How to Clean a Bathroom Fan (and Why You Should) 

Published June 22, 2022
Bathroom ventilation fan

Your bathroom fan has stopped doing its job. Well, you don't want to ignore it. It might be clogged with dust and dirt. Grab your vacuum and learn how to clean your bathroom fan with or without a light. Get the nitty-gritty on how often you should be cleaning your bathroom fan.

Why It's Important to Clean a Bathroom Fan

Is your bathroom exhaust fan clogged? You might not realize how important cleaning your bathroom fan is. But a clogged bathroom fan can lead to mold or even a house fire. So, you want to make sure dirt and grime aren't gumming it up. To test your bathroom exhaust fan, turn it on and stick a piece of toilet paper on it. If it's holding it up, then you might be okay with just cleaning the dust off the outside. However, if not, then it's time to get down to cleaning.

How to Clean Bathroom Fans Without Lights

Now that you know your fan needs a bit of TLC, it's time to get down to business. To clean your fan, you need:

  • Screwdriver
  • Vacuum with brush
  • Brush
  • Microfiber towel
  • Paintbrush
  • Dish soap
  • Ladder

Step 1: Clean and Remove the Exhaust Fan Cover

The first thing you need to do is clean the cover.

Man removes the ventilation grill in the bathroom with a screwdriver
  1. Turn the power off to the fan at the breaker box.
  2. Use the vacuum and paintbrush to loosen and suck away as much dust as you can. You might need a ladder to reach the ceiling.
  3. Pull the plastic cover down and pinch the clip to pull it off.
  4. Once one side is done, pinch the clips on the other side.
  5. Fill the sink with warm soapy water.
  6. Throw in the cover and use the scrub brush to give it a nice clean.
  7. Rinse and allow to air dry.

Step 2: Clean the Fan Motor Without Removing It

With the cover clean, it's time to turn your attention to the motor. If you are leery of removing the motor, then you can try cleaning it without removing it.

  1. Use the screwdriver to remove any metal covers.
  2. Stick the vacuum attachment into the area of the motor and gently suck out as much dirt as you can.
  3. You can use the paintbrush to loosen any dust.
  4. Dampen a microfiber cloth and wipe everything down.
  5. Allow it to dry.

Step 3: Put the Fan Cover Back

Once everything is dry, it's time to put it all back together.

  1. Screw any covers on that you took off near the motor.
  2. Add the plastic cover back onto the unit.
  3. Flip the breaker and test your fan using a piece of toilet paper.
  4. If everything looks good, enjoy your clean fan.

How to Deep Clean the Fan Motor

Sometimes, it's not enough to just wipe around the motor. For a deep clean, you need to remove the fan from the ceiling and give it a thorough cleaning. This is a bit trickier for the average cleaner, but it can be done without damaging your vent fan. To do this, you need:

  • Compressed air/air compressor
  • Brush
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Vacuum
  • Cotton swab

Step 1: Remove Fan Motor

Before you begin, make sure the power is off to the fan at the breaker. The fan motor is held into the ceiling by a few screws in the housing. So, getting it out is just a matter of removing these screws and unhooking the unit.

  1. Look for the connector plug that powers the fan. It will have wires leading to a port in the housing.
  2. Unplug the fan by gently pulling it out.
  3. With the fan unplugged, run an internet search for your model number to find the easiest way to remove it.
  4. Now, remove the screws.
  5. Drop down the entire fan unit.

Step 2: Clean Fan Blades and Motor

With the fan out, cleaning the blades and motor becomes much easier.

Woman washes with a sponge and soap suds grill of the ventilation return duct blocked by dust and debris
  1. Take the fan outdoors to stop dust from blowing all over the house.
  2. Use compressed air to blow as much dirt and grime as possible out of the motor and off the blade.
  3. Use a soft bristle brush (old toothbrush) to brush away any stuck-on dust.
  4. Use a cotton swab to get any dirt caught in the bottom.
  5. Blow out with compressed air a final time.
  6. Wipe down the motor and blades with a damp microfiber cloth.

Step 3: Clean Fan Housing

With your fan blades sparkling, you don't want to put them back into the dirty housing.

  1. Take your vacuum with attachment and vacuum up all the loose dust.
  2. Wipe down with a damp microfiber cloth.
  3. Allow it to dry.

Step 4: Reassemble the Fan

Once your fan and housing are completely dry, it's time to put everything back together.

  1. Insert the fan into the housing.
  2. Screw the screws back in.
  3. Plug the fan back in.

Step 5: Test Fan

Once you have the fan back in, you want to add the cover back on. Then you can use the toilet paper to test to be sure that fan is sucking up well. If the fan is still not holding the toilet paper, you might need to replace your fan.

How to Clean a Bathroom Exhaust Fan With a Light

Not all bathroom fans are created equal. When you add a fan with a light to the mix, cleaning it out gets a bit more challenging. To clean a bathroom exhaust fan with a light, you need:

  • Step stool
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Vacuum
  • Screwdriver
  • Toothbrush
  • Paintbrush

Step 1: Remove Cover and Grate

The cover of a fan with a light is not as easy to clean because you can't just throw it in the sink. Since it has a light, you need to take more time to wipe it out.

  1. Turn off the breaker to make life easier.
  2. Pop the cover off of the light area of the fan.
  3. Take out the bulbs.
  4. Use a vacuum and a toothbrush to pull out any loose dirt.
  5. Remove any screws or nuts in the light grate, if necessary.
  6. Pull down one side of the plastic cover.
  7. Pinch the metal clips to pull it out.
  8. Unplug the light fixture.
  9. Vacuum off the fixture and grate again.
  10. Use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down all areas of the cover and grate.
  11. Use the brush to clean any stuck-on areas.

Step 2: Clean Out the Fan

Once you've dealt with the light cover, you need to give the fan a good cleaning. You can choose to just clean it in the wall or pop it out depending on the level of cleaning it needs. The steps for this are the same as a fan without the light. Make sure to remove as much dust as possible before reassembling.

Step 3: Reassemble Fan and Light

You've gotten everything as clean as you can. Before you can test it, you need to reassemble everything.

  1. Plug in the fan and the light.
  2. Attach the grate and piece that holds the light into the ceiling.
  3. Make sure to pinch the metal clips to pop the plastic cover back in.
  4. Turn on the breaker and test the fan and light.

How Often to Clean Bathroom Exhaust Fan

A bathroom exhaust fan needs to be cleaned about every six months. This keeps the dust from building up and your unit running smoothly. It also ensures that you aren't going to have a house fire due to buildup. A good cleaning schedule is to do this in spring and fall.

How to Clean a Bathroom Fan With Ease

Cleaning a bathroom fan isn't difficult. But you are going to need a step stool and a bit of help to get it out of the ceiling. However, the actual cleaning of the motor and blades is quite simple. And if you are ever in doubt, check out your model to get the manufacturer's recommendations for cleaning.

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How to Clean a Bathroom Fan (and Why You Should)