You notice a vermin infestation somewhere in the home, or you see insects or rodents entering or exiting ductwork.
  • You see a visible "poof" of dust released from the supply registers when cooled air is exiting the vents.

Benefits of air duct cleaning

While the EPA has conducted several studies to reach their recommendations, other governmental bodies are also participating in studies to determine the effectiveness of cleaning vents and air ducts.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is one such body, and their findings conclude that:

  • Duct cleaning is beneficial for reducing the amount of dust on the surface of return-air ducts only and not necessarily supply-air ducts.
  • Cleaning air ducts results in a lower concentration of microorganisms such as mold and bacteria.
  • Best practice involves cleaning the return-air ducts only and the air handler/furnace fan to boost air circulation.

How often to clean ducts

Most certified air duct cleaners and other experts agree on some general recommendations for how often to have air ducts cleaned. You should schedule an air duct cleaning appointment:

  • Every three to five years. Be wary of a contractor who suggests more frequent cleanings.
  • When you move into a new home, unless you know that the previous homeowner serviced the ducts within the last three years or less.
  • After building a new home.
  • After completing a home remodeling project. Construction projects spread sawdust throughout the home, and unless you go to lengths to protect the ducts, the dust will extend into the ductwork, too.
  • If home occupants have severe allergies. While studies haven't proven a significant connection between health and duct cleaning, anecdotal evidence and comfort may prompt you to proceed with the cleaning.
  • If you have many pets in the home that shed fur and dander or even if you have just one animal that sheds a great deal. Duct cleaning and effective home cleaning practices can help to prevent it from spreading throughout the home.

Signs of good and bad duct cleaners

Professionals warn homeowners to stay away from excessively cheap specials that seem too good to be true. Here are some signs of good and bad duct cleaners:

  • A good duct cleaning costs between $300 and $500 and addresses every aspect of the system that air passes over, including the furnace, air coils and central system. It's not just sticking a vacuum over the vents. 
  • It should take a few hours. A cleaner who's in and out in less than an hour probably didn't do a good job. 
  • Many quality duct cleaners use truck-mounted, outside vacuum systems that contain dust and debris outside the house. 
  • Ask if they follow the standards set by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA).

The best way to determine how often to schedule an appointment for cleaning air ducts involves looking at the needs of your family and the activities that are going on in your life. Further, many folks opt for duct cleaning simply because it makes sense that dust on the surfaces of your home also reaches into the deep crevices of the ducts.

While the jury's still out on a definitive position about duct cleaning, the critical factor to keep in mind is the importance of hiring a reputable professional. Opt to work with a duct cleaner who holds membership with NADCA, the only organization that exists to serve the duct cleaning industry and protect consumers from fraudulent contractors.


Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Aug. 21, 2013.


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In addition to this buildup, contractors found a dead animal in this member's ductwork. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Mariah J. of Taylors, S.C.)
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Out of sight and out of mind, ductwork can quietly and quickly contribute to poor indoor air quality, degrade health, and affect HVAC system efficiency. You can avoid ductwork contamination with these expert tips.

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