Different Types of Air Ducts and How to Clean Them

One of the less glamorous realities of being a homeowner is the maintenance and upkeep of your appliances and the overall condition of your property. This includes your air ducts.

Before you pick up a vacuum or a phone to schedule a professional visit, let’s take a moment to discuss what air ducts are, how they work and when you actually need to clean them.

What Are Air Ducts and How Do They Work?

Your air ducts are the passageways for your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system to move hot or cold air throughout your home. They’re typically located behind walls or above ceilings, keeping the air in your house circulating.

Because they’re located within the walls and ceilings of your home, they tend to collect dust, debris and other contaminants that can result in buildup. They are instrumental in keeping the flow of air in your home, so it’s important to make sure they’re clean and open.

Types of Air Ducts

There are a few different types of air ducts for different types of homes: flexible and rigid. Let’s discuss each and how they work.

Flexible

Flexible ductwork is fairly quick and easy to install. Instead of sheet metal or fiberglass, flexible ductwork is tube-shaped and made of a wire coil covered with a bendable, durable plastic and surrounded by insulation.

It’s best used in a home that needs a little, well, flexibility. The bendable construction allows the duct to fit in tight or crooked areas of the home. In order to install this in your home, the ducts must be secure and supported and have minimum kinks, bends and tight turns.

Rigid

Unlike flexible ductwork, rigid can come in a variety of materials, sizes and shapes. They are insulated and tend to be more reliable than flexible ductwork.

The three most common types of rigid ductwork are sheet metal, fiberglass and fiberboard, each constructed from the respective materials in their name. To determine the best one for your home, it’s important to consult with a contractor or air duct installer.

Do I Have to Clean My Air Ducts?

The short answer: yes. At some point of every homeowner’s life, it’s important to clean your air ducts, as they directly affect the air quality, circulation and even the energy usage in your home.

According to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), dirty air ducts can contribute to health issues like respiratory infections, autoimmune disorders or allergies because they can circulate contaminants and air pollutants throughout the home five to seven times per day.

Additionally, dirty air ducts could be causing your home to burn energy by making it work twice as hard to maintain the desired temperature of a room. In fact, the NADCA estimates about 25% – 40% of energy is wasted when air ducts are dirty or clogged.

However, it should be noted that while dirty air ducts could be contributing to the overall quality of your indoor air, there isn’t scientific evidence to prove that duct cleaning prevents health problems – it’s just a best practice to keep your air ducts clean to avoid any potential health problems and high energy bills.

How Often to Clean Your Air Ducts

While every home is different, the NADCA identifies a few factors that might increase the frequency of needing to clean your air ducts:

  • Pet hair
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Water contamination or damage to the home or HVAC system
  • Home renovation or remodeling projects

The NADCA recommends that if there are occupants in your home that are sensitive to any of the above items, as well as children and the elderly, it’s especially important to clean your air ducts regularly.

Even if the occupants in your home don’t have sensitivities to the above items, the NADCA still recommends cleaning out your air ducts every three to five years.

DIY: How to Clean Air Ducts

If you’re a do-it-yourself kind of homeowner, you should be able to clean your air ducts without the help of a professional. You would definitely save some money (approximately $300 – $1,000) by DIY-ing, but here’s what you should expect when you clean your air ducts yourself.

Step 1: The Preparation

To ensure dust doesn’t re-enter the room through the register during the cleaning process, secure all supply air registers by closing them or covering them with towels. They best way to do this is to lift up the register and wrap the towel around it and then replace it.

Next, make sure your thermostat fan is running during the cleaning process, to dislodge the dust and debris from the air duct. This will help with the next step when you clean out the air duct with a brush.

Before you begin cleaning, however, make sure you still have your old furnace filter in place so that you don’t dirty a new one or allow dust to get pulled into the fan motor.

Step 2: Break Up the Dust

According to the NADCA, in order to properly clean the HVAC system, you’ll need to remove the sources of the contaminations (dust, debris, pet hair, etc.). This is accomplished with the use of one or more pieces of equipment that can loosen contaminants from the surface of the air duct system.

The easiest route might be to use a brush, much like a toilet cleaning brush. Breaking up the dust is fairly simple: Take your brush or other piece of equipment and either knock or brush off any buildup of dust or debris that you can see.

Step 3: Clean the Registers

Once you’ve brushed off most of the dust in your air ducts, it’s time to use a vacuum to collect the contaminants and ensure they don’t get released into the home.

Lift your register and insert the end of the vacuum hose to catch the dust being pushed out by the fan. Repeat this process until every supply register is completely cleaned out.

Additionally, you’ll want to clean return air registers, usually located on the walls of your home. Repeat the same brushing and vacuuming technique you completed with the supply air registers.

Step 4: Clean the Furnace

After you’ve finished cleaning your registers, turn off the thermostat fan. Additionally, turn the power off to your furnace, located on the service switch or breaker panel of the furnace.

When the power is off, remove the panels from the front of the furnace and start cleaning out the blower compartment and return air boot with your vacuum. Also take this time to clean the furnace fan.

