Since your home’s air ducts are out of view, you probably wouldn’t think to clean them — you may even wonder, “What is ductwork, really?” But it’s important to keep your air ducts, like any other part of your home, clean — not for aesthetic reasons, mind you, but for your health and to help lower your energy bill. For a homeowner, duct cleaning, especially DIY duct cleaning, can seem daunting; before you get to work, it’s important to understand the basics.
Ductwork carries cooled or heated air from your air conditioning unit(s) to all of the rooms in your home. In its simplest form, it consists of ducts and vents.
Just as surfaces inside your home become dirty over time, so can your air ducts. According to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association, the accumulation of pet fur, dust, pest waste, and mold can affect the function of your ducts and your indoor air quality. Cigarette smoke, cleaning chemicals and condensation on air ducts can have a negative effect as well since less-than-optimal functioning of your air ducts can raise your energy bill.
Removing the buildup of filth in your air ducts can prevent harmful particles from circulating throughout your home, potentially reducing health risks. This is especially important for anyone with asthma, allergies or a compromised immune system. Further, professional or DIY duct cleaning can increase the functional lifespan of your HVAC system and reduce your energy bill by 25–40%, making duct cleaning well worth the time, money and effort.
Learning how to clean your air ducts may sound like a lot of work, but DIY duct cleaning can save you money rather than having them professionally cleaned. Either option, however, results in your HVAC system working more efficiently, which can result in energy savings throughout the year.
The price of cleaning ductwork depends on the size of the duct system. Most homeowners can expect to pay $300 to $500, though estimates may be higher for larger or more complicated systems. Of course, DIY duct cleaning is a different matter — you may be able to rent a special vacuum from your local hardware store for a considerably lower price.
Once you know how to clean your air ducts, the process is easily repeatable whenever your ducts are in need of some care. Before starting, you’ll want to ensure that your ductwork isn’t the victim of any specific sources of contamination.
Pro Tip: While you’re making sure your air ducts are clean, check the health of other aspects of your HVAC system with our HVAC DIY Maintenance Checklist.
Cleaning your air ducts every three to five years can improve your home’s indoor air quality, although the minimum they should be cleaned is once every few years. Fortunately, cleaning your air ducts doesn’t have to be a great undertaking, and the benefits of air duct cleaning far outweigh the investment.
Your air ducts are sweating — or dripping — because of condensation buildup. Condensation on air ducts occurs when the air temperature around the duct drops to the point when moisture in the air condenses into liquid form. This occurs in hot and humid conditions when the insulation around the ducts is inadequate.
During the heat of summer, you may notice droplets of water accumulating on your ducts and ask yourself, “Why is water dripping from my air ducts?!” It’s important to watch out for this “sweat” and address it as soon as possible. The excess moisture could damage your ductwork and lead to mold growth.
The best way to prevent duct sweat is to make sure your ducts are properly insulated. Good insulation will further separate the moisture in the hot, humid air from the cool air flowing through the duct, reducing the likelihood of condensation on air ducts.
Dust accumulates in air ducts just as it does elsewhere in your home. Dust comes from dead skin cells, pet hair, fabric fibers and other materials. If not taken care of, dust can attract bacteria and dust mites. This dust buildup in the air ducts then gets blown out through the vents into your house.
Though it’s impossible to eliminate dust, there are many ways you can reduce it, most of which involve keeping your home clean and tidy. Microfiber dusters are great for trapping dust — as are vacuums with HEPA filters. Set reminders for changing out your air filters, as clean filters help keep dust from circulating throughout the home or from getting into your air ducts.
If you’ve already implemented these types of changes and still find yourself wondering, “Why is my house so dusty?,” then chances are that you would see reduced dust around the house as one of the benefits of air duct cleaning.
Pro tip: Two other ways to keep dust out of the home — and save energy — are to retrofit windows and AC units and to eliminate air leaks. Learn how to retrofit windows and retrofit air conditioners and how to find air leaks in your home.
The black stuff is black mold in your air ducts, which can cause a range of respiratory problems if left untreated. Black mold in air ducts is caused by excess moisture in and around your ducts. Mold spores are carried by air currents, and they grow once they land on moist surfaces.
The safest way to approach how to clean mold out of ductwork is to enlist the help of a professional — particularly if the mold is located deep in your ducts. If you opt for DIY duct cleaning, it is very important that you know exactly how to clean mold out of ductwork before attempting it. In a nutshell, however, you should first address the source of moisture and then eliminate the existing mold using a mixture of one cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
Large, complicated duct systems are best left to the professionals. Air duct experts are also best equipped to address severe contamination, such as severe black mold in air ducts. In addition, if you’re ever uncomfortable with any aspect of how to clean your air ducts, it’s best to call a pro.
Air ducts may be out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind. The good news is that you only need to clean your ducts once every few years, and doing so can yield benefits for your health and your household budget.
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According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, the average American spends an average of 90 percent of their lives indoors. As a result, many Americans are exposed to a wide range of indoor air pollutants over long periods of time.