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What is Air Vent Cleaning?

Last Updated: April 8, 2024

Written by Karen Norman

Air Vent Cleaning Explained.

“Cleaning Vents with Care for Fresh and Healthy Air!"

Air Vent Cleaning might not be the first thing on your list of home maintenance chores, but it should be something you seriously consider. You may have heard people talk about Air Vent Cleaning, but what is it? And is it necessary?

When taking on any home cleaning project, it can be easy to overlook the air vents and the ductwork behind them. After all, the ductwork is out of sight. Yet, as with the air you breathe, just because you cannot see the contamination doesn’t mean it isn’t there. In this blog, we provide a guide explaining the process. We will address your questions and concerns regarding air vent cleaning so that you can make an informed decision on whether to book a Professional Furnace and Duct Cleaning Company or take the DIY approach to cleaning. 

Photos of Supply and Return Air Vents

What are Air Vents?  

First things first! What exactly are Air Vents? They are a significant segment of an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) System. Your Heating System comprises a series of modules that heat, ventilate and sometimes cool your home – cooling if you have central air conditioning. Air flows from the furnace through a network of metal tunnels (often called ductwork), and the air vents are the panels you see on the walls or ceilings sealing off those tunnels. 

While the vents do, to some extent, protect the ductwork from foreign objects such as toys, you will notice they are slatted to allow the flow of air to be sucked in or out. These vents are divided into supply and return vents. Heating the home in this way is sometimes called forced air heating. 

Supply Vents – The supply air vents are smaller and usually have adjustable slats to control airflow. The air (hot or cold) is pushed out through these vents into rooms throughout the home. The amount of air will depend on your thermostat settings. A room will likely have between two and four of these vents, depending on the size of the area.

Return Vents – The Return Air Vents (as the name suggests) return air to the furnace through the network of tunnels, enabling steady airflow. These vents are larger and usually non-adjustable. They can get dirtier than supply vents. Typically there is one return vent per room. The exception would be having two in an open-plan living and dining room combo. 

Understanding Air Vent Cleaning. 

Air Vent Cleaning is just one element of an HVAC forced-air cleaning service for removing dirt, dust and pollutants. This type of cleaning service has many names: furnace cleaning, duct cleaning, vent cleaning, HVAC cleaning and, of course, air vent cleaning. Professionals don’t tend to clean air vents in isolation. On the contrary, Air Duct Cleaners usually clean the entire system, including the furnace and heating elements, in addition to the ductwork and vent covers.

Occasionally, the furnace is brand new, and the customer will ask for the furnace to be left, but even so, air vent cleaning involves accessing the furnace plenum and heat exchangers.

Air Vent Cleaning versus Furnace Cleaning.   

These two cleaning services: furnace and vent cleaning, are typically carried out simultaneously. Rarely would you ask a professional to come to the home just to clean the furnace unless you plan to clean the vents yourself. Similarly, most contractors would not come just to clean a furnace unless they were doing another service, such as a tune-up. Besides, cleaning the furnace in isolation could be futile as it may not stay clean for too long. The forced air would continue to travel along dirty, contaminated ducts. 

Of course, the furnace has a filter, but you might need to replace the filter more frequently if you want the system to continue running efficiently. A clogged filter is a safety hazard. See our blog on Why Regular Furnace Filter Replacement is essential.

A two-person crew usually carries out the Cleaning Process. While one technician works on your furnace, the other focuses on the vents.

The Furnace Cleaning Process. 

Your furnace is made up of several interweaving parts, which include the plenum, burners, coils, ignition, valves, motor, heat exchangers, blower fan and assembly. Before cleaning commences, the technician will adjust the thermostat to check whether the furnace and its components are running correctly. Then they will turn off the power to the furnace for safety reasons.

Using approved negative air equipment (either Truckmounted or Portable), a large vacuum hose will be attached to the furnace plenum through a circular bypass hole. Often there is an existing hole in the plenum which is covered up by a metal plate. If so, the technician will unscrew the plate and access the existing hole. Otherwise, they will use specialized tools to make a hole correctly sized for a snug fit of the vacuum. Then the heat exchangers are covered up, and the return air vents are sealed to create sufficient compression. 

If expedient, the furnace technician will remove the blower and put it to one side until later in the process. Next, they will remove the furnace filter (and usually replace it with a new one towards the end of the job). The blower compartment is sealed off while the ducts are being cleaned. The A/C Coil is covered.

