Do You Need Your Ductwork Cleaned? 3 Reasons Why You Don’t.

a pile of HVAC ductwork

Thinking About Getting Your Home HVAC Air Ducts Cleaned?

You’re probably wondering if it’s worth it to get your HVAC air ducts cleaned. Maybe some “professional” recommended it. Or you are concerned about the quality of the air you are breathing. Or the dust you are seeing.

Like you, I was in the exact same boat.

It’s good you are doing your research. In the majority of cases, the “professionals” and”experts” that recommend home HVAC air duct cleaning are the ones who make their living by cleaning air ducts. Just think about that.

There is an obvious lack of independence in this industry. As a consumer, this is an important fact to keep in mind, not only in this instance, but in all aspects of your life. Unfortunately, you can’t always trust the “experts” to have your best interest in mind.

Dusty air inside a home

How is HVAC Air Duct Cleaning Performed?

Most companies that provide air duct cleaning services use a large powerful vacuum system in a truck or van that is capable of sucking the dust and debris completely out of your ductwork. To make sure they get as much out of the air ducts as possible, the companies use various tools like long brushes (sometimes motorized) that spin to disturb the dirt stuck to the inner walls of the ducts. Once that is complete they reassemble any ductwork that was disassembled to gain access to all the ducts and leave. It is a fairly straightforward process. 

How Much Does It Cost To Have Your Ductwork Cleaned?

The price of having your ductwork professionally cleaned can vary but it isn’t cheap. Prices for most air duct cleaning companies range from several hundred up to $1000. 

Is Home HVAC Air Duct Cleaning a Scam?

For most people, yes.

But as in everything, there are exceptions to the rule.

3 Reasons You Don't Need Your HVAC Ductwork Cleaned

1. The National Institute of Health doesn't recommend it (except for special circumstances).

The National Institute of Health states there is not enough evidence showing that duct cleaning improves indoor air quality or occupant health. In fact, there were many studies that had instances where indoor air quality was actually worse after duct cleaning.

Some conditions when duct cleaning might be appropriate are:

  • Permanent or persistent water damage in ducts.
  • Slime or microbial growth observed in ducts.
  • Debris build‐up in ducts that restricts airflow.
  • Dust discharging from supply diffusers.
  • Offensive odors originating in ductwork or HVAC components.

Further, the National Institute of Health advises that duct work cleaning should only be done once the source of the issue is identified and controlled.

2. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn't recommend it (except for special circumstances).

EPA logo

The EPA sites that there have been no conclusive studies demonstrating:

  • Duct cleaning prevents health problems
  • Particulate (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.
  • A light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to your health.

Some conditions where duct cleaning would be appropriate are:

  • There is substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface (e.g., sheet metal) ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system.
  • Ducts are infested with vermin, e.g. (rodents or insects).
  • Ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.

Similarly to the National Institute of Health, the EPA advises that the source of the issue needs to be identified and corrected before having the ductwork cleaned.

3. The "professionals" have said off the record it's not necessary

Ahh, the beauty of the internet. Many home HVAC professionals, both former and current, have shared the secrets of the air duct cleaning business behind the privacy of a computer screen. Bottom line…it’s (mostly) a scam.

One reddit user (silber_nact), a self-proclaimed HVAC service technician states,

In general, duct cleaning is just short of a scam. Of all the homes I’ve work in doing hvac/duct cleaning, I can count on one hand the homes that “needed” a duct cleaning. Most of those where homes that have had multiple dogs for decades. However with that being said, even those homes didn’t see an improvement in air quality, only duct volume(since the animal hair was removed, air could follow more easily).

You have to remember almost all the dust in your ducts is BEFORE your air filter, so it your changing your filter regularly(3-6 month) and you use a good quality filter(Merv 8 or better), The air you breath will be clean.

Just like the National Institute of Health and EPA, this reddit user doesn’t speak in absolutes — there are of course cases where a home HVAC duct cleaning would be appropriate:

With that being said, if the ducts have mold and such filters won’t be enough, and you need to have professional help.

This reddit user then goes on to give advice for improving the indoor air quality:

 

Here’s what I recommended to any customer asking about duct cleaning.

If someone in the house is having respiratory issues the first thing you do is change your filter and run the fan on the furnace more frequently and wait a few weeks. If they don’t get better, upgrade your filter to a better quality. After a few more weeks if you see no improvement, then I recommend having a company come out and do an air quality test looking for mold, VOC’s, and dust in the air.

Summary:

Most people don’t need to get their home HVAC air ducts cleaned. Except for special circumstances, neither the EPA nor the National Institute of Health recommend it. Further, home HVAC professionals who perform air duct cleaning have shared off the record that it’s not necessary.

There simply is not enough evidence that having your home HVAC air ducts cleaned actually improves indoor air quality (in some cases, it actually makes the air quality worse). If you do have special circumstances that warrant an air duct cleaning (water damage, vermin, etc.), the important thing is to identify and fix the root cause before having it done.


If you enjoyed this post and are interested in following along on my quest for better indoor air quality, click here