The Dirty Truth About Duct Cleaning

The demand for duct cleaning is something that has been on the rise over the last 10 years in the HVAC industry. It has gone from a very small niche business to a large and profitable industry and with this growth has come many questions. Before we get started allow me to establish my experience. I have been in the HVAC industry for over 15 years. I have never personally performed a duct cleaning but I have been back to multiple HVAC service after duct cleanings have been performed. I personally have no issue with the duct cleaning industry as a whole, I simply have concerns with the common practices I have observed as well as customers expectations in relation to the outcome.
Duct CleaningFirst, we must establish that the vast majority of residential and light commercial duct systems installed in Florida are flex and board systems. This means that the bulk of the air flows through flexible insulated tubes with a thin plastic inner liner. The remainder of the duct system is constructed of fiberglass board that is formed into boxes and triangle shapes that act as the main lines and distribution boxes.   Second we must state clearly that almost anything can be cleaned if enough time and resources are applied this is as true of ducting as any other surface.

The real questions are:

  1. Is duct cleaning effective at consistently providing cleaner air?
  2. Are the practices consistently applied that produce a good result?
  3. Is the cost of properly cleaning the ducts vs. replacing them represent a real value?

Is duct cleaning effective at consistently providing cleaner air? A report produced in 1997 by the EPA states that duct cleaning has not been proven to produce cleaner indoor air. The EPA has consistently stood behind this stance and this applies to all types of ducts. It stands to reason in my opinion that cleaning metal or meal lined ducts would be effective. There are many before and after representations of what duct cleaning can and has done for metal ducts. The issue remains in all ducts that cleaning can often dislodge matter that then may be reintroduced into the air stream had the cleaning not been performed. This leaves the question that unless the ducts are left completely clean has the duct cleaning been successful in reducing indoor air contaminants?

Are the practices consistently applied that produce a good result? The NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaning Association) has very good training and application guidelines on the proper cleaning of most duct systems. These practices if consistently applied by well trained professionals with well-maintained and cleaned equipment will result in the best outcome. My experience has shown that many companies that provide duct cleaning service do not consistently or fully abide by NADCA standards, this can result in a poor outcome as well as possible damage. When damage does occur due to improper duct cleaning practices it is often concealed which results in the property owner being unaware that there is an issue.

Is the cost of properly cleaning the ducts vs. replacing them represent a real value? Here is an excerpt from the NADCA website. The Environmental Protection Agency says that duct cleaning services typically “ but not always“ range in cost from $450 to $1000 per heating and cooling system, depending on the services offered, the size of the system to be cleaned, system accessibility, climactic region, and level of contamination and type of duct material. Consumers should beware of air duct cleaning companies that making sweeping claims about the health benefits of duct cleaning such claims are unsubstantiated. Consumers should also beware of blow-and-go air duct cleaning companies. These companies often charge a nominal fee and do a poor job of cleaning the heating and cooling system. These companies may also persuade the consumer into unneeded services with and/or without their permission. This makes it clear that proper duct cleaning does come at a price. In many cases the cost of proper cleaning may not be cost effective when compared with replacement. This depends on the age, condition, type and access to the duct system currently in place. In summary, I would advise the following

  1. Only have ducts cleaned if it is necessary, in most cases cleaner air can be more easily and consistently achieved through air filtration / purification.
  2. If you are going to have ducts cleaned make sure to use a NADCA accredited professional and check their work against the NADCA checklist  HERE
  3. If your ducts are in need of cleaning look at the comparable cost of replacement vs. cleaning
  4. Recognize that Florida duct systems are often not very conducive to proper cleaning reducing your potential success rate

Contact Us with any further questions and we hope this was helpful!- Bryan Orr VP Service Kalos Services Inc. Licensed A/C Contractor CAC1814620

Resources mentioned in this article can be found: EPA.GovNAIMA.Org, and Angie’s List. You can also check out these videos of news teams exposing the potential scams that can come with duct cleaning: