Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of local HVAC companies free of charge until Feb. 28 at Checkbook.org/washingtonpost/ducts.
Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of growing concern and increased visibility. Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail, or been approached directly by a company offering to clean your air ducts as a means of improving your home's indoor air quality. These services typically — but not always — range in cost from $450 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on:
Demonstrate visible evidence of microbial growth in your duct work. Some service providers may attempt to convince you that your air ducts are contaminated by demonstrating that the microorganisms found in your home grow on a settling plate (i.e., petri dish). This is inappropriate. Some microorganisms are always present in the air, and some growth on a settling plate is normal. As noted earlier, only an expert can positively identify a substance as biological growth and lab analysis may be required for final confirmation. Other testing methods are not reliable.
I have lived in Calgary for quite some time now. When I first moved here I couldn’t stand the humidity levels. Its like a desert come winter. When I first moved into my new home, the house inspector insisted I have my furnace and ducts cleaned. I was very sceptical about duct cleaning to begin with. The company I hired came on time and were very respectable from the start. Before mentioning anything they asked me what my concerns were and what issues I was having. They were more concerned about addressing my issues then bringing anything non related up. I ended up going with this company and getting a humidifier installed a couple days later after the cleaning. Its been almost 4 years now that I have been here. The humidifier is working great and the difference is incredible. They took me around explained step by step what they were doing and the reasons they were doing it. With all those other companies out there, I am glad I found them at this site.
Here in Frisco, TX…just had a tech come out to clean vents. I used a 30 bucks groupon for “complete vent cleaning”. He told me I have 3 AC units and groupon covers only 1. I told him to do the unit upstairs where the kids sleep. He decided on his own to do the downstairs unit. I yelled at him why he is not doing the unit I told him to do! He said they are all connected. I will clean two for you for the price of one… Oh really?
EPA does not recommend that air ducts be cleaned except on an as-needed basis because of the continuing uncertainty about the benefits of duct cleaning under most circumstances. EPA does, however, recommend that if you have a fuel burning furnace, stove, or fireplace, they be inspected for proper functioning and serviced before each heating season to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning. Some research also suggests that cleaning dirty cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers can improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems. However, little evidence exists to indicate that simply cleaning the duct system will increase your system's efficiency.
Although it intuitively makes sense to clean ductwork — after all, you dust and clean the rest of your house — the fact is dust that settles in your ventilation system generally stays where it is, unlikely to become airborne unless disturbed. Under most circumstances, the dust is inert and harmless, and stirring it up with cleaning equipment actually creates bigger issues.
I turned on the AC when he was finished and immediately saw black fuzz balls the size of marbles come out of several of the registers. He said that was expected since everything was shaken up. So much for describing the service as cleaning. I paid him and sent him on his way. I cannot imagine that this type of service is worthwhile in anything but a new house. Apparently in old houses such as mine I can expect that using a whole house humidifier in the winter followed by a great AC can loosen the soot. Maybe this is to be expected for the first few weeks of summer each year. I now have lined the inside of the registers with cheesecloth to catch the fuzz. I’ll see if it stops after a couple of weeks.
He proceeded to clean each heat register by removing the grille and blasting it with an air pressure hose toward the duct opening thinking that the dust would magically be sucked inside. In one room this caused a ceiling smoke detector to go off because the excess dust fooled it into thinking there was smoke. I put my hand in front of a register he wasn’t working on and could hardly feel a suction. Although we discussed how I open and close damper doors, I realized later that he never checked, opened or adjusted them during the cleaning. He could have closed all but the one he was working on in order to increase suction results. His next step was to blast air into the duct and then attach a “squid-like” device that slapped around inside the duct as far as he could reach. This is important! In a newer house, ducts have long straight runs from the furnace. In older houses like mine they can turn and twist. In fact, the duct we have a problem with runs straight up from the basement inside a wall and turns 90 degrees into a soffit for three feet then into two 90 degree turns to get into the floor joist area for another two feet and finally a 90 degree turn up to the second floor register. When he cleaned this one he could only get three feet into the register with the hose or squid because of the turns. That was the case with most. Hardly what could be described as a decent cleaning.
I called the company and John answered. We set a time for him to come over that was convenient for us both. He came exactly on time and went right to work. He removed all of the vent covers, including some screens that were over the vents that I had no idea were there. He washed all of the vent covers with soap and water and then started to vacuum all of the ducts, doing a complete and thorough job. He was extremely friendly, professional and worked quickly and thoroughly. He even checked the dryer vent exhaust on the roof to make sure it was clear. After he finished vacuuming the ducts, he sanitized them and then reattached all of the vents.
We are all getting migraines several times a month. I have asthma but not ever as bad as it has been and my 2 year olds dr just informed me she potentially has asthma too. We all get sinus infections regularly and eczema and contact dermatitis. None of us have been this way until recently in our apartment. A roof leak with mold was repaired recently mold was sealed off not removed. We also had lead paint removed from a few window trims this year. I wasn’t here to see if they covered the vents. We had mice too. I vacuum everyday we have hardwood floors no one wears shoes past the font door and I’m getting over a cup full of dirt every time I vacuum. Dust on everything daily. White dust. It’s a 4 room apartment with 1 intake. They are filthy from what I can see when I change the filters. The filters are black after a few months. I feel bad to ask the homeowner to get the system cleaned, can’t afford to move (we live in the city & it’s expensive). I am going to try the shop vac to remove what I can. Any experienced hvac people please give your opinion. Should I just get it done and pay for it myself? We have lived here for 13 years. It’s never been cleaned since ive been here. Is it something I can do with a shop vac? Can i use a wet rag to get the powder dust on the inside of the vents off. One vent has what looks like chunks of dry wall or thick paint sitting in the vent and none of the vents screw into the wall, the screws just fall out. No one ever reinforced the area so the wall just basically crumbles. Kind of useless to spend the money on filters since the air and dust just blows out around the sides of the vents and one of the vents just falls right out of the wall when the heat is turned on. I don’t know why the owner doesn’t fix it. He’s been here to replace filters and saw the condition.
Quality and price should come hand in hand, a too-good-to-be-true price for an efficient air duct cleaning will not give you the quality that you wanted. To make sure you are getting your money’s worth, check reviews of air duct cleaning companies, certifications from industry since this work requires continuous learning due to new techniques and research breakthrough from time to time. My mom is located in Arizona and they trust J&M Restoration air duct cleaning company, they have an A+ BBB rating, they used EPA approved sanitizing agents, their technicians are NADCA certified, and the company is certified by the Institute of Inspection, cleaning and Restoration. Make sure to shop around and get written estimates first.
Moisture can enter the duct system through leaks or if the system has been improperly installed or serviced. Research suggests that condensation (which occurs when a surface temperature is lower than the dew point temperature of the surrounding air) on or near cooling coils of air conditioning units is a major factor in moisture contamination of the system. The presence of condensation or high relative humidity is an important indicator of the potential for mold growth on any type of duct. Controlling moisture can often be difficult, but here are some steps you can take:

