Homeowner content is free. We may earn a commission when you click links through our site. Advertiser Disclosure

As a homeowner, you’ve likely seen pop-up ads for air duct cleaning online or received mailers touting its benefits over the last few years. Air duct cleaning is an increasingly popular home service, but is it really necessary? Some people think they need this service to clean out the dust, pet dander, mildew, mold, or pollen that collects in their heating and cooling systems.

Proponents of duct cleaning claim it can make their whole house cleaner, improve their air quality, reduce odor and allergens, and make their HVAC system more efficient because the vents won’t be blowing harmful particles around their home. However, others question whether this kind of maintenance is really all it’s cracked up to be, or if they’re just being scammed.

Below, we’ll go over what’s involved with air duct cleaning, the costs associated with the service, and identify the instances you may need it done and when it’s just a waste of money.

When To Have Your Air Ducts Cleaned

To be clear, air duct cleaning is not something the majority of homeowners will ever need to do, but there are always exceptions to the rule. On the whole, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t advocate for regular air duct cleaning for most how, but it does recommend it under a few circumstances:

  • Mold Growth
  • Rodent or Insect Infestation
  • Clogged Ducts

Unless you’re experiencing one of these situations, and your HVAC system is working as it should, duct cleaning is unnecessary.

What Is Air Duct Cleaning?

Air duct cleaning refers to removing the dust and dirt from the elements of a home’s HVAC system. Although the name “air duct” may imply that only the ducting is cleaned, all the components of your heating and cooling system should be included. A comprehensive and reputable duct cleaning company should also clean out the registers, evaporator coils, grills, plenums, drain pan, blower motor, air filter, and heat exchanger.

Frequency of CleaningNADCA Recommendation
Every 3 to 5 yearsFor maintaining HVAC efficiency, not always necessary.
Specific Issues (Mold, Pests, Clogs)Cleaning recommended if specific issues are present.

When you first hire a professional duct cleaning service, a technician will come to your home and perform an inspection to assess your ducts. They may take pictures or record video so they can compare the before and after. This will be a visual inspection, but the technician may also use a camera to probe into areas they can’t see with their eyes. They will also check to see if any of your ductwork is damaged to assess what repairs need to be done along with the cleaning. A credible company will also tell you if you’re not a good candidate for duct cleaning.

The actual cleaning process is generally done by using a high-powered vacuum to create a negative pressure system that can effectively remove all the debris. This must be done to both the supply side and return side of your HVAC system, and all vents in your home must be properly sealed off using an adhesive cover. The vacuum will either be mounted to a truck or it will be a portable unit that’s brought into your home.

💨 Technicians use high-powered vacuums to remove debris from both supply and return sides of the HVAC system.

Once the vacuum system is in place, a technician will start removing the dirt using hand brushes and compressed air, as well as air whips to loosen and agitate the stuck-on debris so it can be sucked out through the vacuum. In some cases, especially if mold is present, the technician may apply chemical biocides to stop bacterial growth. While this can be effective, it’s also a somewhat questionable practice and if used, should only be done after the ducts have been thoroughly cleaned.

Many of these professional standards are set by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), and it’s always a good idea to make sure the company you’re working with is accredited and follows these practices.

Is Air Duct Cleaning Worth It?

photo of a homeowner inspecting his air duct

Most people do not need regular air duct cleaning, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it in certain circumstances. If you’re dealing with legitimate issues like mold, pest control issues, or clogged ducts that can affect your health or could potentially damage your HVAC system, it’s probably worth it to have a trained technician come out to your home for an inspection. If you’re unsure if you need it, you can reach out to a few companies to see what they say.

On the other hand, just because you think your ducts are dirty is not reason enough to have them professionally cleaned. The NADCA recommends cleaning your heating and cooling ducts every three to five years, but there’s no evidence to suggest that this is a necessary service for the average homeowner or that it will prevent health problems.

🔍 Professional inspection can help determine if duct cleaning is needed for your specific situation.

If duct cleaning is done incorrectly, it can actually exacerbate indoor air quality issues by releasing more dirt and dust into your home, or it can cause damage to the inside of your ducts causing your HVAC to become less effective over time.

How Much Does Air Duct Cleaning Cost?

Since each home is different, it’s hard to give an exact estimate about how much duct cleaning would cost, but there are a few factors you can consider that will affect your price. Per the EPA, the average price range for duct cleaning should fall between $450 and $1,000 for most homeowners.

