Why You Should Be Changing the Direction of Your Ceiling Fan This Winter

updated Oct 24, 2023
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Ceiling fans are a popular fixture in most modern homes. Not only do they help control indoor climate during the warmer months, but they can also prevent rooms from feeling stuffy once the weather turns colder and the heat kicks on. That being said, you’ll want to make a major adjustment to the direction your fan blades move before you make that switch to turn your AC off and get that warm air pumping. Here’s why one expert says this decision will do more than make you comfortable and may extend the life of your HVAC system.  

Quick Overview

Why You Should Change Your Ceiling Fan Direction Seasonally

The direction your ceiling fan blades spin can significantly affect your home’s temperature, so changing the direction every winter and summer is crucial. It’ll not only make you more comfortable, but also extend the life of your system. In the winter, have your ceiling fans run clockwise. In the summer, have them run counterclockwise.

Why the Direction Your Ceiling Fan Spins Matters 

According to Jeff Palla, president of Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly company, the direction your fan blades spin can significantly affect your home’s air temperature. “During the summer months you want to run your ceiling fan counterclockwise, as it pushes down the air and creates a cool breeze while providing a consistent room temperature,” he says, explaining that it helps reduce the demand for air conditioning. 

“During the winter months you want to have your ceiling fans running clockwise at a low speed,” Palla continues. “This will help redistribute warm air throughout the room.” For those of us facing mounting electric bills or sky-high oil costs, that redistribution of warm air could really make a difference — even reducing the amount of time you need your heat to run each day. 

That being said, you shouldn’t keep your fan on when there’s nobody around to enjoy these benefits. “Ceiling fans are designed to remain on at all times, but we recommended they should only be left on when there are people or pets in the room to enjoy the benefit of feeling cooler or warmer,” Palla says.

How to Change Your Ceiling Fan Direction 

Typically, Palla says you can change the fan’s direction by flipping a switch on the ceiling fan itself. He says this is usually a small switch and that the location varies depending on what model fan you have, but that it’s usually found near the fan’s pull string or cord. “Some newer fans have a button to reverse directions on a remote control,” he says. 

Of course, before you attempt doing anything with your fan you should always turn the switch off first, ensuring that the blades have completely stopped spinning before you attempt to make a change. Not only can this prevent you from getting injured by an errant blade (or worse), but it can also help keep your fan in good working order. A fan that gets knocked around could become wobbly and start to spin off balance, becoming a hazard all of its own. 

You Should Use This Time for Maintenance 

Let’s be real — despite Palla’s suggestion otherwise, most of us keep our fans running all year long to help keep air circulating in our homes and to prevent rooms from feeling musty or stale. Because of this a lot of dust, debris, and pet hair build up on those blades. It’s usually not too noticeable while the fans are on, but as soon as you turn them off you’re bound to see the buildup. “So use it as an excuse to clean the fan blades,” Palla says. 

How to Clean Your Ceiling Fan

My favorite trick for this semi-annual chore is the pillowcase method — I keep an extra one around from an old set of sheets for this very purpose. Once the fan blades have stopped spinning I get up on a step ladder and position myself toward the end of one of the blades. I then put the blade inside the pillowcase, gently grabbing either side of the blade closest to the center of the fan. Next, I slowly pull the pillowcase off while still holding the sides of the blade, trapping all of the dust and debris I knock off in the case (and keeping it off my furniture and floors). I do this for each blade, slowly spinning the fan. 

If the fan still looks like it needs a little extra TLC I repeat these steps with a bit of Pledge and a microfiber towel until it’s spotless — until summer, that is!

A version of this story was first published on February 9, 2011, by Lauren Zerbey.