A vacuum hose inserted into a floor vent to clean a home's air ducts

Want Less Dust? Clean Your Air Ducts and Floor Vents

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Do you need to clean your home’s air ducts? Maybe not, but I clean our floor vents on schedule, so I clean our ducts, too. From ancient stray Cheerios to an enormous spider in a sprawling web, I’ve been shocked at what I’ve found. (Seriously, the spider was huge.)

I clean our floor vents once a season—every 3 months— to reduce dust. Every other time, I also clean the ducts as far as I can—which is pretty far when you use the right tools.

And unlike duct cleaning companies, I’m not filling my system with water that leaks into the walls and turns into mold.

Step 1: Power down.

Whether I’m cleaning the floor vents or cleaning my own air ducts, I turn off the thermostat. That way, it’s not blowing dust and whatever else might be in there right into my face.

Step 2: Remove vent covers.

Like most homes, mine has both floor vents and wall vents. If I’m just cleaning floor vents, all I need to do is lift them up.

But since I’m short, I need a step ladder to reach wall vents and a Phillips screwdriver to remove them.

Step 3: Wash and rinse.

A quick trip through a sink of warm, soapy water gets the vent covers clean. If I need to, I’ll scrub them with an old toothbrush to loosen dirt. Then it’s rinse and air dry while I clean the vents and ducts.

Pro Tip

You can also wash unpainted metal vent covers in the dishwasher.

Step 4: Clean the ducts.

To clean the metal air ducts, I use a rotary duct brush attached to my cordless drill for the metal floor ducts. I got a 30′ one but they come in several sizes.

The crinkly Mylar duct in our guest room addition is too fragile for that, so it gets a flexible dryer brush. I use the dryer brush on our cold air returns, too. You can find all those things online or at the hardware store.

Rotary duct brush method

With the rotary duct brush inserted in the drill’s bit holder, I feed the line into the duct about 4-6 feet and turn the drill to low.

As the brush spins around cleaning the metal air duct walls, I pull the line out slowly. The instant I see the brush in the vent I shut off the drill so it doesn’t fling dust everywhere. Then it’s time for the vacuum step below.

Flexible dryer brush method

The flexible dryer brush is the same one I used to remove lint when I’m cleaning the dryer. It’s bendy, so I shape it by hand and feed it into the Mylar air vent or cold air return and gently move it around to loosen debris. Next up, the vacuum step.

Both methods: vacuum hose

Since both methods loosen dust buildup within the duct, I still need to get that stuff out. So, I twist my vacuum cleaner’s dust brush attachment onto the hose and make sure it’s on good and tight. Then, down the duct or into the cold air return it goes, far as it can reach.

Step 5: Blow it out.

To be sure I’ve got out as much debris as I can, I flip the thermostat on and run the whole house fan for a few minutes. With the vent covers off, this pushes out more dust.

Step 6: Clean the vents.

Time to get rid of the last, stubborn grime inside the vents and cold air registers, and on the floor or wall around them.

If I’m only cleaning the floor vents, I skip straight to this step.

This just takes a warm, soapy microfiber cloth—make sure it’s not too drippy, so it doesn’t leave puddles in the ducts. Wipe again with plain water to get rid of the soapy residue and let it dry.

Pro Tip

The edges of the duct coming out of the air vents are sharp. So, watch out, or wear cleaning gloves to protect your skin.

Step 7: Return the covers.

Once the vent registers are dry, they go back on before I run the system again.

When my kids were little, I’d add vent register filters to keep those errant Cheerios out of our system.

They vent filters help allergies, too, but they made our system work harder to cool our home in the summer, so I don’t use them anymore.

Step 8: Fresh filter.

Once the covers are in place, I replace the furnace filter with a fresh one and turn the system back on. If the inside of the housing looks messy, I give it a quick vacuum while I’m there.

That’s it, my quick and easy routine to clean my own air ducts, floor vents, wall vents and cold air returns.

It improves my home’s air quality and lets me sleep better knowing there’s no huge spider running around in there. Seriously, the thing was HUGE!

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10 Comments

  1. Della. Baker says:

    This each very helpful to me. I have done cleaning myself but I just needed to not do to much So I know I been doing the right thing for my family. Saving money too. Thanks again

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re quite welcome.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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