One of the BEST parts of what I do is working with first time home buyers. It truly brings me so much joy to help them with their home and teach them all about how to maintain their home in the future. And the maintenance item everyone questions? Air duct cleaning. It’s true — no one wants to spend their time or money on this project. It’s not fun, there is no huge reveal at the end, and honestly, it’s kind of gross to think about needing this.
But the truth is, the air ducts are like the lungs of your house. They need to be free and clear in order for fresh and clean air to be delivered to every area of our home. If your air ducts are dirty and filled with bacteria, toxic dust and possibly mold, that is then being delivered to EVERY SINGLE SPACE of your entire home. It’s also going to make your cleaning and dusting A LOT more difficult.
So whether you’ve been putting it off or you didn’t even know it was important to a healthy home, this week I’m sharing with you the fine details of air duct cleaning. Specifically, signs it’s time to have your air ducts cleaned, how to hire a company, if it’s possible to DIY this yourself and then how to maintain your ducts to keep them cleaner.
DUST & DIRT IN YOUR HOME
Dust is more than just annoying, it’s actually toxic. House dust contains not only allergens, but it also contains toxins from around our space and the outside world:
Chemicals: Dust also contains fibers from carpets and upholstered furniture. It’s safe to say that yes, the chemicals used in carpets and within upholstered furniture are also within the house dust found in living spaces. This means a variety of toxins that we’ve brought into our home stick around in our indoor house dust.
Veena Singla, at NRDC.org published an incredibly in-depth look at exactly what chemicals are found within the dust in our homes. She lists out flame retardants (from furniture), phthalates (from soft plastics and vinyls), PFCs (from stain repellents in carpets), Formaldehyde and Environmental Phenols (from cleaning products) just to name a few.
These chemicals have been labeled as carcinogenic, endocrine and hormone disruptors as well as creating reproductive problems.
Pesticides: Pesticides are all throughout our home. They come in on our shoes and they end up in fine particles that come loose from our furniture, carpet and textiles. Breathing in these fine particles can lead to them becoming deeply embedded into lung tissue where it causes a number of health problems like poor development in children (STUDY), increased risk of cancer, chronic dermal irritation and rashes and immune system deficiencies. (STUDY)
DIRTY AIR FILTER AND OTHER SIGNS IT’S TIME
Frequently Dirty Air Filter: If your filter is constantly dirty and clogged, it’s likely that the air ducts are contributing to this problem entirely. Of course filters will get clogged over time, that’s their job — to collect dust and debris. But if it’s happening constantly on a regular basis, it may be time to have the air ducts cleaned by a professional.
You Just Moved In: You just never know if the previous owner had the same habits as you or if they had pets that may cause allergies to your family. Dust and debris and pet dander all end up inside the air ducts of the home, and so I always recommend an air duct cleaning to remove all of those potential allergens and toxins as soon as you move in.
You’ve Recently Completed a Home Improvement Project: Anytime you undergo a major renovation in your home, it’s a good idea to follow it up with an air duct cleaning. Building material dust is so fine and gets everywhere, even if you’re ridiculously careful in cleaning and blocking off areas. Because so many materials are toxic in nature, it’s an excellent idea to have your air ducts cleaned once your project is finalized.
Odor in Your Vents: If there’s a musty smell from your vents or any odor at all, it could be due to mold or mildew growing in the dust inside the vents. Gross, I know. But it’s a great reason to get your air ducts professionally cleaned to remove all that dust and potential mold.
Poor or Inconsistent Air Flow: If air flow is weak or very inconsistent around your home, it could be due to the fact that there is dust and debris preventing the air from flowing freely in your ducts. It’s a good sign that they should be cleaned to allow the air to flow consistently throughout your home.
Your Home Becomes Dusty Very Quickly: Ever feel like you dusted yesterday and suddenly there’s a layer of dust on everything again? It could be that your duct work is pushing dust into your home because the ducts need to be cleaned.
HOW TO HIRE AN AIR DUCT CLEANING COMPANY
First, it’s important to find someone who is certified by the National Air Duct Cleaning Association (NADCA). Likely they will have this right on their website, and if they don’t it’s certainly worth asking. And if someone claims to be certified by the EPA, this is a red flag — there is no certification with the EPA for this service. They should also be insured. ALWAYS, ALWAYS make sure a company you’re hiring carries insurance. This not only protects them, but ultimately it protects you if something disastrous happens.
Make sure you understand exactly what they will be doing in your home. Verify that they will be cleaning ALL of the components of your ducts and vents. This would include both the supply and return air ducts. It would also include all registers, grilles and diffusers, air plenum, blower motor and assembly, air filter, heat exchanger and drop pans.
