How To Clean Your Own Air Ducts

Clean

Knowing how to clean your air ducts can save you a lot of money since professional duct cleaners charge a small fortune to do it.

Fingertip showing dust picked up from home air duct that needs to be cleaned

Is cleaning your home’s air ducts necessary? Probably not. Is it a task that I do? You bet. See, one day, I dropped an earring down a floor register and opened it to find a massive spiderweb occupied by an equally massive spider. Ever since then, I’ve made a point to clean my air ducts regularly. It lets me sleep at night.

Also, I always notice less dust in our home for weeks after I’ve cleaned the ducts. (In between duct cleaning, I also do these other things to reduce dust because it bothers my allergies horribly.)

Clean Air Ducts Blow Cleaner Air

It just makes sense. If you’ve got forced air blowing through an air duct filled with dust, pet hair, Cheerios, or big ol’ hairy spiders, they’re bound to spread around a bit. Why put up with that? With less debris in your home’s air ducts, you’ll see less floating around in your home’s air. That means you’ll see less dust, too. Depending on what’s been hiding in your system, you also might notice fewer odors and reduced allergy symptoms.

How to Clean Your Home’s Air Ducts and Vents

These simple steps explain how to clean your air ducts. Your home will smell fresher, and you’ll see less dust floating around.

Time required: 5 minutes per vent or less

Equipment

Materials

  • Water
  • Liquid dish soap
  • All-purpose cleaner

 Instructions

Hand adjusting thermostat on wall

Step 1: Preparing to Clean Your Air Ducts

Before you begin, gather all of your equipment and supplies. You’ll need a step-stool or small ladder for wall vents and probably a screwdriver as well. Most registers take flat head screwdrivers but check yours before climbing on the ladder. Then use the button on your home’s thermostat to turn off the system before you begin cleaning your air ducts and registers. You absolutely don’t want the system to kick on when your face is inches from the dusty mess.

Step 2: Remove and Clean Your Vent Covers

Floor registers are easy to remove. Usually, you can lift them. For wall registers, you may need to use a screwdriver. If your vent is extremely dusty, you might want to vacuum the vent first rather than spread the mess through your home. Use your machine’s dust attachment to remove as much dirt as you can, then remove the vent cover.

Wash the vent cover in a sink of hot, soapy water. Scrub as needed, but take care not to damage the finish. You can clean unpainted metal registers in a dishwasher but wash painted or varnished ones by hand. Once they’re clean, shake off excess moisture, then wipe them dry. (Here are more things you can clean in the dishwasher along with your air duct vent covers.)

Equipment for cleaning your own air duct

Step 3: Clean Inside Your Duct

While the vent covers dry, insert the dryer vent brush into the duct as far as you can reach. Rotate the brush and gently run it along the duct’s walls. Use a light touch when doing this in Mylar flex ducts (the crinkly, plastic kind) since they are easily damaged and dislodged. Remove the brush.

Next, attach the flexible hose attachment to your vacuum cleaner. Insert it into the duct and turn on your machine to clean up the debris you’ve dislodged. Again, if you have flex ducts, be gentle doing this and focus your cleaning on the vent’s floor. Remove the hose and turn off your vacuum cleaner.

Step 4: Remove Residue

Using a damp microfiber cloth, reach into the duct as far as you can to wipe the interior clean with a damp cloth. You’ll want to rinse the rag repeatedly because you’ll find a lot of dust and gunk in there even after you’ve vacuumed. To clean stubborn dirt, spray an all-purpose cleaner on the cloth before wiping.

Cold air returns are often unlined, so you’ll find bare wood or drywall behind the vent cover. Don’t saturate this area while wiping it clean, or you can wind up with a mold problem. Rinse your cloth often and wring it out well as you remove grime.

A decorative bathroom stainless steel metal silver floor vent with swirls

Step 5: Finish Up

Wipe the area around the duct, including the floor or wall. Then, put the clean vent cover back on and restart your system. Then run your system (or just the fan part of it if you’d like) for 30 minutes. This helps filter any dust loosened in your system while also drying the parts you’ve wiped clean. Once thirty minutes are up, change your system’s air filter to eliminate all the extra dust it collected for you.

How Often Should You Clean Your Air Ducts?

Follow these steps to clean your home’s air ducts at least twice a year. If someone in your home has indoor allergies, or if you have a lot of pets, do it each season. You can use this method to clean cold air returns, too. And always change your filter after you’ve cleaned your ducts.

12 Comments

  1. Margaret Hawrysh says:

    Often use the vacuum hose but have not heard of a dryer vent brush, would do a much better job of cleaning.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      The dryer vent brush is fantastic. It works on refrigerator coils, too!

  2. 5 stars
    if you do not want to put that dryer cleaner down your ducts (I don’t because if it gets stuck somewhere you will be stuck calling a pro to get it out! anyway what I did was take the furnace filter out for max air flow, and then close off all your vents leaving only one open at a time to clean. This directs all the air from your system only to the vent going to the opening you are cleaning. Then stick the flexible tubing of your vacuum cleaner down a bit into the vent and turn on the vacuum. Then go to the thermostat and turn on the fan only and let the vacuum run for a few minutes. That does a great job and you can do it with or without the brush. When done put a fresh filter in. I only do this for the vents where the air blows out. I would not recommend cleaning the cold air returns this was as you would likely be forcing dirt and dust into your furnace. If you want to vacuum the cold air returns, turn the system off

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Becky,
      Thanks for sharing that tip!

  3. GaryKinnard says:

    My wife and I are suffering from allergies. We have lived in this house for 37 years and just found out that the A/C ducts need to be cleaned. We had a company one and do the job, but come to find out all they cleaned was the registers and boxes. Their house was to big to go in the duct and we are still getting dust all over the place. I have been looking for a good roto brush so I can do it myself, but all I can find are companies that sell equipment for a high price. I do not want to start my own business, I just want for my wife and I to breath better and keep from getting sick / also not have to dust twice a day. Please can you help. Thank you.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Gary,
      The brush I’d mentioned works great in my home.

  4. I’m going to try this with the long brush I use for my dryer vent. Better than nothing.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’ve used mine for it in a pinch. Be sure to vacuum any loosened debris.

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