Step 5: Replace the Filter

After you’re done cleaning out the furnace, consider replacing the furnace filter. A dirty filter will circulate contaminants throughout your home, so change your filter every time you clean out your furnace.

When to Call the Pros

While the step-by-step DIY checklist will help you clean out the majority of your air ducts, there are some access points in your home that will require a professional.

Often, cleaning technicians may have to cut access holes into the duct work in order to completely clean out the duct. This is a job that should be left to the professionals, as it requires special tools and skillsets to both open and seal the access holes.

If you go the professional route, seek out an HVAC cleaning professional who has liability insurance. It is also a good idea to find someone who is NADCA-certified because they will follow strict requirements of Assessment, Cleaning and Restoration (ACR) standards, limiting the possibility of hazard or damage; and they’ll have the proper equipment to complete the job safely and effectively.
Have any more questions about air ducts and the cleaning process? Let us know in the comments below.

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This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Your blogs are very informative and interesting to read! Duct cleaning as part of an overall HVAC system cleaning. These blog is Helpful for anyone who are looking to clean their HVAC system.

  2. A few years ago I lived in an apartment that started to feel really damp and smell weird. We had a neighbor who cleaned air ducts for a living and so we had him come check it out. It turned out we had a massive black mold infestation. I really like what was said about how important it is to get your air ducts cleaned if you can see mold as well!

  3. Hi we recently bought a used mobileho
    E. I was looking in the airvents and there is lots of dirt and things that can fall in airvents, i was comsidering proffessional cleaning and was reading information both for and against. I don’t see any mold or creatures but they did have mice under the dishwasher. I think the long trip got ridd of them. Any comments will be welcome.

  4. professional cleaners provide you good quality service and also they gives you discount. this is nice information..!

  5. Duct cleaning is not needed nearly as often as service providers say. It is a good service if they become contaminated but a properly maintained system should not need it often if ever.

  6. I agree with you that the air duct cleaning is necessary for every home. I think we should hire professionals for it because they can provide us better services at affordable prices.

  7. Thank you for sharing the importance of duct cleaning. Some air ducts require professional cleaning while others do not. This can increase the quality of air in our homes and reduce allergies. Like you said, we should inspect the system before cleaning to be sure that there are no asbestos-containing materials in the HVAC system. I have not checked my air ducts recently so this has been a great reminder. Thanks again!

  8. Interesting post. You have written this post like pro. Cheers for that! & of course NADCA certification is quite important while choosing your air duct cleaners. Especially last few tips on cleaning air duct are truly useful. We will share this easy-to-understand post with our readers too. Keep the good work up. Quite liked this post. Honestly 🙂

  9. I would recommend to anyone moving into a new home to have your air ducts cleaned by a professional before you move in. As mentioned in the above comments, there could be anything from animal hair, to actual dead animals! Although it is possible to ‘do it yourself’, professionals like Infinite air cleaning will make sure the job is done properly, and to a standard that can help to reduce your energy bill.

  10. Air ducts are cleaned and properly cared for on a regular basis, it is one important part of maintaining a clean air conditioning and heating system is making sure the filter is regularly changed.

  11. It is extremely important as it will not only save you money on your electricity bill but also keep the air clean from things like dust and dirt, which is bad for your health.

  12. You should definitely get your air ducts cleaned, think of the health issues that could evolve because mold or something got in there.

  13. I read your article with interest and think it is a good start. One service that is always talked about is fogging ductwork for sanitizing. Many companies offer this service for dis-infecting or adding a clean smell to the ductwork. Before any chemical or dis-infectant is used-please read the MSDS(Material Safety Data Sheet). You might be surprise on what you are putting into the air stream. This is a high proft service and should be explored thoroughly before purchasing.

  14. Thank you for your posting.
    We are trying to educate people about the importance of air duct cleaning in Atlanta GA.

  15. You do it yourself or hire a professional but it is important to clean the Air Duct. I have once seen dead animals in there and that is grouse!!
    Great article Gabriela!

  16. I just had the ducts in my parents’ old house cleaned and ran into the same problem as Tommi. It was probably still worth the repainting to get 30 years worth of cat hair and other crud out of there, though.

  17. It’s always a good idea to have the ducts cleaned when you first move into a new home. You mentioned mold and dust but there’s also animal hair and other things the previous owners might have had in the house. When we moved into our house and had someone come over they discovered that all the ducts hadn’t been sealed and matched up properly, which meant two rooms in the house weren’t getting proper heat or cold when either the heat or AC was turned on. That was worth the less than $100 we paid to have it done.

  18. This duct cleaning is fine and dandy unless you live in an older home or in a home whose previous owners painted over the duct covers. The cleaning service will say, “Oh, I’ll just run a razor knife around the duct cover, it’ll be fine” and then you will be left with duct covers that are decorated with cracked chunks of paint. The older the house, the thicker the chunks. Seventy-some years of dirt and dust probably made the cleaning of the ductwork a good thing……but cosmetically, it was a disaster.

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