Is Duct Cleaning Worth It?

Something homeowners often ask us is whether they should bother getting duct cleaning done on their ventilation systems.

Our history with duct cleaning goes back a number of years. One of the first systems that we used was called a “negative air system”. Doing so brings a big pipe through the front door, down to the furnace, and sucks air back to a duct cleaning truck sitting in the driveway. Additional pressurized air is then sent down each vent and, theoretically, all the dust is sucked out of the house.

Alternative duct cleaning systems can be as simple as sending a hose down a vent line from the top, essentially like a shop VAC with a longer hose. Another system we’ve used in the past is called a “rotating brush system”, where it literally scrubs the ducts out. What we’ve found is, no matter what system you are actually using, it is virtually impossible to get the ducts completely clean on the inside, if that is what you are trying to accomplish.

If your primary goal is just to take the dust that could possibly end up in your house to come out of your ducts, that’s a more realistic goal. But if you want to clean the ducts to the point where there’s shiny metal on the inside of the ventilation system, in our opinion, that’s not going to happen.

Another thing people are often disappointed about with duct cleaning is that they think it should drastically reduce dust in the house. It often does not considerably reduce dust in the house. In our opinion, the best way to think about duct cleaning is this: if your ducting system is very dirty, and there’s visible dust sitting in the return area or supply areas of the house, it may be worth doing it. However, if you have done it in the last five to seven years, I don’t think you’re going to get much benefit out of it.

If you insist on getting a duct cleaning company to come out to your place, I would suggest that you get someone who can prove (with photographic evidence), that it’s been cleaned to your satisfaction. We’ve had homeowners in the past who are quite diligent about getting their ducts cleaned, and they’ve gone to the extent of removing them in an unfinished basement, disassembling them, and scrubbing them out.

Duct cleaning, or having clean ducts, can be important in more extreme circumstances where there is a serious dust allergy, or a variety of other dust-related issues. But, if you don’t have that, my suggestion is you can probably do half the work yourself just by sending a shop VAC or a vacuum hose down individual ducts.