How to Clean Air Ducts Yourself

HVAC Duct Cleaning Tips for Easy DIY

With spring upon us and summer gaining on us, it may be a good idea to clean the air vents and ducts that the household air you breathe is traveling through. There is an army of dust, dander, dirt, hair and bug fragments that are all too comfortable hanging out in your air vents and ducts which can pollute the air you breathe.

If you start thinking about all that dust and debris that find their way into your air ducts, it only makes sense you should probably clean those vents every now and then. After all, who wants dirty, dusty air circulating in their home?

Truth is, cleaning your air ducts is crucial when it comes to improving your home’s air quality. If you or someone in your household suffers from allergies, then all the more reason to pay attention to this!

Did you know that the average family generates nearly forty pounds worth of dust annually? This doesn’t even take into account the pet hair, mold, and dust that blows in through your open windows. Not cleaning your air ducts means that most of this dirt doesn’t escape your home and lingers in constant circulation throughout it, proving especially hellish to someone in your family who suffers from allergies.

Moreover, dirt and dust spread quicker in a home with dirty ducts. No matter how diligent you may dust and clean your home, fine particulate contaminants, including dangerous allergens, flow quickly from room to room to cover tables, smart phones and kids’ toys.

What’s the EPA say? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks indoor air pollution ask one of the top five risks to public health and the millions of particles of debris and other allergens living in your air ducts are no help.

Are there various duct systems? There are many different designs of duct systems, such as attic systems and underground systems, but the theory of cleaning these systems is the same. You may not be able to access all part of these systems (for example, underground ducts), but you can make a difference in your air quality by cleaning the parts of the system you can reach.

Why do it yourself?

Most homeowners have never been given any sort of training on how to care for their homes and, as such, they spend a lot of time and money learning things the hard way.

But home air duct cleaning doesn’t need to be one of those things you pay someone else to do or you spend a lot of time and energy learning how to do it.

You probably don’t own a high-powered, truck-mounted vacuum system with 150-foot hoses. But we’re going to tell you how you can clean the air ducts yourself. No, you won’t get as deeply into your duct system as a commercial company will. That’s fine. Most of the debris in your ducts gathers toward the registers anyway and you can reach those spots on your own.

Cleaning Air Ducts with a Vacuum

Things you’ll need to clean your air ducts

Here are the air duct cleaning tools that you need to complete the task:

  • Furnace filter. You’ll definitely need a new furnace filter at the end of the job. Make sure you choose the correct filter option for your furnace.
  • Gloves. Heavy duty gloves and a dust mask or goggles to wear while cleaning.
  • Vacuum. You’ll need a vacuum to suck up the dust and dirt from your air registers. A standard household vacuum probably isn’t powerful enough. Make sure the vacuum you rent has a long hose to reach into the ducts.
  • Brush. Something that resembles a toilet brush will work well, but if you don’t have one of these handy, a stiff bristled paint brush will do the trick.
  • Power drill. Using a power drill to remove screws from the vents can be handy, but you can also use a screwdriver. Make sure the screwdriver is compatible with the screws on the various types of registers in your home.
  • Cleaning cloth. A microfiber cloth works best.
  • Paper towels. You probably don’t want to do more cleaning when you’re finished. To make the most of your time, make sure you have an ample supply of paper towels handy – they’ll be quite useful.

Which vents are which?

If you’re a new homeowner, you might not know or understand that your home has various types of vents going into the ductwork of your home. An easy way to identify each type is with a tissue test. If you place a tissue on the vent and it sticks, it’s a return duct, meaning the vent is there to bring air back to the HVAC system from the house. If the tissue doesn’t stick to the vent, it’s a supply vent, which blows out warm or cool air from the HVAC system, depending whether your furnace or air conditioner is operating.

Don’t be confused if there are vents on the outside of your home. These vents allow air to flow into and out of your attic and are not part of your HVAC system and don’t need to be cleaned for air duct purposes.

