I Tried the “Paper Test” to Clean My Bathroom Vents and Now I’ll Never Do It Another Way

published Jul 9, 2024
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Woman dressed in pink rubber gloves washes with a sponge and soap suds grill of the ventilation return duct blocked by dust and debris.
Credit: Yevhen Prozhyrko/Shutterstock

I rarely think to look “up” when I clean my bathroom. Usually, my attention goes to the big three — the toilet, the shower, and the floor — and whatever else is at eye level that I can scrub and disinfect. However, I was recently introduced to the (potentially scary) importance of exhaust fan upkeep, and I’m reprioritizing how often I use and clean mine. And I mean clean. As in, getting out my step stool to dust the fan’s motor and wires clean. 

While that admittedly sounds unalluring, it’s important: bathroom exhaust fans help to eliminate odors and moisture, which in turn prevents mold and mildew growth. When not properly maintained, bathroom exhaust fans are also fire hazards. You should keep two potential risks in mind: faulty wiring and overheating, which can be caused by a worn down motor and/or an excess of dust and debris. 

Paying attention to signs of overuse, such as dark spots or burnt smells, and cleaning the whole fan every six months can be a life-saving precaution. But before you screw off your exhaust fan cover, the good news is there is one easy hack for checking your fan’s circulation: the “paper test.”

I was introduced to this test by Instagram cleanfluencer Brandon Pleshek (@cleanthatup). All you do is turn on the fan and hold a couple pieces of toilet paper up to the vent cover. If the sheets stick to the vent cover, the fan is clean. If they don’t, it’s time to clean it ASAP. In a recent video, he filmed himself trying the test, and lo and behold, the paper fell.

Pleshek notes that sticky substances, like hairspray and dry shampoo, can be like a velcro strip for dirt on your exhaust fan and vent cover. He recommends removing the vent cover, if possible, and washing it with a strong grease-targeting dish soap, such as Dawn Powerwash

Credit: Emma Kumagawa

I conducted the paper test myself and was pleased to see my bathroom exhaust fan passed inspection. I wasn’t too surprised, though, because I only use my fan occasionally, relying more on my window that’s always cracked open. I took a peek inside of the vent out of curiosity and saw only a light coating of dust, which I wiped away. 

Credit: Emma Kumagawa

Knowing what I know about bathroom exhaust fans, I’ve now set a personal resolution to turn on the fan every time I shower as an added protective measure against lingering moisture (because, ew!). I’ll circle back to the vent in six months to see what’s gathered and give it a proper clean. If you’ve yet to get up close and personal with your bathroom exhaust fan, this is your sign to do so! It’s super simple, relatively quick, and, above all, worth any potential health threats — mold or fire — that could be hiding inside.