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Can I Clean my Air Ducts Myself?

Updated on July 30, 2012

If any member of the household has allergies or illnesses that cannot be easily explained, unclean air ducts can quite often be the root cause of the problem. That is the time when you should check for mold growth inside the ducts or all other parts of the ventilating system. A definite sign of such mold is visible dark stains around the supply grills as this indicates the presence of mold within the ducts.

It is possible to hire professionals to clean your air ducts, and they may actually do a better job of it, but cleaning air ducts in the house at regular intervals will definitely prevent mold growth and reduce indoor air pollution. Cleaning the air ducts before or after and air conditioning changeout is a must, as otherwise the efficiency of the new unit can be affected.

Techniques for Cleaning Ducts Yourself

The length and number of ducts hooking into the ventilating system can quite often cause problems for duct cleaning. Access to the ducts can easily be obtained by removal of air supply grills and the return air duct near the operating parts of the system. If this enables you to access all parts of the duct, then the cleaning process is simplified. If not you may have to disassemble or even cut up the duct, so that all parts can be accessed. You can then reach each part of the duct with a high powered vacuum cleaner so that all dirt, dust, and other contaminants can be removed. While doing this make sure that the dirt or other material that is vacuumed up does not get into the house. You may need to make sure that all dirt and caked material is removed and this will require visual inspection of the insides of the duct. Use a child’s periscope to help you and a torch to light up the interior. If there are still some deposits, see whether you can scrape them clean and once this is done, go through the vacuuming process once again.

Once the ducts are cleaned, attention should also be paid to the other parts of the system like grills, drip pans, housings, and registers, which can also be repositories of dust. All surfaces of the equipment, especially cooling coils, blowers, filters and other dust gathering parts must be thoroughly cleaned. Filters need to be changed at regular intervals, as with use, the openings in the filter mesh may become bigger, thus rendering the filter ineffective. If members of your family are particularly susceptible to air pollution the use of HEPA filters is suggested as replacements. These are high efficiency filters that can render all processed air virtually free of any suspended particles.

Most of the mold growth that takes place in ducts is because of moist conditions, and quite often this can be due to the ducts not being properly placed. Sudden bends or changes in direction can cause changes in air flow and this can cause condensation. It is this condensation that leads to moist conditions that are conducive to mold growth. Poor insulation, especially for supply ducts, is quite often a cause of condensation. The use of fiberglass ducts does help to reduce the need for insulation. Such ducts are nowadays available in flexible form, and such flexible ducts are easily removed. This removal makes the process of cleaning of air ducts much easier.

It is also necessary to make sure that there is no standing water near the cooling coils or drain pans where such water is likely to accumulate. Quite often a clogged drain outlet can be the cause of such water accumulation that can get back into the system and ducts and cause conditions that allow mold and mildew growth. So duct cleaning techniques perforce need to ensure cleanliness of all other parts of the entire system as well. Any humidifiers that may be part of the system also need to be serviced at the same time. Chemical biocides are available that can inhibit mold growth, but their application is best left to experts as some of these chemicals do not have a proven record.

Prevention of Duct Contamination

Prevention they always say is the best cure, and in the case of air ducts, preventing dirt from entering the system may be as effective as regular cleaning. HEPA filters are very effective, and though they are costly, they may yet be worth the cost as they do a fine job of preventing dirt from getting into the system. Filters, whether HEPA or otherwise, need to be replaced at regular intervals, and clogging removed by periodic leaning and tapping. Ensuring that dust and dirt from renovation work or from normal household activities is regularly cleaned also helps to keep air ducts clean. Pets in the house can mean pet hair and dander, and regularly cleaning of all carpets and other furnishings can ensure that such material is not carried into the ventilating system through the return air ducts.


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