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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32 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?

  6. Jim Says:
    September 27th, 2014 at 6:00 am

    This was an excellent review. With some very good
    Advise. Thank you for saving me 890.00.

  7. Daryl Says:
    October 20th, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I’m having my duct work cleaned this Saturday. Have a coupon for $49 through Amazon. Job normally $249. Had my basement remodeled about 18 months ago. The contractors were very thorough at blocking the vents, as far as I can tell. The offer is for HVAC and dryer vent cleaning. My house is 11 years old. I figured, $49 is not much. I appreciate your tips on not getting talked into any additional service, not to use solvents to clean, the certification information and before and after pictures. Very useful and I’ll be sure that all I spend is the $49 for the voucher.

  8. Ed Says:
    October 21st, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Daryl,
    Please record the sales pitch you receive and post it up here. I’ve heard such stories about the coupon deals (either not showing up or hard selling upgrades), it would be great to hear how it goes for you.

  9. Kathleen Says:
    October 28th, 2014 at 5:53 am

    I purchased one of those Amazon air duct cleaning coupons for 49.99. When the company showed up, they removed the vent closest to the air intake and immediately told me I needed $1800.00 for all new duct work. They said they could not clean the system until new duct work was installed. I thanked them and said I would give them a call. The only call I made was to Amazon to get a refund. I know I didn’t need new duct work. Be careful to not fall for unscrupulous salesmen and their pitches and scare tactics.

  10. Raj Says:
    November 3rd, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Bought Amazon Groupon deal for $29. Guy walks in and estimated $900 for all air duct and dryer vent. Then comes down to $600 with free dryer vent. I refuse, he calls office and deal is now $250. I still dont want and his final deal is Ducts and all returns for $100. However, no Brush cleaning, no tapes on vents, no HVAC blower clean up.

  11. Brenda Says:
    November 5th, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Furnace worked fine prior to duct cleaning. Within 2 hrs after duct cleaning guys left, noticed it getting chilly in house. Furnace had not been running since they left and would not come on. What’s the chance that duct cleaning in an older home could lead to having to have a blower control board replaced at an expense of $382.00?

  12. Annie Dee Says:
    November 5th, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    My vent covers have lots of mildew. They look bad! I live in a very humid climate in a condo. The handyman here has offered to take those down, wash them, sand, & then spray paint them with a mildew resistant paint. He said that he will leave them off overnight to dry. I am wondering if this is safe to breath the AC blowing out into the open all night??. ! Guess it is better than the mildew!?

  13. NEM Says:
    November 12th, 2014 at 2:30 am

    Thanks to everybody who left comments here, especially Krunk and Shania. I have been offered a position in an HVAC company and after reading the above comments, my decision is to apologize. I’m not going to be a “professional con”!

  14. Jaden Wills Says:
    November 20th, 2014 at 12:18 am

    It’s 11 years plus in the industry I have only had to sanitize two systems both were slab systems that were in concrete and could be cleaned with a different method than normal duct cleaning. We were able to use water to rinse out the disinfectant. Would you use a chemical on anything else you use to eat or drink with and not rinse it off? The ducts in your home should be thought of as your homes heart and lungs and breathe the same air that you do. And just like us we wouldn’t use bad chemicals in our lungs and heart.

  15. Barb Says:
    November 22nd, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Just had my air ducts cleaned. They used a high pressure air hose in all the heat ducts and cold air returns. He showed me the stuff that came out, the reason for the duct cleaning was the fact that I had a problem. With rodents. There was quite a few mummified rats and mice, and he said I wouldn’t have to have them done again unless I incur another problem or have renovations done. Cost me 345.00 for a 2 storey large old home. Not a bad price as I had them done when I moved in 28 years ago and it cost me 500.00. Lots of dog hair, toys, balls and assorted goodies came out as well. Took them 2 hours. I did have sanitizer put in the ducts because of the dead rodents.

