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When Dirty Ducts Need Cleaning

Healthy indoor air is important for any family. This is particularly true in today’s more energy-efficient, airtight houses where the air quality is often worse than outdoor air. In addition to some dust from the ducts, there are many sources of indoor pollutants, including cleaning and cooking. Many of these can be removed with a combination of whole-house, furnace-mounted air cleaners and individual room air cleaners.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, much of the dust in heating and air-conditioning ducts tends to adhere to the duct surface, and it never gets into the air circulating throughout the house.

Besides a benign, fine layer of household dust, there can be some potentially harmful particles inside ducts. Mold spores inside ducts can cause serious allergic reactions in some people.

Very fine particles, from cigarettes or wood-burning fireplaces, can become airborne and cause respiratory problems. Test kits are available to take a sample of the dust from inside the ducts and have it tested for mold and other harmful contaminants.

Cleaning the entire system
Although it is commonly referred to as “duct cleaning,” if you choose to have it done, it is important to have the entire HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) system cleaned. This includes such items as the furnace and air-conditioner blower, heat exchanger/coils, and drain pans in addition to ductwork.

Air conditioner evaporator coils can collect a lot of dirt because they get damp when the unit is running, and dust in the air sticks to them. This reduces the system’s efficiency.

If the contractor who services your HVAC system also does duct cleaning, you may get a discount by having the service and cleaning done at the same time. The typical cost ranges from about $500 to $1,000, depending on the size of your home and the complexity of the duct system.

You might want to have the duct system inspected before going to the full expense of a cleaning. Look for a company that will deduct the inspection cost from the total project cost should you choose to have it cleaned.

Choosing a duct cleaner

When selecting a duct-cleaning company, your best assurance of quality is to start with a reliable contractor. Always check references with past customers.

The National Air Duct Cleaning Association is the trade group that launched the first industry program to certify HVAC system cleaning professionals. The certification requires extensive training. Find a national listing of certified companies at

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