A popular and trending item in HVAC “maintenance” is duct cleaning. Many new cleaning companies are now claiming that having your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system cleaned out dramatically improves air quality in the house and should form an essential part of regular home care. While that claim seems a logical house maintenance activity, is cleaning air ducts worth it?

In fact, you will be surprised to know that the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t recommend cleaning the air ducts except on an as-needed basis. This is because of the continuing uncertainty surrounding about the benefits of the activity and whether it’s worth the effort, time, and money.

Another sketchy claim made by many duct-cleaning outfits is that dirty ducts overburden cooling and heating equipment, contributing to wasted energy, hence the need to clean the ducts. Although much energy is wasted, most wastage arises from inadequate insulation, inefficient equipment, unsealed ductwork, and leaks around windows and doors.

What is Duct Cleaning?

Air ducts work by pulling air from home into the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, cooling or heating and then pushing it back through the ducts again into your home. Generally, it refers to cleaning the different components of the HVAC system, including the grilles, diffusers, registers, supply and return ducts, drip pans, heat exchangers, coils, fan motor, fan housing/casing, and the air handling unit housing.

Whether you decide to clean the air ducts or not, the most effective way of avoiding contamination is by preventing dirt and water from entering the system. If you choose to clean your heating and cooling system, it’s crucial to ensure the service provider doing the work agrees to clean all system components, and importantly, that they are qualified to do that.

When Duct Cleaning Is Helpful

Duct cleaning may not necessarily be a bad idea altogether, but the truth is that in most cases, it’s not necessary. Depending on who does the cleaning, in some instances, it might make matters worse. But when correctly done, duct cleaning can be useful in several situations. Let’s look at several situations when it may be worth it.

Illness in the Family

Suppose someone in the house is suffering or experiencing an unexplained allergy-related illness even after decontaminating your home. In that case, it may be prudent to consider having the ducts cleaned to rule out the HVAC system as the culprit.

Significant Mold Growth

If there is evidence of significant and visible mold growth on your HVAC’s mechanical parts or in the ducts, that might warrant cleaning. There are, however, several important points you must keep in mind concerning detecting mold in heating and cooling systems. Because many sections of your HVAC may not be easily accessible for a directly visible inspection, make it a point to ask the service provider to clearly show you evidence that the mold they claim actually exists.

Be alert that although a substance may closely resemble mold, a positive and cleat determination of whether it’s really mold or not can only be made by an expert. It may even require laboratory analysis before a final confirmation is made.

If the air ducts in your house are insulated, and the insulation gets moldy or wet, it cannot be cleaned effectively, and you should remove and replace it. If the root cause of mold growth is not corrected in the first place, mold growth is likely to recur.

Insect or Rodent Infestation 

Duct cleaning should generally only be undertaken in response to specific and identifiable problems. Insect or rodent infestations are such a reason. Depending on the severity, the infestation may call for cleaning or replacing. Even a bigger problem is the possibility of damaging the filters. Weak filters are ineffective at removing hairs, dandruff, and other harmful stuff that can cause sickness.

If there’s clear evidence of nesting or infestation in your ducts or HVAC system, have them removed, followed by cleaning the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning unit.

Excessive Dust and Debris 

Ducts may be clogged with excessive amounts of debris, dust, or particles released from the supply registers. You may want to have your air ducts cleaned regularly simply because it’s the logical thing to do. Air ducts get dirty over time, and they should be cleaned occasionally. With a newly installed HVAC system, or when you move into a new home, check the filter monthly to establish how quickly it gets dirty during different seasons.

While the debate continues about the value of periodically cleaning the air ducts, there is no evidence that suggests it could be detrimental, provided it’s done correctly and by professionals. Changing your air filters frequently is the best way of keeping dust, debris, allergens, and other airborne particles out of your home.

Following House Renovations

If you have renovated or remodeled your home, the ductwork may need cleaning. This is particularly important if there was lead paint removal, asbestos abatement, or significant dust. During home renovations, air ducts should be sealed because dangerous debris or dust may become lodged within the ductwork.

If you are considering selling your home, cleaning the air ducts ensures that you are leaving it in the best possible condition for the next occupant with a well-functioning HVAC system.

The Verdict 

Often, duct cleaning is an emotional sell. Because you want good air quality for your family, it makes lots of sense to clean the ducts in your house. Knowledge surrounding air duct cleaning is in the early stages, and therefore, making blanket recommendations may not be possible. Having your HVAC system or ducts cleaned out has not been proven to boost your overall health. It’s only in certain circumstances that cleaning becomes necessary and may be deemed to be worth it.

Whether they should be cleaned in the first place is still debatable. Most HVAC systems are self-sufficient and can cope with standard filtering taking place at the ducts intake. As long as your filters are well-maintained, your air ducts should serve you for years. Air ducts don’t need regular cleaning, and once every 5-7 years may suffice.