  16. Steve Says:
    December 4th, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Duct cleaning is a complete scam, I was a “duct cleaning technician” for a whole week before I was fired for not upselling elderly widowed women $2000 extra for “toxic mold remediation” when their ducts were spotless to begin with. The last two days I was employed there I worked as a “helper” alongside a technician thats been with the company 7 years. He scammed every customer on mold and would at times get as much as $2500 extra for treating “toxic mold” in a typical 3 bedroom house in the suburbs. Wait…it gets even better, the “Biocide” the company used was simply a cheap $4.99 per gallon bought at Home Depot air freshener with no anti-microbial properties that was fogged into the HVAC system for 5 minutes, maybe using 1/2 cup of the stuff. In order to provide the customer with evidence of “mold infestation” the technician would be given bogus mold tests that always resulted in “toxic spores present” regardless if you swabbed the actual duct or nothing at all. Not to mention the actual duct cleaning job (typically $400) did basically nothing and the homeowner could’ve done a better job with a shopvac

  17. aubrey Says:
    December 9th, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    I was told that 15 out vents would be cleaned and one main vent. the guy came over and gave me an estimate of $500. I had acquired a groupon for $49. the guy said just doing the out vents and one main vent would accomplish nothing. Now I am in dispute with the groupon people for a refund which they won’t give and have to go ahead and waste the money and let them do it. Is their doing the 15 outvents and one main one going to accomplish anything?

  18. Robert Stratoberdha Says:
    December 14th, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Hi,
    I have a very disturbing situation in my house. I live in a 2400 sq ft home. Every day without exageration, there is dark gray lint on the floor .
    My wife is very upset ,end it is realy very nasty. Please,any comment or suggestions ?
    Thanks

  19. Molly Says:
    December 17th, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Glad I came across this site! I was just about to fall for a $29 full cleaning on Groupon. Realized my Air Ducts probably don’t need to be cleaned… :)

  20. James Says:
    December 18th, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    I have lived in Calgary for quite some time now. When I first moved here I couldn’t stand the humidity levels. Its like a desert come winter. When I first moved into my new home, the house inspector insisted I have my furnace and ducts cleaned. I was very sceptical about duct cleaning to begin with. The company I hired came on time and were very respectable from the start. Before mentioning anything they asked me what my concerns were and what issues I was having. They were more concerned about addressing my issues then bringing anything non related up. I ended up going with this company and getting a humidifier installed a couple days later after the cleaning. Its been almost 4 years now that I have been here. The humidifier is working great and the difference is incredible. They took me around explained step by step what they were doing and the reasons they were doing it. With all those other companies out there, I am glad I found them at this site.
    Take Care
    God Bless

  21. ILI Says:
    December 18th, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    fact is most homes have bad filter racks. when you insert the filter it doesn’t seal well to the sides so some of the air and dust bypass it and end up in the supply ductwork and into the house. Most of the dust in the supply ductwork settles down and doesn’t get blown in the house but some of it does when the blower starts up or when you put a new filter. If you have allergies or other health problems put in an electronic air cleaner, get your ducts cleaned and run the fan as much as you can afford. you can also get an ECM motor installed which is going to be worth it if you want to run the fan 24/7. If you have uninsulated metal ducts take down the ones you can and wash them. Then put them back and seal the joints. Cleaning the ductwork also improves airflow which is important to AC and Heat pump systems for efficiency. An electronic air cleaner will also improve airflow and static pressure because they usually have a much larger filter surface area. An electronic air cleaner also keeps the ac coil clean like new which means better efficiency and no cleaning needed. AC furnaces sometimes grow mold around the coil because of the condensation. Electronic air cleaners should be able to filter mold spores but the best remedy is installing a UV light next to the coil which will kill the mold.

  22. Sandy Hayward Says:
    December 19th, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    NEED FEEDBACK: I have an appt scheduled for this Sunday from Clean Fresh Air Service Inc. located in Toronto. The offer is $48.00 for up to 10 vents (reg. $199.99). Reading the reviews I am leary.

  23. Jesse Says:
    December 26th, 2014 at 10:09 am

    I had my ducts somewhat cleaned December 22, 2014. The hose of the machine the technitian used did not fit in some of my vents, therefore, he did not clean them. But I still paid $428.00 for the service. I will be calling the company on Monday, and kindly ask them to come back and clean the ducts they did not as they did not fullfill their part of the service.

  24. John Says:
    December 27th, 2014 at 7:18 am

    I reiside in the NE and lived in house for 43 years and avoided duct cleaning due to concerns about the amount of dust etc that would inevitably blow back into house after being disturbed. Is that valid?
    The preponderance of remarks indicate there is no health concern if ducts not cleaned. Is that valid?
    What degree of inefficiency can occur if not cleaned and to what extent would that affect operating or wear and tair costs?
    My ducts could be 60-80 years old and furnace 4-5.
    Thanks for professional opinions.

