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Is air duct cleaning necessary?

One of the most common questions households in the USA have is - Whether Air duct cleaning is necessary. As your trusted HVAC and plumbing experts in Sacramento, Heald Mechanical is here to help and answer your every question. The most common answer to this question is, "Yes, air duct cleaning is necessary."

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Let's assume you want to clean your air ducts and already hired someone. The worker comes in and cleans your air ducts; what's next? Fresh air?

Absolutely not; the results may turn out to be worse. You see, the dust that collects in your air ducts stays there. It is very unlikely for the dust to flow unless disturbed. Now that your air duct has cleaned and the dust has been disturbed, you may notice the unclean flow of air, which you did not expect. Let's back this up with a study, shall we?

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Study

(Source) In 1990, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) conducted a study. This study wanted to investigate two claims 

  • Cleaning air ducts makes indoor air quality healthier
  • Cleaned air ducts can improve airflow, thus saving energy costs.

CMHC tested 33 homes in Montreal before and after the air duct cleaning. The results showed that after the air duct cleaning, there was no improvement in the home's air quality. There was also no improvement in airflow and energy efficiency. Furthermore, in some cases, it was noticed that the measure of dust particles actually increased just after cleaning. In other instances, the particles reduced after cleaning but returned to normal in a few weeks.

After these tests, CMHC gave their final verdict. You might get your ducts cleaned to get that shiny, polished look, but that is as far as it goes. If you want the ducts cleaned for cleaner air or energy efficiency, it is not worth it.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Study

(Source) Let's talk about another popular study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). During a period of 1 week, the EPA measured HVAC system efficiency and dust levels in the test homes. They concluded by saying that it has never been proved that duct cleaning prevents any health issues or improves the system's performance. Also, dust particles do not enter the leaving space just because you have a dirty air duct. Furthermore, these dust particles do not pose any health risks.

In the studies mentioned above, the methodologies used were different, but the ultimate answers were the same. The dust cleaning industry always tries to argue that both these studies are flawed. The studies and methods used to clean the air ducts are old, too. Although these opposing facts are there, we must keep in mind that neither of these experiments has been challenged or proven wrong to this day.

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Issues that Need Duct Cleaning

So now that we know the answer to the question - Is duct cleaning necessary? Let's get to know when you actually need to get your air ducts cleaned. We will also discuss the time gap recommended for Air duct cleaning.

Let's see what our studies suggest. According to the EPA, you can have your air ducts cleaned if 

  • you see mold growth inside the air ducts
  • there is an insect or rodent infestation
  • there is a huge deposit of debris inside the air duct in case of a renovation or new construction project

If you notice health concerns in your family, like breathing problems or allergies, just consult a physician. A physician will suggest alternatives to cleaning air ducts that will actually work. You need to identify if your ducts are really contributing to your health problems before moving ahead and cleaning them. To be honest, your air ducts are probably not a problem, and they don't need to be cleaned.

Some cleaning companies may suggest getting the ducts cleaned every 3 to 5 years, but guess what? Even that is not necessary. As we discussed, if you have a construction or renovation project going on, it may lead to dust accumulation in your ducts. But once you have cleaned it out, another cleaning will never be required.

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In the case of Mold Growth

If you are worried about mold, do not directly jump to cleaning your air ducts. Mold is caused due to moisture problems, so if you don't fight the source of the moisture, the mold growth will come back. Air duct pipes are probably not the source of the mold; the culprit could be the evaporator coils of the cooling system, which can be easily fixed.

If you suspect mold and are not entirely sure, do not waste money getting it tested. Because experts suggest mold is present in every house, it only worsens with a moisture problem. Getting the mold tested is not worth it; instead, find the moisture problem and fix it.

Your Takeaway

I hope that answers your question of whether you should get your air ducts cleaned. Studies by CMHC and EPA refute claims of improved air quality and energy efficiency after cleaning. The consensus: it's generally unnecessary. Duct cleaning is warranted only for mold, insect/rodent infestations, or significant debris from renovations.

Health concerns should be addressed with a physician, not duct cleaning. Mold issues require addressing moisture sources, not just cleaning ducts. Don't waste money on mold testing; focus on fixing the underlying moisture problem. In summary, routine air duct cleaning for improved air or energy benefits is likely not worthwhile.