Why You Need to Clean Your Air Vents Now (Especially if You Have Allergies!)

published Jun 3, 2024
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Service man cleaning out the air duct in a home.
Credit: JaniceRichard/Getty Images

It’s not easy to keep a home clean. It seems like the floors could always use a sweep, the laundry is never quite finished, and every surface is far too attractive to dust. So in a rare moment of peace when chores are more or less under control, you might want to consider taking care of the thing that’s been helping you take all those deep breaths when a to-do list is mounting: the air vents and making sure they are clean, too.

Air vents are one of those necessary components of a home that’s out of mind when they’re simply doing their jobs, but front and center when they’re not. “The problem is that you can’t spot poor air quality like you might a dirty glass of water,” says Gina Perry, senior merchant of air movement at The Home Depot. “But over time, dust and debris build up in air vents, circulating harmful particles that worsen air quality and respiratory issues like allergies and asthma.”

Cleaning air vents regularly can remove those contaminants and lower your energy costs since clogged air vents make an HVAC system work harder. Yes, it’s another chore to track in the endless quest to keep a home clean. But unlike dishes, floors, and laundry, you only have to do this project once a year. 

Here’s how to clean air vents, so that you can readily breathe a sigh of relief when the work is done. 

What You’ll Need

  • Vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment (Perry recommends using this shop vacuum)
  • Soft-bristle brush 
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Allen wrench or a screwdriver 
  • Gloves, mask, and safety glasses for protection

How to Clean Air Vents

Follow the five steps below to get your air vents cleaned.

Step 1: Turn off the HVAC system.

To get started, make sure that your HVAC system is turned off. 

Step 2: Clean vent covers.

Remove the vent covers and wash them in soap and water, leaving them out to dry. 

Step 3: Remove debris from the vent.

Use a soft-bristle brush to loosen any debris along the vent walls, and then fire up the vacuum with the hose attachment to suck the debris away. “Heavy-duty vacuums can make a huge difference since a regular household vacuum isn’t typically strong enough to clean deep into the crevices of the vents,” Perry says. 

Step 4: Wipe down the interior of the vent.

Once the vent is clear, use a damp microfiber cloth to clean the interior, wiping up any remaining dust. 

Step 5: Put everything back and turn on the system.

Reattach the dry air vent covers, turn your HVAC system back on, and place the debris inside the vacuum in garbage bags. “Almost like how you’d dispose of dust collected by a broom,” Perry notes. 

Keeping the Air Vents Clean

While cleaning air vents can usually be done once a year, Perry suggests regularly changing air filters for ongoing quality and HVAC protection. “You should do this at least once every 90 days for 1-inch filters and once every six months for 4-inch or thicker filters,” she says. 

Perry also says you might need to clean air vents more frequently if you notice signs of excessive dust, reduced airflow, or worsening indoor air quality. “Homes with pets, smokers, or individuals with allergies may require more frequent cleaning, too.” 

By staying on top of this chore, you’ll have cleaner air in your home and peace of mind for your loved ones. 

When to Call in a Professional

Perry suggests consulting an HVAC technician for guidance even if you plan on doing the work yourself. You may also want a professional to handle the entire project if you’re unsure how to access your air vents or if they seem especially clogged.