  25. Peggy Schmidt Says:
    January 10th, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    We have an extraordinary amount of dust everywhere within 2 days of dusting. Had ducts cleaned about 2 1/2 months ago. We’ve never had this much dust before.

  26. Kevin Says:
    January 28th, 2015 at 9:22 am

    John – a properly maintained negative air machine has 3 stages of filters, ending in a 99.998% Hepa filter. The loose dust gets sucked into the duct cleaning machine & through the filters. If any dust is entering the home, the machine is not well-maintained.

  27. Amanda Says:
    January 28th, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I purchased a Groupon for cleaning of unlimited air ducts and one return vent for $39. I should have checked into their hours first because they only offer services during normal business hours. So, with no evenings or weekends available you have to take time off work. I asked Groupon for a refund when I realized this and they refused because it wasn’t within the three day window. Then they didn’t even show up or call for the appointment. I called them after they were an hour late and they were going to call the local dispatch office and have them call me back within 15 minutes. I did not receive that call. I called again and was told I would get a call back from a manager. That didn’t happen either. So I asked Groupon for a refund again and they gave me Groupon bucks. When the survey came asking if I was satisfied with the Groupon customer service I said no, I want real money. I got my real refund the next day. Seems to me Groupon should stop dealing with these companies.

  28. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 28th, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Amanda,
    Sounds like you dodged a bullet. If they were that unorganized about showing up, just think what kind of job on the ducts the would have done!

  29. Navaratne Says:
    February 7th, 2015 at 7:08 am

    I thought the price advertised at 129.95 for duct cleaning was great and called to clean our ducts. When they came in to do the the job I could not be home and my wife dealt with them. My wife ended up paying 954.00. They convinced my wife that there was 1.5 inches of mold built up on the Evaporators and coils. It is not the money, my wife could not go to the basement to witness the mold build up or the coil fouling. We have not cleaned our ducts for at least 10 years. The last price we paid for our duct cleaning was 150.00. My concern is that they told my wife not to turn on the heat for 2 hours due the strong chemicals they used to kill the mold. Are these chemicals approved as safe?

  30. Winklbauer Mechanical Service Says:
    February 9th, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    I own a small mechanical company. My main work is service and system replacements. I have never been a believer in duct cleaning. The company I worked for before had our duct man come out and do my house. I saw no difference. Preventive maintance is what I recomend. Remove fan and clean, seal fan compartment to prevent dust from being pulled in, filters I install media filters, they are 5″ thick and pleated. I have tested them to make sure static presure was not a issue. Heat exchangers and AC coils need to be cleaned. I will tell you this to do a good cleaning I usually spent 1-2 hrs, When I’m finished I would not have a problem eating my diner on the system. Good filters, clean system and properly tuned up are my recomdation to anyone. I’ve included my email feel free to contact me with any questions. winkcfd@yahoo.com

  31. Rita Says:
    February 18th, 2015 at 9:00 am

    I paid $49 for a groupon. When the guy came today, he did an inspection first and said the ductwork first needed to be treated for mold; $348 for a spray that would last 8 months or $680 for an UV light purifier that would last 2 years. Also, the furnace needed to be cleaned for another $260. When I told him to just clean the ductwork, he said I would owe an additional $305 because the groupon was only good for 1 return and I had 2. I sent him packing with no services performed. Thankfully I am only out of $49! I will complain to groupon.

  32. Florence Wilt Says:
    February 25th, 2015 at 10:13 am

    I live in Port Orange, FL. I purchased a double wide mobile home and was saddened to learn that the previous owners were HEAVY smokers! They did a good job “hiding” the smoke smell the day we viewed this place. I did not have a home inspection done unfortunately. My question is: can duct cleaning remove the smoke smell from this place. The ceilings have been treated with Kilz and paint. I personally scrubbed down every wall, floor or surface. I also purchased a ODORFREE OZONE machine. It seemed to remove the odor for a short period of time but my friends are again complaining about the “smoke” odor in my home. The Ozone machine was $400 and I’m terribly upset that it didn’t clean the air as was promised.

    Please advise me on what steps I can take to rid my home of this cigarette smoke! I called Stanley Steemer and they want a fortue to clean my air ducts. I need your HELP,
    Thank you, Florence Wilt

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