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Is Duct Cleaning a Scam?

Recently a friend of mine whose opinions and recommendations I value — on anything from movies to marriage to motor oil — told me he had just had his home’s air ducts cleaned. In fact, he couldn’t stop raving about it. He claimed he’s never breathed easier, the air is fresher and he regrets not doing it years ago. I politely nodded and tried to change the subject. Working in the HVAC industry, I’m no stranger to the debate on duct cleaning.

Debate? Yes. The fact is, empirical data shows no discernible benefits in home air quality after routine duct cleaning. Even the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) asserts that it “has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle levels in homes increase because of dirty ducts.”

And yet you’ll still come across duct cleaning flyers in your mail advertising $39.95 specials. What this kind of “special” usually entails is some guy walking from air vent to register with an industrial vacuum, upselling you on hundreds of dollars’ worth of special solvent cleansers or tearing apart ductwork to get at trouble spots.

The most common ploy is to warn you about mold present in your ducts. It’s not that mold NEVER appears in ducts, it’s that unscrupulous contractors know it’s an easy scare tactic. They’ll tell you “things look very grim” but for a $1,000 they can “take care of” the problem. Across the country, Better Business Bureau (BBB) offices are inundated with calls about con artist duct cleanings. Heck, even Chris Hansen of To Catch a Predator fame performed undercover stings of home duct cleaners taking advantage of people — especially the elderly.

Some duct cleaning outfits are on the level, however. How can you know for sure? The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) recommends local, reputable companies. On its website, the NADCA states that “air duct cleaning is a misnomer. In actuality, the entire HVAC system should be cleaned. Failure to clean all components of the system can result in recontamination of the entire system, thus minimizing the benefits of cleaning.” This can cost from $300 to $500. For the same price or less, you can get a complete maintenance check by a professional HVAC contractor who can reliably inspect your air ducts and inform you of any hiccups.

As for that good friend of mine who can’t stop praising his recently cleaned air ducts, breathing easier is most likely all in his head. Allergy sufferers and pet owners who currently get their ducts cleaned like clockwork should know that the best way to maintain clean air in your home is to change your HVAC unit’s air filter every 30 to 90 days. It’s that simple.

Not sure how to change your air filters? We have a blog post for that here.


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