Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

HVAC Duct Cleaning: Scam or Worth It?

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Vent cover on HVAC duct

Do you need to be worried about having the HVAC ducts in your home cleaned?

Duct cleaning has become popular in recent years, with commercial cleaning services popping up everywhere. But is the service worth it, or is it a scam? Here’s some information to help you decide whether or not your home might benefit from having the HVAC ducts in your house cleaned.

Duct Cleaning Services

Professional duct cleaning services use specialized blowers, vacuums, and brushes to clean out the supply, intake, and return ducts throughout your home. Duct cleaning should also involve a thorough cleaning of the air handler, registers, grilles, fans, motors, housings, and coils of the HVAC system.

There’s no research at present proving that routine duct cleaning improves the air quality or reduces dust in your home. There is, however, evidence that dirty heating and cooling coils, motors, and air handling units can make your HVAC unit less efficient.

While duct cleaning alone doesn’t seem that necessary, there are cases where cleaning the HVAC unit and ductwork could be useful.

Floor duct with cover grate removed.

Ducts in your home may be dirty and need cleaning after remodeling.

Should I Have Ducts Cleaned?

Due to growing concerns about indoor air quality, it’s easy to convince homeowners that their ducts need cleaning. But unless ducts are really dirty, there’s no reason to clean them. The EPA takes a similar stance on the issue, recommending cleaning only if the ducts and HVAC unit are contaminated.

If done properly, duct cleaning doesn’t hurt; but it’s not something that needs to be on your regular home maintenance list. You probably don’t need to have your ducts and HVAC system cleaned unless:

  • Renovation: If your home has been remodeled – especially if there was asbestos abatement, lead paint removal, or significant dust – your ductwork may need to be cleaned. Ducts should be sealed off during home renovations; but if they weren’t, dangerous dust and debris may become lodged inside the ductwork.
  • Animals: If there’s evidence of animal infestation or nesting in your ducts or HVAC system, have the animals removed then clean the ductwork and HVAC unit.
  • Mold: If there is visible mold growth inside the ductwork, the ducts and HVAC system should be cleaned.
  • Contaminants: If noticeable debris, pet hair, odors, or other contaminants are being released into the room through the ducts after the registers have been cleaned and vacuumed; then the ducts may need to be cleaned.
  • Illness: If someone in your family is suffering from an unexplained allergy-related illness, and you’ve taken every other possible step to decontaminate your home, you may want to consider having your ducts cleaned to see if the HVAC system was the culprit.
Duct inside a HVAC unit.

The entire HVAC heating/cooling system should be inspected and cleaned as well.

How To Avoid Duct Cleaning Scams

While there are reputable, professional HVAC cleaning services out there, there are scams as well. Anytime scare tactics can be used to make the claim that your home might be “unhealthy,” homeowners run the risk of being frightened into emptying their checkbooks.

Here are some tips for avoiding scams if you decide to look into having the ducts and HVAC system in your home cleaned:

  • Full Service: Don’t settle for just duct cleaning, make sure the cleaning service is also going to do a full cleaning of the heating/cooling unit.
  • References: Get and check references in your area to find out what was provided for the money, and whether customers were satisfied.
  • Estimates: Ask for written estimates from at least three HVAC cleaning services. A reputable company should provide a free inspection and estimate.
  • Avoid Gimmicks: Ads for “$79 whole-house specials” are scams. At most a few ducts will get a very cursory vacuum; and at worst, you’ll end up talked into a much more expensive package. High-quality duct and HVAC cleaning should cost upwards of $500, take several hours with sophisticated equipment, and involve multiple workers.
  • Floor duct cover

    Verify results after cleaning.