Be cautious with companies that offer “whole house air duct cleaning,” urges the NADCA. The company may be using unscrupulous tactics to upsell you once they get started. Before any work begins, always clarify in writing what the job entails and what the cost will be. To protect yourself against fraud, read customer reviews and verify that your HVAC cleaning service has applicable licenses and certifications.


After major damage to a small addition on our home was damaged in the windstorm in May, the insurer’s preferred vendor sanded drywall without taping off the area. They relied on heat from the furnace to dry the mudding compound. They claimed they shut the furnace off while sanding and regardless of whether they did or not, they never cleaned up the drywall dust before turning the furnace back on. I now have drywall dust everywhere and my husband took photos to verify our concerns. They even sanded right above a cold air return. Vents were never covered either. The same company that created this mess is cleaning my ducts today. They have refused to clean the furnace. Their are health concerns for my almost 85 yr old mother who resides with us. I’ve tried 3 times in the last 7 days to escalate to a manager and they will not return my call. They just keep sending it back down to my adjuster. There are many other issues we’ve encountered since May as well. This is a major insurance company who has the resources to fix this mess but refuse. Please help!

I recently did some remodeling and figured I’d get the air ducts cleaned in our 12 year old home. After obtaining 4 estimates between $572 and a whopping $3,075 for 25 vents and 2 air handlers, I knew I was in for a ride. I read through this blog and decided to use a $79 inspection camera I just found online (Home Depot) to take a look at all my ducts by removing the ceiling grilles first and then try to get into the ducts from the other end. From what I have just learned here, I believe that will take care of my “concerns”.

WELL, this summer when I opened them up we had black dust spewing from one of the upstairs vents. It resembled the fuzz that comes off new towels. This prompted us to look into duct cleaning. We heard from someone who had it done several times, said it was worthwhile, and knew of a firm that did a good job. Clean Air America sent a single technician for the appointment and after counting registers and ducts gave me a price of $360.00 which included “sanitizing” the system (a $99 additional fee per can used). The small size of the plenum forced him to connect the 8” round vacuum hose from the truck to the 10” square opening from our humidifier unit. In hindsight, a mistake since it reduced the “negative” pressure in the system.
I had them out to clean the ducts, exhaust fans, and dryer vent in my 54 year-old home yesterday. They showed up a bit early and took their time to ensure that all the grunge was gone. I must say...they really earned their paycheck with this place! The father and son duo worked together to remove and clean the register covers, ream out the ducts and vents with a big furry brush/vacuum unit, and vacuum up the mess. They stated that I had the dirtiest ducts they had encountered in 15 years, and took over two hours to tidy them up, finding nails, copper pipe and assorted detritus and emptying the vacuum bag three times in the process. They were here over 2 1/2 hours, yet charged the fee they had quoted me on the phone, as promised. It was not the cheapest price I have seen, but it seemed fair to me. Interestingly, I had this service performed several years ago, by a cheaper company. Based on the amount of dirt and junk that was removed yesterday, I now have my doubts that the previous company really performed the work. Yes, I checked this time! The owner, John, told me that there is another company working under the same name, so make sure that you are getting the Arizona Air Duct Cleaning Company, father and son team, that is being reviewed here. Not all these companies are honest and do what they claim to!