The large vacuum is hooked up to create high-pressured negative suction through which the dirt and debris from the supply ductwork is pushed and pulled. At the same time, as one technician is working in the furnace room, the other will inspect and work on the supply ducts and air vents. 

Once the supply vents have been cleaned, the large vacuum hose and covers inside the plenum are removed. The technician will then place the hose in the blower fan compartment, seal it up, and work on the return ducts begins. Then the remaining furnace components are cleaned by lightly blowing off dust with an air gun into the vacuum hose. This includes cleaning the blower fan casing and the reheat coil. Next, the blower fan is cleaned and put back, the furnace covers are wiped down, and all access holes are plugged. Finally, everything is turned back on to ensure the heating system is working correctly. 

The Air Vent Cleaning Process.

Initially, all the floor vents are covered. The hot (supply) and cold (return) ducts are cleaned separately. Starting on the top floor of the home and working their way down, the technician will unseal the first supply vent. Using an air gun or a skip line hooked up to the air equipment, they will push the skip line down the duct and blow high-pressure air into the vent to agitate and dislodge any contaminants. Once the ductwork has been successfully cleaned, the air vent will be wiped with a clean rag and the vent resealed. 

Once all the supply air vents have been cleaned, the main supply trunk line (in the basement) needs to be cleaned using a reverse skip line. This is where the air is blown back out from the trunk, pulling the dust and debris toward the vacuum.

After switching out the vacuum hose, as mentioned above, the technician will work on the return air vents from top to bottom, similar to cleaning the supply vents, although less pressure may be needed. Once the supply and return air vent cleaning is complete and the other technician has finished in the furnace area, the vents are unsealed, and the covers are reaffixed. 

Is Air Vent Cleaning worth it?     

People often ask if Air Vent Cleaning is a waste of money. How dirty do your vents get? Does cleaning ducts improve indoor air quality? We are the first to admit that there have been few scientific studies on air vent cleaning and no objective hard evidence of its effectiveness. However, we can speak to some subjective proof from our customers. In client testimonials, anecdotes such as “My home is noticeably less dusty" or “I am breathing so much better since having the vents cleaned" are comments we often hear. 

You may wish to take a look at our video: Is Dirt and Dust Affecting Indoor Air Quality? We also raise many of these issues on our Furnace and Duct Cleaning Page. For some, it is simply a matter of common sense as they perceive it. Given that Air Vent Cleaning is a service primarily carried out in forced-air heating systems, the ductwork acts as a conduit for recirculated air. Inevitably, dust, dirt and debris can find their way into the ductwork along with pet hair and insects. And occasionally, you can even find toys, mould, mice droppings, dead birds, or their nests. We have seen it all!

Why carry out an Air Vent Cleaning?

Please see our blog on the Benefits of Duct Cleaning, where we detail some of the advantages of professional air vent cleaning. As such, here, we are only summarising some factors to consider: 

  1. Cleaner Indoor Air Quality
  2. Healthier Living Environment
  3. Efficient Air Flow
  4. The furnace is working at full capacity
  5. Reduced Allergens and Toxins
  6. Dust and Dirt minimized
  7. Odours Removed
  8. Decreased Pet Dander and Pet Hair
  9. Deodorization and Sanitization options 

When is Air Vent Cleaning necessary? 

Below are a few questions to ask yourself to determine whether a cleaning might be applicable:

Is your Home Dusty or Musty? – If the home is excessively dusty or smelling musty, Air Vent Cleaning may help. Is there debris under the vent covers? Remove a few vent covers in your home. If you see a buildup of dust, hair or fluff, there is a good chance that the rest of the hidden ductwork needs cleaning too. Perhaps there is a fuzzy coating of dust on the air register covers? That can be a sign of dirty ducts.

Are you Moving Homes? – If you are selling your home, having a certificate proving a recent ductwork cleaning is a big incentive for buyers. Likewise, when moving into a new home, unless this certificate is provided, it would be wise to have the ducts cleaned more expeditiously. A good surface clean and staging can mask years of dirt buildup in the ducts. Since dead skin, hair, and pet dander get in them, you will want to ensure you are not breathing in other people’s “mess or toxins.”

When was the HVAC system last cleaned? – We recommend Professional Air Vent Cleaning every two to three years for optimal safety, but there are a few times to call in the pros sooner. NADCA – the National Air Duct Cleaning Association suggests it might be prudent to expedite a cleaning if there are signs of mould or if you notice HVAC fuel costs rising that cannot be attributed to rising inflation. 

