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Blog May 11, 2016

How to Clean Air Ducts


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In managing the comfort of your home, keeping things cool or heating them is something that many do everyday. Over time, the ducts that channel temperature-adjusted air throughout experience the build up of lint, dust, and overall gunk which needs to be cleared out progressively before it has time to develop. Though often this is referred to as a job for a professional, it is possible to make air duct cleaning a DIY project. It does take some materials and work, but the process of clearing out ducts can be done without too much hassle, making it a chore that can be completed every now and again around the house.     

What Air Ducts Do

In the home, air ducts are responsible for the distribution of air to the many rooms throughout. Part of heating and cooling the interior of the home also involves sucking air into the conditioner, where it is either warmed or cooled in order to meet the demand of occupants. To operate optimally, air ducts need to be able to carry out the entirety of their functions unhindered. If this is not a possibility, then the circulation of cool or warm air within homes will occur less efficiently and the effectiveness of the system responsible for controlling the temperature will be minimized.  

Health Implications Of Air Duct Cleaning

In addition to improving the efficiency of the ventilation system within homes, many have concluded that cleaning air ducts can actually prevent the development of health problems over time. And while dirty air ducts can act as a distribution method for contaminants and should be addressed, the trace amounts of dust within ducts in many homes is normal and does not require immediate action. As the effects of cleaning air ducts has been examined over time, the general consensus is that the benefits to health are still relatively unknown, a claim supported by the Environmental Protection Agency. The situation should be addressed in the event of serious contamination but for standard circumstances, the true effect of air duct cleaning is still being examined.

What You’ll Need to Clean Your Air Ducts

The process of cleaning air ducts yourself requires several items:

  • Vacuum Cleaner – When selecting a vacuum cleaner for your ducts, choose one with a forceful hose
  • Dust Brush – The dust brush should be durable and should be equipped with thick bristles to maximize its effectiveness
  • Drill – In order to remove the registers, you will need a drill that includes phillips and flathead bits to undo the fasteners
  • Microfiber Cleaning Cloth – This is necessary to wipe down the interior of the duct after it has been vacuumed
  • Dryer Vent Brush –  This will be attached to the drill and its purpose is to clean out the lint within the ducts

How to clean your Air Ducts

For floor registers, the process of cleaning them out begins relatively simply as they can be pulled up. Any wall registers will have to be unscrewed with the use of the drill. From there you will want to wash the registers, which can be done in the dishwasher for metal registers unless they have been painted, in which case they will have to be hand washed.

After addressing the registers, you will begin cleaning the interior of the ducts by attaching the vent brush to the drill. To avoid losing it within the ducts as you clean, make sure that the brush is secured tightly onto the drill. From there, activate the drill and pull it back out being careful to cut it off with one to two feet to spare to prevent the dust that is being cleaned out from going everywhere. This should be followed up with the vacuum cleaner and its hose and brush.  

Once again, confirm that the brush is secured on the vacuum and stick it within the duct. Activate the vacuum and remove any buildup remaining inside of the duct along with the lint that was broken up. Afterwards you will likely want to vacuum off the brush as well and repeat with the other ducts. To finish off cleaning out your air duct, use the microfiber cleaning cloth to get into the duct and hand wipe the interior. This will require you to give the cloth a thorough wash repeatedly afterwards. After that, confirm that there is no leftover residue around the openings and return the registers to their place.  

How to check for less obvious leaks

In addition to build up contributing to less efficient ventilation, homeowners may find their air conditioner or furnace could be costing them unnecessarily. The cause of this is leaks that may be present in your ductwork that not only run up electricity bills but can also have a detrimental effect on the environment, stemming from the waste. Though some leaks are obvious because they can be seen as clear cracks in the ductwork and frequently appear around the joints, not all leaks, even ones that drain serious electricity and harm your comfort, are that obvious. Addressing them is a matter of finding them and putting an end to them.

Buy a Smoke Pencil or Incense Stick

As an almost foolproof method for finding leaks in your home’s ductwork, you will need to purchase a smoke pencil or incense stick. From there, you will need to activate your heat or air so that there is air blowing out. In order to find the leak, you will have to go into either your attic or your basement with the pencil or stick and proceed to light it. Hold it near the ductwork, especially the joints where leaks often lurk. The smoke pencil and incense stick are necessary because often leaks are smaller, so they won’t be able to to be felt by hand alone. If the smoke quickly blows away near a spot, it will alert you to the presence of a leak.

Leaky Ducts in Your Walls

Leaky ducts in walls is where things can get tricky. For those up for the challenge, there is the possibility to isolate the leaks but it is important to note that the going may be tough. Many HVAC pros themselves have a difficult time finding those smaller leaks in walls. To try and do it yourself, find your air handler. Partition the supply side from the return side with cardboard and masking tape, then by simply using a blower door and pressure pan, you can take a reading at each register. Because your ductwork’s supposed to be a closed system, each register should show a reading of 0.

Bringing In A Professional

At the end of the day, you may not be able to isolate those leaks that are deep inside your walls. At that point, the best thing to do is call up a contractor. Not all HVAC pros are good at isolating ductwork leaks, so you may have to do your research. Look into customer reviews and also be sure to ask questions. Something as simple as,”How would you go about isolating a ductwork leak?” can shed valuable insights based on the specificity used.

It is also helpful to look for an HVAC pro with a couple decades of experience. Check their reviews out online, and look for 4 stars or more. Confirming that they have an A+ BBB rating will also be a good metric for a professional’s capability.


Cleaning out the air ducts in your home does not necessarily have to be left to professionals as it is possible to take on the job yourself. While it does require some tools and a bit of elbow grease, clearing out the ducts will improve your airflow and the overall efficiency of your system.

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