They should both break contaminants loose AND collect them in a way that does not spread dust inside your home. Speaking of which, you’ll want to ensure that they have a solution for preventing dust particles from spreading throughout your home. Oftentimes this is a vacuum they use to create continued negative pressure on the entire HVAC system, which will prevent the spread of contaminants.
You can also verify that they don’t use any harsh chemicals during the process. You can even ask for an SDS sheet to see the ingredients of the solution. Only chemicals registered with the EPA should be used, and don’t even necessarily HAVE to be used in all homes.
Check to see if the company can show you before and after images or video of your ducts to ensure that they are clean and that they’re process works. You’ll also want to make sure they seal up your ducts when they’re finished.
Finally, pick their brain about mold. Do they understand how toxic it is to health? If they brush past the answer or they don’t think that mold is really a cause for concern, this is a HUGE red flag.
CAN YOU DIY AIR DUCT CLEANING?
I mean yes, you could. Would it be as thorough as a company that uses vacuums and negative pressure? Probably not. But yes, in a pinch, you could remove SOME of the dust and debris in your ducts. You’ll need to purchase a vent cleaning brush that attaches to a drill.
First, make sure your HVAC system is off at the thermostat or turn it off at the unit itself. (just remember to turn that switch back on when you’re done).
Second, remove the grilles from all HVAC vents as well as return vent grilles. Wall vents you will need to use a screwdriver to remove. Floor vents usually you can just lift off to remove.
Now it’s time to clean the grilles with warm, soapy water and a soft brush in your kitchen sink. You can also wash it outside with a hose, brush and mild soap. MAKE SURE YOUR GRILLES CAN DRY COMPLETELY BEFORE REINSTALLING THEM.
You’re now ready to clean the actual ducts.
Read the directions on your cleaning brush and make sure that it has been put together properly. YOU WILL ALWAYS USE THE DRILL ROTATING FORWARD — NEVER IN REVERSE.
You’ll essentially loosen the dust with the duct brush and pull back through whichever vent you’re working on. Make sure you have your shopvac or vacuum handy to vacuum the brush as you pull it out of the duct. You may need to repeat this a few times for each vent you’re working on.
After you’ve cleaned your ducts, replace your air filter and reinstall your vent covers. Turn on your furnace and you’re good to go.
It’s important to note that a DIY air duct cleaning is far less thorough than a professional air duct cleaning by a company. But in a pinch, it can remove some dust from your ducts.
HOW TO MAINTAIN HEALTHY DUCTWORK:
Once you’ve had your air ducts cleaned, it’s time to maintain them and limit the amount of dust they can collect.
- Change Your Dirty Air Filter Regularly: The more frequently you change your furnace filter, the less dust and debris will build up in your vents. Be diligent about this home maintenance item and it will pay off. The better your air filter, the more frequently you should be changing it because it’s catching A LOT more dust and debris. My top pick is NordicPure Carbon Filters with a Merv 12 rating.
- Keep Up On Dust Removal: The more dust you remove from your home, the less will get into your ducts in the long run. This means dusting and vacuuming on at least a weekly basis. Make sure to clean out those forgotten areas too. Deep dust cleaning is just as important as the day to day cleaning. My Healthy Home Blueprint course walks you through ALL of this and gives you a plan to reduce dust in big ways at home.
- Keep Vents Clean and Open: Allowing air to travel through your vents will help keep them dry and keep the dust moving through your vents rather than settling in them. You can periodically clean your vents with a vacuum or by removing it and cleaning it with warm soapy water.
- No Shoe Policy: Shoes bring in SO MUCH DIRT, not to mention toxins. Leave your shoes at the door and have a designated area for them in your home. Commit to keeping shoes out of your main living spaces to prevent unnecessary dirt and toxins from coming inside.
- Maintain Lower Indoor Humidity Levels: Dust likes to adhere to water vapor in the air, and it’s more likely to collect in your duct system when it does. Keep your indoor humidity levels right around 35% wherever you can. This means running vented fans in the bathroom and kitchen to reduce humidity as well as reducing condensation on windows when you see it. Be sure to sign up for The Healthy Home Blueprint, where you’ll get an entire lesson JUST on maintaining the PERFECT indoor humidity levels.
- Add an Air Purifier to the Mix: An indoor air purifier is an EXCELLENT addition to any home, but especially to reduce dust and debris in a home. The larger dust particles will quickly get filtered out of your indoor air by just about any air purifier. The better your air purifier, the smaller the particle that gets removed. Medify Air is my top pick for air purifiers and you can use my coupon code HHOTB15 to get an additional $15 off your purchase.
Our indoor air is SO vital to our health and wellness, and it’s one of the things you have a lot of control over inside your home. Home maintenance like air duct cleaning may not be the most fun chore or budget item, but it is certainly well worth it to reduce toxic dust and keep your home free from mold.