How To Clean Your Air Ducts

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These simple steps explain how to clean your home’s air ducts yourself. In minutes, you’ll remove dust, pet hair, mold, and other allergens.

Equipment for cleaning your own air ducts to remove dust and mold

Steps to Clean Your Home’s Air Ducts and Vents

Before you start cleaning your ducts, you should keep a few safety tips in mind. These tips are essential for your safety and protecting your heating and cooling system.

  • Always turn your home’s thermostat off before you begin to clean your air ducts.
  • Have a helper nearby if you need to climb a ladder or step-stool to reach high wall vents or ceiling registers.
  • You may also want to wear eye protection to shield your eyes from falling dust or debris when working with overhead air vents.

STEP 1: Gather Your Equipment and Materials

You need a dryer vent brush plus warm soapy water, cleaning cloths, and a vacuum cleaner with a dust brush attachment to clean your air ducts. You will also need a screwdriver to open wall or ceiling vents and a step-stool to reach them.

STEP 2: Remove and Clean Your Vent Covers

Floor registers are easy to remove. Usually, you can lift them. For wall registers, use a screwdriver. If your vent cover is extremely dusty, use your vacuum’s dust attachment to clean the surface before removing it. Wash the vent cover in a sink of warm, soapy water. Scrub as needed, but take care not to damage the finish. You can wash unvarnished metal vent covers in the dishwasher.

To whiten plastic vent covers, wash them in a sink of warm, soapy water then put them on a baking sheet or in another large container, and cover them with hydrogen peroxide. Set them in a sunny spot for an hour or two and wash them again in hot, soapy water. Shake off excess moisture then let them fully air dry before you reinstall them.

STEP 3: Clean Inside Your Duct

Insert the vent brush into the duct as far as you can. Rotate the brush and run it along the duct’s walls. Use a light touch in crinkly Mylar flex ducts, which are easily damaged. If you have exposed ductwork, like in a basement, tapping it a few times before can help loosen debris, too. Finally, remove the brush and insert your vacuum cleaner’s hose as far as you can to clean up the debris. If you have a shop vac, you can get further in your duct system using an extension hose.

STEP 4: Wipe the Rest

After vacuuming, wipe the vent’s interior clean with a damp microfiber cloth. Rinse and change rags as needed. Spray an all-purpose cleaner on the cloth before wiping it to clean stubborn dirt. Also, be sure to clean the area around the duct, including the floor or wall.

STEP 5: Finish Up

Put the clean vent cover back on and turn on your thermostat. Run your system for 30 minutes to filter any hidden dust loosened during cleaning. After thirty minutes are up, change your system’s air filter to eliminate all the extra dust it collected for you.

Why Do This Yourself?

When forced air from your HVAC flows through ducts and vents filled with dust, dirt, and pet hair, that debris spreads throughout your home. Clean those ducts, and you’ll have cleaner indoor air — and 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.

Do You Need to Hire Professionals to Clean Your Air Ducts?

Should you call a duct-cleaning company to do this task? In short: no. Companies claim that you need a pro to clean your ducts because they use specialized equipment. What they’re referring to involves sending pressurized water through your duct system to flush out the gunk.

The problem is that air ducts develop gaps over time, which means pressurized water gets into your walls. Once there, it causes mold and mildew. This is the exact situation the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns against when it says that “preventing water and dirt from entering the system is the most effective way to prevent contamination.”

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.

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  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. 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. 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. Christopher Sullivan says:

      You want to leave the filter in when you are cleaning out the ducts! It is true the air will flow better, but that means any of the dust that is headed that way will get into your furnace and cause problems later. It is never a good idea to run a furnace without a filter in it especially when you are cleaning it. I work in the HVAC industry and this is one thing they told us on day one all those years ago.

  5. 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!