How Often Do You Need To Clean Your Air Ducts?

March 3, 2023

Here’s what the experts have to say.

Photo Credit: One Beautiful Life Photo

Like everything else in your house, the air ducts in your HVAC system eventually get dirty. But how dirty? How do you know when, and if, you really need to clean your air ducts?

Household dust, pet fur, and other particles can gather along the surfaces of your ductwork, sometimes coating the insides completely. This creates an environment where allergens, such as dander, pollen, chemicals, and other compounds can get stuck. And if any moisture is somehow getting into your system, this fuzzy mixture of dust and debris provides a perfect place for mold or mildew to grow.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that there are no definitive conclusions about whether or not the everyday consumer needs to have their air ducts cleaned. They say consumers should consider having their air ducts cleaned if there is “substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface…ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system,” if ducts are “infested with vermin,” or if ducts are “clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.”

So, then. Do you need to clean your air ducts?

Every house, system, and situation is different. But if your home fits into any of these categories, we think it’s a good idea to have your entire HVAC system, including the air ducts, cleaned on an as-needed basis. 

The National Air Duct Cleaning Association (NADCA) notes two major benefits of getting your HVAC system cleaned periodically: air quality and system efficiency.

Better Air Quality

When your system is clean and you change your air filters regularly, your HVAC system will be less likely to spread air that is filled with pollen, dander, mold, or other contagions around your home. This could be especially beneficial for occupants who have respiratory conditions,, such as asthma, or who suffer from allergies. 

Better System Efficiency

A clean HVAC system is a more efficient system. For instance, if the cooling coils on your air cooling system are clogged, they’re much less efficient because the air can’t make full contact with the metal on the coils. An inefficiency like this one makes your system work harder, adding up to higher monthly costs. 

How Often Should You Have Your Air Ducts Cleaned?

The EPA says air ducts only need to be cleaned on a periodic basis, just when you notice that there’s a problem. (You can check your air ducts with a flashlight and a mirror or take a photo of a section of your ductwork with your phone.)

We’ve noticed that air ducts need to be cleaned about every five to seven years, though it will vary depending on the home.

While you’re checking your vents, remember to check your dryer vent, as well. NADCA says you can tell if you dryer vent needs to be cleaned if:

  • Clothes are taking longer than usual to dry.
  • Your dryer is hot to the touch after a cycle.
  • Your laundry room is hot after a cycle.
  • Your dryer is emitting a burning smell.
  • There’s inconsistent airflow from the exhaust vent.
  • Excess lint appears in the lint trap after each cycle.
  • You find debris in your yard outside of the dryer vent or can see it trapped in the vent itself.

Choosing an Air Duct Cleaning Company

When you’re choosing a company to clean your air ducts, it’s important to choose a NADCA member. This trade association represents the HVAC inspection, cleaning and restoration industry which publishes industry standards, and provides education and certification for their members. 

Members, such as Capital, adhere to high standards, including a code of ethics, maintaining their liability insurance, and keeping a NADCA certified Air Systems Cleaning Specialist (ASCS) on staff. 

To determine if a company is qualified:

  • Ask them to show proof of NADCA membership and certification.
  • Ensure that they’ll conduct a thorough inspection of your HVAC system and let you know if they find any problems.
  • Make sure they plan to clean all the system components — not just the ducts — including, at a minimum: air ducts, coils, drain, registers, grills, air plenum, blower motor and assembly, heat exchanger, air filter, and air cleaner.

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