Although it intuitively makes sense to clean ductwork — after all, you dust and clean the rest of your house — the fact is dust that settles in your ventilation system generally stays where it is, unlikely to become airborne unless disturbed. Under most circumstances, the dust is inert and harmless, and stirring it up with cleaning equipment actually creates bigger issues.

Read before purchasing Groupon! The Groupon offer seems like a great deal but it only includes a maintenance cleaning and not a full cleaning. They basically vacuum the vent with a shop vac. I had to argue with the techs just to get the dryer vent cleaning that is supposed to be included. When I called the office about it they said it was up to the technician to include the dryer vent cleaning but it wasn't automatically included. When I read the fine print on Groupon to her she said Groupon has worded it wrong and won't change it. Very deceiving "deal".


15 vents and ducts cleaned for the firest time since house built in 1968. Charles and his wife came at 8:00 am as scheduled, with their enormous vacuum, conneded it to our system, removed all the vents, plugged them with sponge material and vacuumed the entire system while they scoured out all of the aire conditioneing ducts from end to end with a rotating brush with flexible bristles like a string trimmer that reached all of the crevices in the ducts. While Charles cleaned the ducts, his wife cleanted all of the vents. they sanitized and deodorized the entire system. They finished everything and cleaned up and left just before noon. I examined the ducts after they left and they gleamed like new. $304 well spent and excellent service. I'd recommend them to anyone.
Hi guys if your not convinced yet that duct cleaning is a waste of time. I’m a HVAC business owner install heaters and air conditioners. Simple facts if you have an old system get a new return air fitted with a filter it will catch all the dirt and dust. If you still have as many do black flecks and stuff coming through it is the lining inside your ducting that has perished. So somewhere you have a hole or very old ducting. If you had rats etc its a hole somewhere. To clean, stick your vacuum in the outlet and push the hose as far as it will go this gets 99% of toys and coins fur and alike. Think about it if the object is not heavy it will come out the duct when unit is on. Service the heaters or air con units but not the ducting. I would go further to say that duct cleaning actually damages the ducting in my opinion.
I’m having my duct work cleaned this Saturday. Have a coupon for $49 through Amazon. Job normally $249. Had my basement remodeled about 18 months ago. The contractors were very thorough at blocking the vents, as far as I can tell. The offer is for HVAC and dryer vent cleaning. My house is 11 years old. I figured, $49 is not much. I appreciate your tips on not getting talked into any additional service, not to use solvents to clean, the certification information and before and after pictures. Very useful and I’ll be sure that all I spend is the $49 for the voucher.
Definitely would recommend. I just bought a house in the Hyde Park area. It is an older house, but I could tell just by looking at the vents that they had not been cleaned in years. I was having issues with my breathing, so I decided to have them cleaned. You have to schedule pretty far out in advance, but it is because they are very busy. They gave me a time window of 8-11 and showed up right in the middle of that window. I opted for the full cleaning and sanitizing because my vents were that bad.
We bought the Groupon deal. One of the techs knocked a pitcher off a shelf in our kitchen during the service and did not tell us about it, he just picked it (and the two broken pieces that came out of it) up and put them back on a different shelf. We didn't discover that it was broken until later that evening. We managed to speak with one of the two guys that evening, who said it wasn't him, must have been the other guy, (and still had the nerve to try to talk us into an additional $250 worth of service with them!) and said he would talk to his boss and have someone call us. That didn't happen. I have called the office several times myself in the two weeks since trying to speak with a manager, and my husband has also called. No one has bothered to call us back yet to address this or offer any sort of recompense for the broken item. Therefore I can't recommend this company to anyone else.

Had duct cleaners here coupon for 40.00 for complete home I was not here but my husband was. I told my husband that they will prolly ask for more money and I was right. 85 extra to do duct cleaning which I pled because my dryer vent was full of animal hair extensions then for 600 to clean a/c coils I said no. Just do what the coupon said. Do your homework be 100 steps ahead of these con men rember they con people all day long and know the ans to your objections


WELL, this summer when I opened them up we had black dust spewing from one of the upstairs vents. It resembled the fuzz that comes off new towels. This prompted us to look into duct cleaning. We heard from someone who had it done several times, said it was worthwhile, and knew of a firm that did a good job. Clean Air America sent a single technician for the appointment and after counting registers and ducts gave me a price of $360.00 which included “sanitizing” the system (a $99 additional fee per can used). The small size of the plenum forced him to connect the 8” round vacuum hose from the truck to the 10” square opening from our humidifier unit. In hindsight, a mistake since it reduced the “negative” pressure in the system.
Some research suggests that cleaning heating and cooling system components (e.g., cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers) may improve the efficiency of your system, resulting in a longer operating life, as well as some energy and maintenance cost savings. However, little evidence exists that cleaning only the ducts will improve the efficiency of the system.
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