How Often Should I Clean My Ducts?  

I get asked a lot of questions about duct cleaning. Is it necessary? How often do I need to clean them? How the heck do you clean a duct anyway?

The funny thing is that my company doesn’t actually clean ducts. However, I can share what I know from personal experience and what I’ve learned from hanging out with the duct cleaning folks – they’re total hooligans, by the way. Nah, I’m just kidding. (I get silly when I get overtired, sorry!)

So, the answer to all of your questions about duct cleaning… Are you ready? Because it’s total genius.

If your ducts look like this, you need to clean!
If your ducts look like this, you need to clean!

It depends.

GAH! Don’t you hate it when someone answers a question like that? But really, it depends. If you own a laundromat, or some other lint/dust/particle generating factory, then you should probably clean your ducts often. Generally a visual inspection – remove the registers and look – will be enough to tell you when it’s time to clean. Check annually and clean as needed. More if the ducts are dirty and less if they’re not. Some of the duct guys have these cool cameras that they can drive through your ducts and show you what they look like. Or, you could just take their word for it. They’re really NOT hooligans – I don’t know why I said that – now you’re going to be eyeballing your friendly neighborhood duct cleaner and it’s all my fault!

For the average building, office space, home or what-have-you, if you’re doing regular preventive maintenance to your HVAC system, you could probably go many, many, many years before you ever see buildup of icky stuff in your ductwork. In a normal, occupied building, an HVAC unit (air handler, furnace, etc.) draws air from inside the building, passes it through a filter – this is where the preventive maintenance comes in – then it warms or cools the air (depending on the type of unit/season/etc.) and sends it back out into the building. The air that is passing through the ductwork is actually cleaner than the air inside the building because it is filtered before it is blown through the ductwork. So unless extenuating circumstances exist, duct cleaning is not something you need to do annually or even regularly.

An example of a portable duct cleaning unit (aka Seamonster).
An example of a portable duct cleaning unit (aka Seamonster).

There are exceptions, of course. My own home is a great example. I recently purchased a cottage that had been vacant for years. The cottage was pretty run-down. A leaking roof and a bit of a furry creature problem – sounds better than raging rodent population, no? – created a moldy, mouse poop-y, smelly environment not only in the house, but also in the ductwork. (I know what you’re thinking, why the heck did you buy that place? Well, you’d really have to see it. Just don’t smell it!) So we spent the summer cleaning up the smelly carpets and ripping out the moldy drywall and then made sure that before we turned the heat on for the first time, we had the ducts professionally cleaned. Heaven only knows what was living in those ducts and we sure didn’t want it blowing around the house. Another example of an “exception” building would be a high density residential building or hospital. Probably not every year, but maybe every decade would be a good place to start, then work from there depending on what you find in your ducts.

As far as HOW ducts are cleaned. It’s kind of cool. The cleaning units used are basically vacuum cleaners on steroids. It looks like a giant sea creature made of a thick vacuum hose with a large stiff bristled brush head to knock the ick off the sides of the ducts so that the vacuum can suck it up. There are units that are truck-mounted and/or portable units, depending on the size of the job.

So I hope that helps answers your burning duct cleaning questions. If not, check out this great info from the EPA. And, of course, if you’re in the market for some duct cleaning, please give me a call. I’ll put you in touch with some of the best hooligans in the business.