Does Construction surround your home? – Are you in a newly built home or a development under construction? A new home in a development is great until you realize how much dust is kicked up as the homes are built. You’ll need a few extra cleaning sessions until the construction is complete. Perhaps it’s not a new home; rather you’ve just carried out renovations where drywall dust is a problem. 

Is Air Vent Cleaning Safe?     

Air Vent Cleaning is indeed safe, provided it is done correctly. That is why we suggest you leave it to the professionals. We recommend that you use a reputable company that is qualified with either NADCA or QUADCA (Qualified Air Duct Cleaning Association). There are plenty of scammers out there that could do more harm than good and waste your hard-earned income. See the following section.

Nevertheless, there are some safety hazards to watch for when bringing in furnace cleaning contractors. With the front door open, hoses and skip lines all over the home, plus vent and furnace covers removed, pet and child safety is paramount. We strongly recommend that both children and pets be kept out of the way while the technicians are in the process of cleaning. 

The air pressure is powerful, and we would hate to suck up your furball! With the vent covers off, children can be tempted to place items down the vents, and they can roll their way right down to the furnace, where they become a fire hazard. We have stories we could tell if it weren’t for embarrassing our customers, and we have too much respect for them to do that. 

What is an Air Vent Cleaning Scam?     

Air Vent Cleaning Scams are, unfortunately, all too common! Okotoks Online wrote an article called: Duct scam posts as prevalent as ever on Facebook. These Facebook scams are frustrating for reputable contractors trying to provide a genuine service. While little can be done right now to stop scammers, consumers can avoid taking adverts and social posts at face value. Instead, they should do their research to make sure any local business being considered has a Dang Good Reputation

One of the most concerning con tricks is when a homeowner receives a call from what they believe to be a highly regarded company only to find a different company turns up for the service. This is concerning not just for the customer but for the company that is cheated out of the business they deserved. If you receive calls soliciting your booking, please do your research to ensure the call came from the company being represented. 

One of the most interesting videos we have seen on the topic comes from “Pleasant Green" called “Air Duct Cleaning Scam Exposed," which we have embedded below for your convenience. 

Play video

How much does HVAC Cleaning Cost? 

According to HomeStars, The average cost for Duct Cleaning is $472.00, but that may not be what you pay. Prices can range from $300 to $600 or more. Several factors go into quoting for a furnace and duct cleaning. We explain in depth what to expect in our blog post: Understanding HVAC Cleaning Costs. 

You also have to be careful that you are not quoted one price when calling and another cost on the day of the booking! It depends on whether the HVAC company has an upsell policy. You would be wise to choose a company that guarantees no upsell. Then the only variation (if there is one) will be a difference in vent count on site. However, an experienced company can guestimate the number of vents, give or take about one to three. In addition, make sure the company you select ensures you and the technician are on the same page about the number of vents in the home before money changes hands. 

A charge is usually made for every vent, large and small, hot and cold, in the wall, floor or ceiling unless the vent is from a bathroom or kitchen extractor fan. 

What happens if I don’t clean my Air Vents? 

You may be fine not cleaning the vents, but unfortunately, it may be the case that you pay more in the long run by neglecting short-term maintenance. In addition to the toll dirty ducts might have on your physical health (compromised air quality, allergen buildup, pollen and mould spores), clogged ducts can make your HVAC system work harder. You may also need to replace the furnace filters more often, and the lifespan of the unit could be shortened.

Booking professional furnace duct cleaning now is the best way to avoid a host of expenses and health problems later.

What to Expect from a Professional Furnace and Air Vent Cleaner? 

To ensure you book the best furnace and duct cleaning company, you need to do your homework. Check out their online presence and reviews. Don’t just check Google Reviews either… look at reviews from a number of different sources.

It goes without saying that the company you choose should be licensed and insured and have WCB (Workers Compensation Board) cover. Enquire about the equipment they will be using and the process involved. How long have they been in business? What experience and qualifications do they have? For example, are they certified with QUADCA

Dang Good Carpet and Furnace Cleaning is an expert service in Calgary and neighbouring locations, backed by years of experience and run by a team that loves what they do! Clean homes mean healthier happier people. Healthier people mean stronger communities.

Don’t underestimate how the state of your ductwork might affect every aspect of your life. Contact us today to learn more.

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