Step-by-Step duct cleaning

  1. Remove the screws from air duct covers and return-air grill plates.
  2. Cover up your supply vents (those vents that supply heat or air to the rooms) with paper towels. Cover the vents not being cleaned at the time to keep the dust and dirt from blowing in and out while you’re cleaning other areas. Simply lift the supply vents and place a paper towel between the vent cover and the wall or floor. The vent should hold in place without having to put all the screws back in since you’ll be returning to remove the paper towels and cleaning each air vent.
  3. Set your thermostat to the “fan on” position. The fan will help move the dust that you loosen while cleaning. make sure the heat and cool mode is off. If you have an older thermostat that doesn’t have a “fan only” setting, run the heat.
  4. Loosen dust in ducts. Knock loose any buildup of dust in the duct work. A light tapping will loosen clumps of dust sticking to the inside of the ducts. Simply take the handle of your brush and begin tapping on any accessible duct work you have in the basement. This will help break up any deposits of dampened dust that may have stuck to the insides of the duct.
  5. Clean supply registers. Now you can begin sweeping out the dust in your supply register. With the vacuum running and the end of the hose near the register, lift the register. Use the hose to catch any dust that’s being pushed out by the fan and proceed to sweep as far into the register’s piping as the hose can reach. Use your brush to scuff loose any built-up dust in the register. Now, using a damp microfiber cloth, reach down into the duct as far as you can and wipe the interior clean. You’ll want to rinse the cloth repeatedly because chances are, you’ll find a lot of dust and gunk up there the first time you do this. As you go through the house sweeping out the supply registers, you can remove and dispose of the paper towels you’ve put in place.
  6. Clean the return registers. Sweep out your return air registers. Again, brush and sweep as far back into the register cavity as possible.
  7. Shut off fan and furnace. Shut the fan off at the thermostat and the power off to the furnace via the service switch or breaker panel. Do not just shut off the thermostat because that doesn’t turn off the unit’s power.
  8. Clean out blower compartment and return air boot. With the power off, you can remove the panels on the front of the furnace and access the blower compartment and the return air boot. Use your vacuum to sweep up the dust built up in the blower compartment and return air boot. This is where the great bulk of you dust will be. Since you’re in here, you should clean the furnace fan as well.
  9. Replace the furnace filter. You won’t get the complete benefit of clean ducts if you have HVAC filters clogged with the dust and contaminants they are designed to catch. Purchasing a better filter will certainly cut down on the dust in your home but the better the filter, the more often you should change it. A dirty filter limits the airflow to the fan resulting in the blower motor running hotter and reducing its lifespan. Savvy homeowners know that to reduce dust in their homes, they should clean or change furnace filters at least once a month.

Replacing Dirty Air Filter

Here’s an important piece of information about air filters, second-hand smoke and your health.

The filters in your ducts function similarly to your lungs. It’s common knowledge that breathing in second-hand smoke is harmful to your body. Well, consider that your lungs never properly lose all of the impurities that gather in them when you smoke, and remember that the filters in your air ducts work in much the same way. Without knowing it, you could be inhaling second-hand tobacco smoke for weeks after the actual offending cigarette has been snuffed out because the residual smoke that’s caught in your air ducts remains there for a long, long time.

What if you find mold during your DIY duct cleaning?

If you think you’ve found mold, have it tested to verify. Call in a professional if you have a mold problem. HVAC duct cleaning services have the expertise to remove dangerous mold. They also have the equipment to get to hard-to-reach areas that your house vacuum cannot.

How often should you clean your air ducts?

One to two times a year, the most common times are the beginning of spring and fall.

Woman breathing clean air after she cleaned her home's air ducts herself.

Preventing duct contamination

Whether or not you decide to clean your air ducts, committing to a good preventive maintenance program is important in minimizing duct contamination.

To help prevent dirt from entering the system:

  • Use the highest efficiency air filter recommended by the manufacturer or your HVAC system.
  • Change filters routinely. If they become clogged, change them even more frequently.
  • When having your HVAC system maintained or checked for other reasons, be sure to ask the service provider to clean cooling coils and drain pains.
  • seal off supply and return registers and don’t operate the heating and cooling system until after cleaning up any dust.
  • Vacuum your home regularly. If possible, use a high efficiency (HEPA) cleaner or the highest efficiency filter bags your vacuum cleaner can take.
  • If your system includes in-duct humidification equipment, make sure to operate and maintain the humidifier strictly as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Make sure air ducts are properly sealed and insulated in all non-air-conditioned spaces (attics and crawl spaces). This will help prevent moisture due to condensation from entering the system.
  • Fix any water leaks and remove any standing water.
  • Steam cleaning and other methods involving moisture should not be used on any kid of duct work.

We hope we’ve been helpful in providing these tips for cleaning your air vents.

Should you have any questions about your HVAC needs, please don’t hesitate to contact the HVAC professionals at J&A South Park.