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DIY Duct Cleaning: How to Do It Like a Pro

Jennifer L. Betts
Hvac wall register.

DIY duct cleaning is a great way to clean the ventilation ducts in your home while saving money at the same time. It's important to clean the air ducts in your home on a regular basis. By taking the time to learn how to take care of this important maintenance task yourself, you can avoid having to pay for a professional HVAC contractor to do it for you. Learn some DIY air duct cleaning tips and tricks, along with where to rent air duct cleaning equipment.

When to Clean Your Air Ducts

Regular cleaning of the air ducts in your home can eliminate or reduce dust and foul odors. There are certain times it is especially beneficial to clean your heating and air conditioning duct system. For example, if you purchase a home where the previous owners had animals, cleaning the air ducts before you move in can help rid the house of any permeating animal smell. Use the following recommendations to help decide when to clean your air ducts:

  • When you purchase a home
  • Once a year or more if someone has allergies or breathing problems
  • Once a year or more if you have pets
  • Every three to five years in normal households

DIY Duct Cleaning Cautions

Before you get down and dirty into your air ducts, remember, air duct cleaning isn't for the faint of heart. While you're elbow-deep in dust and dirt, you might discover things you'd rather you didn't like mold, mildew, or even dead rodents. Therefore, it's important to think about this adventure before going all-in yourself and not calling a professional. Additionally, when cleaning your duct use caution so you don't rip or tear the duct.

Do It Yourself Air Duct Cleaning Equipment

You know it's time to clean those ducts. Rather than start grumbling, get ready by gathering a few materials.

  • A sturdy ladder
  • A screwdriver that fits the screws on your vents
  • Soft bristle brush with a long handle (vent cleaning brush or toilet brush)
  • Rags and towels
  • A vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment (shop vac recommended)
  • Furnace air filter
  • Gloves
  • Dust mask
  • Goggles

DIY Air Duct Cleaning Steps

You got your goggles in place and your gloves on, it's time to get to work. With your tools at the ready, follow these steps:

  1. Climb up the ladder and remove the air duct grates (also called registers). If they are all on the floor, you can forgo the ladder and just start unscrewing.
  2. Take your rags and cover all your removed registers by tucking a rag under the unscrewed register. This ensures any dust you kick up isn't pushed back into your house.
  3. Use your thermostat to get your fan going by clicking 'fan on'. If you don't have this option, just use the heat to get the fan to kick on.
  4. Use the rag to clean all the registers and grates.
  5. Put the brush in the register and loosen all the dirt and grime.
  6. Once all the dust is loosened, push the vacuum hose as far as you can into the duct and turn it on.
  7. Follow these steps until all your ducts are cleaned.
  8. Wash and replace the grates.
  9. Power off the furnace and change your HVAC filter.
  10. Clean out any compartments in your furnace that look dirty.

Duct Cleaning Rental Equipment

If you want to be just like a pro, you might consider getting some rental equipment. While a toilet brush and a shop vac can do the job, it won't be as efficient as the real deal. Therefore, you might want to consider renting a vent cleaning brush and vacuum.

Where to Rent Duct Cleaning Equipment

While industrial strength duct cleaning vacuums are hard to find, several rental retailers, like Sunbelt Rentals and Home Depot, offer rentals for high-powered vacuums and hoses. These vacuum cleaners will have more power than your run-of-the-mill home vacuum cleaner and longer hoses to get more of the yuck out. Additionally, you can buy vent cleaning brushes for about $20.

Cost and Delivery Time

The cost of rental equipment varies based on how long you want it. Most rental providers have day and week rates for less than $100. Since most duct cleaning jobs take less than a day, the 24-hour rate is typically the best deal. Additionally, some rental places offer curbside delivery, but it will take a few days for you to get the equipment.

Maintaining Your Air Ducts

The best way to keep your ducts clean is to maintain them appropriately. Be sure to change the filters to your HVAC system regularly and dust the registers twice a year or more.

Professional vs. DIY Duct Cleaning

Having a professional clean your air ducts will cost anywhere between $400 to $1,000 dollars. Professionals use heavy-duty vacuums and equipment that can get deep into your duct system. It is possible to DIY air duct cleaning, but having a professional clean your ducts in the following cases is recommended:

  • There are rats or rodents living in your ducts
  • You have excessive mold growth
  • Fire damage in your home
  • The job seems too big to do on your own
  • Excessive odors

Why Air Duct Cleaning Is Beneficial

In the past 10 years, there has been a growing awareness about how important it is to purify the air in homes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made this statement about air duct cleaning: "You may consider having your air ducts cleaned simply because it seems logical that air ducts will get dirty over time and should be occasionally cleaned. Provided that the cleaning is done properly, no evidence suggests that such cleaning would be detrimental." The EPA goes on to say you should have your ducts cleaned if:

  • There is visible mold growth on the metal grates covering the ducts
  • The ducts are infested with rodents, insects, or other vermin
  • The ducts are clogged with excessive dirt and debris

DIY Duct Cleaning Master

If your ducts are dirty, cleaning them seems like the best option. However, you don't have to fork out hundreds of dollars for a professional if you're maintaining your ducts well and checking them regularly. Instead, you can grab your vacuum and screwdriver and do it yourself.

DIY Duct Cleaning: How to Do It Like a Pro