Cleaning Your Heating Ducts Step by Step

Vacuum hose cleaning out a floor heating ventLurking deep within your home’s vents and air ducts may be a shocking amount of dust, pollen, and other debris.  Keeping vents clean is an important step in improving or maintaining air quality in the home, especially if someone in the home has allergies.  Cleaning your vents can increase the life of your furnace and other household appliances by reducing the amount of dust that gets sucked into their motors.

At a minimum, you should clean out your vents at least once a year; some people prefer do it every couple of months.  The frequency of your duct cleaning depends on the type of filters you use, the outside environment, whether you live in the city or on a dusty road, how many people live in the home, size of the home, and much more.  Your ducts will be the cleanest when you have they professionally cleaned, but here are a few suggestions to keep your ducts in good shape.

  1. Start by covering your supply air registers with a paper towel to keep the dust down as you work. Remove the vent or register cover (most are just removed by hand) wrap the paper towel over top of it and replace it.  You don’t want all the dust in the ducts to blow out the vent covers and all over the house.  Registers in the may be located in the floor, in the ceiling, in the bottom of cabinets, and in the walls.

  2. Set the thermostat to “fan on” and shut off the “heat/cool” mode so that only the fan is running while you start cleaning. If you don’t have a fan option, you can run the heat, but depending on the weather, this could make your home quite uncomfortable.

  3. Make sure your filter is in place so that the dust you knock loose doesn’t end up getting pulled into the fan motor.

  4. Knock loose any buildup of dust in the duct work. Simply take the handle of your brush and begin tapping on any accessible duct work you have in the basement. This will help break up any areas where dust may have taken on moisture in the air and hardened to the sides of the duct.

  5. Now you can start vacuuming out the dust in your supply registers. With the hose near the register and running, lift the register. Use the hose to catch any dust that is being pushed out by the fan and proceed to vacuum as far into duct as your hose can reach. If you have a duct brush attachment, you can use it to scuff loose any built up dust in the register as needed.  It is best to start with the vents closest to the furnace and work to those further away.  You may consider tapping all hose attachments together.  If one pops loose while in a duct, your simple projects just became very difficult!

  6. Remove the fresh air intake covers and vacuum those ducts as well.

  7. Vacuum all vents register covers.  You may need to use warm water and an old toothbrush to clean up stubborn dirt.

  8. Shut the fan off at the thermostat and then power off to the furnace using the service switch or breaker panel. All power must be shut off to the furnace DO NOT just switch off the thermostat.

  9. With the power off, remove the panels on the front of the furnace to access the blower compartment and the return air boot. Use your vacuum to sweep up the dust built up in the blower compartment, return air boot, and fan. This is where a large majority of your dust will have collected.

  10. Install a new filter.  Just as with anything else, a cheap filter will give you cheap results.  You don’t need to spend a fortune on the highest grade filter you can buy, but on the other hand, don’t get the cheapest one there is either.

  11. Don’t forget to turn on the furnace after you have covers back in place.

Short of calling a professional air duct cleaning company, you have done a great job and will have made a significant dent in the amount of dust in your air and home.

About the Author: Jon Nieporte

Jon Nieporte