  • Certifications: The cleaning company should be certified by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), which sets standards for HVAC system cleaning. The EPA does not certify duct cleaners, so avoid anyone making that claim. Check for relevant licenses and insurance – some states require a license for duct cleaning while others don’t.
  • Check Standards: The NADCA provides guidelines for professionals and customers on safe duct cleaning. If your ducts are insulated, the professional should also follow the guidelines of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA).
  • Verify Results: You should be offered a complete visual inspection of the HVAC system and ductwork, either in person or by remote camera. Make sure every single duct is clean, and insist on an inspection of the inside of the HVAC unit, before paying for the service.
  • Don’t Get Fooled: Keep in mind that intake ducts (room ducts that return air to the heating/cooling unit) are likely to be dirtier than supply ducts (which deliver conditioned air from the HVAC unit), since they often don’t have filters. Make sure any “before-and-after” photos are of the supply ducts, where it’s most important that the air is clean.
  • Avoid Sealants and Sprays: Both the EPA and the NADCA recommend against the use of sprayed sealants or other potentially harmful chemicals inside air ducts. Biocides and anti-microbial treatments are also iffy, since the chemicals may cause more harm than good to your health. No chemicals are currently registered with the EPA for use inside ductwork.
  • Avoid Steam Cleaning: Any kind of duct cleaning involving steam or moisture should be avoided.

Further Information



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5 Comments on “HVAC Duct Cleaning: Scam or Worth It?”

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  1. Al Says:
    October 26th, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Very helpful

  2. DR Krunk Says:
    December 18th, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    I have worked with dozens of HVAC companies over the years as an operations and sales consultant. Duct cleaning is one of the lowest-risk highest-profit services an HVAC company can offer,and it is almost always a completely unnecessary waste of a homeowner’s money. Period, end of story.

    If there is stuff in the ducts, the fact that it’s laying there and not being blown into the rooms is proof positive that it is hurting no-one. The 5-6 exceptions you cite in this article I’ll buy, but only with the caveat that at least some of those could have been avoided by proper protection (during remodeling for example) – and if asbestos/lead/whatever winds up in your ducts- the remodeling contractor should be the one paying to remove it.

    And if you have flex duct and/or fiberglass ductboard in your home- the last thing you want is a big brush or anything abrasive running through it. Even high-pressure air can erode ductboard so I wouldn’t clean it with anything. If it becomes contaminated, get rid of it and install real ductwork. If your ductwork is accessible in the basement – the best thing to do is take it down and manually clean it if it’s full of junk. It’s not going to cost a nickel more to do that than to pay $500-1000 for a ‘duct cleaning machine” AKA big blower and vacuum – to do the job.

  3. Janice Brown Says:
    March 27th, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Had duct cleaned (apartment) however, dust is still settling throughout the apartment. Contractor said no other cleaning necessary until two (2) years. Is there a time period before dust no longer settles prior to that time? Should the vendor had worn a mask? He did not cover his face the vents and dust was blown throughout the apartment (had family help with the cleanup). I had to leave when they left because I have asthma and I couldn’t breathe without coughing. Please help!

  4. shania Says:
    July 30th, 2014 at 4:57 am

    Furnace cleaners are mostly young men, I know this, I have been one for 15 years or so……so heres the truth, if there are any allergies, children, older people with health issues, we are GOING to make money. do not tell the company you have hired about any health complication. they are salesmen. and they don’t care about you. or your money. make sure they do a good job, then kick them out. you don’t need all the bells and whistles they wanna sell you. any idiot can clean duct work, like I said, I am one of them. I am very good at it, but I don’t have the back bone to sell a widowed old lady a humidifier that she doesn’t need for 500 bucks, overall, if you think you need this service done, which you probably don’t, get it done, do not spend anything over 300$ and do not do it again for at least ten years.

  5. J Gaines Says:
    August 31st, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    I just moved into a 1200 sq ft townhouse. Within 2 hours there’s a film on my glasses. It is high humidity and high Temps outside so I have the ac on. I think there’s a lot of dust, but I don’t think there’s mold, although there is a strange smell in here. What do you suggest?

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