Home SizeEstimated Cost Range
Small to Medium$450 – $1,000
Large$1,000 – $2,000+

Your actual quote will depend on the size of your home (you’ll often see quotes based on how many supply vents you have), how accessible your HVAC system and ducting are, the overall condition of your system, the significance of the problem (for example, if there’s mold present it may cost more), and whether you need any additional repairs or replacements done on your system. It’s also worth noting that cleaning and maintenance of ductwork is typically not covered by a home warranty, so this would be an out-of-pocket expense for most homeowners.

Signs That You Should Clean Your Air Ducts

photo of a dirty vent in a home

Mold Growth

Mold is commonly found in both our indoor and outdoor environments, and there’s no way to get rid of it completely (nor is it necessary). However, for some people, excessive mold growth can cause serious allergic reactions and health concerns. If moisture is present in your ducting system, it can provide the perfect conditions for harboring bacteria which can turn into mold and mildew and then spread throughout your house when the air blows through your vents. If you have a household member who is sensitive to this, you may need to have your ducts cleaned out.

🏠 If you notice mold in your ducts or elsewhere in your home, consider having your ducts cleaned to prevent health issues.

If you’ve seen mold in other parts of your home or noticed a musty smell in your home (especially when the heat or air conditioning is on) and someone is having an allergic reaction to it, it’s a good idea to have your ducts inspected by a professional who has experience with mold remediation. In these cases, it’s common practice for a technician to come out and take a sample to send to a lab first to see what kind of mold (if any) is present. Mold issues can be tricky since it can sometimes be hard to tell dirt from mold and you don’t want to pay for a full cleaning if you don’t have to. These tests are typically inexpensive (around $50).

Rodent or Insect Infestation

If you’re experiencing an insect or rodent infestation in your home, these pests can easily get inside your ducting and leave hair, food, feces, urine, and other debris. This can not only make your home smell, but it also can spread disease if not addressed properly. Mice have also been known to chew through ducting, which would then require cleaning and repair.

🐀 Rodent or insect infestations in your ducts can lead to health risks and require professional cleaning to remove debris and droppings.

In this case, duct cleaning may be necessary, but if you catch it early enough you might be able to get the rodents out yourself by shutting off your HVAC system and setting traps near the vents. If this doesn’t work you should call a professional exterminator. Once the rodents have been removed, you may wish or need to have your ducts professionally cleaned to clear out the remaining feces and urine. 

Clogged Ducts

Sometimes, ducts can get so much dirt and debris stuck in them that they become clogged and don’t work as intended. When this happens, the debris can get pushed out of the vents and into your home which can make your house dirtier, and blocked ducts can also damage your HVAC system.

⚠️ Clogged ducts can reduce HVAC efficiency and spread debris into your home; cleaning them can restore proper function.

If you’ve noticed certain vents in your house aren’t working, or you can actually see blockages in your ducting, call a professional to inspect your entire system.  

How To Find an Air Duct Cleaner

Unfortunately, there are many companies out there masquerading as “professional” air duct cleaners, when in fact they have little actual training or experience. If you hire a company without first vetting them, you run the risk of wasting your money and damaging your HVAC system.

The NADCA maintains a national directory of HVAC professionals which is a good place to start looking. In addition, you should try to contact at least three different providers and get detailed estimates from all of them. Compare quotes and check references and reviews on third-party sites before you decide on a company.

📋 Use the NADCA directory to find accredited HVAC professionals for air duct cleaning and maintenance.

Can I Clean My Air Ducts Myself?

In most cases, it’s best to leave duct cleaning to professionals since improper cleaning can damage your system requiring costly repairs. However, there are steps you can take to prevent your ducts from getting dirty in the first place.

By replacing your filters regularly (generally every three months) and cleaning your vents and intakes with a vacuum when they get dirty and dusty, you can keep your system working as it should without taking in too much excess dirt and dust. You can also help by keeping your home as clean as possible and vacuuming up pet fur, dander, and dust so it doesn’t get pulled into your HVAC system in the first place.

Also, taking steps for weatherproofing your home will prevent moisture buildup, and keeping your home free of food debris can prevent pest infestations.

🧹 Regularly replace filters and vacuum vents to keep your HVAC system clean and efficient.

Air Duct Cleaning: Worthwhile or Wasteful?

Despite the barrage of advertisements touting the many health and environmental benefits of air duct cleaning, most homeowners won’t need to do this as long as they’re taking the basic steps to keep their HVAC systems running smoothly.

That said, if you’re dealing with mold, unwanted pests moving throughout your ductwork, or if your system isn’t working efficiently, you should contact a professional to get a quote for cleaning. If you do opt for cleaning, just make sure you’re working with a reputable company with positive customer reviews.