Duct Cleaning: Myth Or Necessity?

updated May 4, 2019
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(Image credit: flickr user Tim7423)

I was hoping to sink my teeth into a juicy duct cleaning debate (possibly including scandals!), but it seems that the experts are unanimous: unless you see insect or rodent droppings in your ducts, or if someone in your household is having mysterious illnesses and/or respiratory difficulties, duct cleaning is unnecessary…and in fact can do more harm than good. Scandal!

  • Let’s start with the big guns: The Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has an incredibly thorough examination of duct cleaning, including the four reasons why you might need your ducts cleaned: infestation, mold, mysterious illnesses, and clogged ducts. While there’s no harm in having your ducts cleaned even if you don’t have any of those four factors (other than the $400-$1000 expense), “provided that it is done properly” [emphasis theirs]. The EPA further cautions, “if a service provider fails to follow proper duct cleaning procedures, duct cleaning can cause indoor air problems.”
  • The National Institute Of Health list five conditions that could necessitate cleaning: water, slime [slime!], debris, dust discharge, and offensive odors— as well as 7 questions to answer before hiring duct cleaners. The NIH also cites a 2010 study that showed “even when duct cleaning was extremely efficient at removing contaminants within ducts, the effectiveness of reducing indoor air pollutants was highly variable, and in many cases, post‐cleaning levels of contaminants were higher than pre-cleaning levels. HIGHER! $1000 to make your house dirtier!
  • The Family Handyman lists regular duct cleaning among its Home Care Myths Busted! In fact, according to the magazine, “most homes never need duct cleaning.”
  • Consumer Reports, a trusted source in our household, advises consumers to “think twice about paying for duct cleaning, since it’s rarely worth the cost, and in fact the industry is rife with scams.”

Well, that all seems pretty clearcut, yes? A report in the Chicago Tribune came to the same conclusion, then goes on to pass on a recommendation from the director of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association to change your air filters every two months. Using quality filters is apparently key: “Some filters aren’t too good. You can buy them for less than a dollar at the hardware store. Those are referred to as bowling ball cleaners in the industry. They’ll catch things the size of a bowling ball, but not much else.”

I am so happy I wrote this post, not only because I now know about bowling ball cleaners, but because I will never waste $1000 a year cleaning my ducts. Unless there’s slime, of course.