How to Clean a Home's Air Ducts
Cleaning your home's air ducts can sound like an imposing task, even for the most knowledgeable homeowner who considers themselves a DIY expert. You'll want to be prepared to clean areas that could contain mold and allergens, which aren't areas a DIYer may want to get into. Still, a home's air ducts can be at least partially cleaned by a homeowner who has some basic equipment that most people will have at home.
But before we detail exactly how to clean your own air ducts, we should warn you that of the professional cleaners we talked to, all recommended hiring a professional duct cleaning company to do the job. That kind of bias may be expected, but take heed of their warnings if you want the air%VIRTUAL-pullquote-Homeowners can look for obvious leaks, indicated by things like streaks of dirt at juncture points, or open spaces where the ductwork enters and leaves the furnace or air conditioner.% ducts completely cleaned.
For example, a professional cleaning machine will reach beyond the arm's length that you could on your own to get inside the ductwork, according to Brian Lackey, residential sales manager at Tom's Mechanical, a Texas contractor that is a member of GreenHomes America, a contractors' group. A cleaning machine uses a 35-foot vacuum hose with a brush on the end of it that sweeps the inside of the duct.
There are also areas of an air conditioner that a professional can clean better because they know what to look for, says Mike Donley, president of Donley Service Center in Phoenix. A dirty indoor coil will result in less cold air getting into the home. That can increase moisture and humidity, and can cause the unit to run inefficiently, Donley says. Dirty coils and condensate pans may cause a backup and possible water leak in the home, he says.
Professionals who have the correct equipment also need training, according to Dave Moody, director of marketing at the HVAC company Service Experts. A huge vacuum attached to a truck with mechanical brushes to snake through ductwork is an expensive piece of equipment, and requires training to avoid damage to the balancing dampers or other areas.
What to Look For: The duct system is an important part of the whole HVAC system, Moody says, and there are things a homeowner can check. Leaky ducts not only cost money in higher utility bills, but untreated air from an attic, basement or crawl space that bypasses the home's HVAC filters can expose a family to dust, mold and other contaminants, he says.
Homeowners can look for obvious leaks, indicated by things like streaks of dirt at juncture points, or open spaces where the ductwork enters and leaves the furnace or air conditioner, Moody says. A professional cleaner can run a test using forced air to check for leaks.
How to Clean Air Ducts Yourself: If you want to at least partially clean your home's air ducts, there are some steps to take, according to Tom's Mechanical:
1. What you'll need: Mix one part household cleaner, such as bleach, with three parts water for a cleaning solution and mix in a bucket. You'll also need plastic zip ties for reconnecting ducts; cloths or rags; and mastic and a small paintbrush to seal the duct connections.
2. Tools: Brush to apply mastic, screwdriver.
3. How much time it takes: Allow 20 minutes per duct.
4. Process: Remove the outer and inner liners from the duct connectors at the unit and at the ceiling or wall. After mixing the cleaning solution in a bucket, soak the rags in the solution, then wring them out so they're damp with the solution.
Wipe the inner liner with the rags, reaching in as far as you can. This method will only allow for the ends of the duct to be clean.
Once you've cleaned as much of the duct as possible, apply a light layer of mastic over the duct connector and slide the inner liner back over the metal duct connector. Use a plastic zip tie, or a Panduit strap, to secure the inner liner onto the duct connector.
Next, pull the insulation and outer liner over the duct connector. Use another Panduit strap to secure the outer liner and insulation in place. Apply another layer of mastic over the outer liner of the duct. Continue cleaning individual ducts as needed. You can also vacuum inside the duct as far as you can reach.
5. What to expect: Expect to only clean the surfaces and ends of each duct. It's a good method to remove visible dirt, debris and dust that has accumulated around the end of the duct.
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