There are a few signs to watch out for to catch them in time. For one, if your breathing starts acting up or you start coughing or sneezing, there is probably some buildup in the vents. If you suspect mold or start hearing scritches in your pipes, there's a good chance you have enough dirt for bigger problems to unfold. You should clean your ducts and vents every few months just to be safe. This is even more important and should be done more frequently if you live in a very humid or dusty climate.

If you suspect a mold problem — either because of visible growth or a musty smell consistently coming from supply vents — cleaning ducts won’t do much good if it doesn’t eliminate the mold. Mold begins with a moisture problem, and the ducts themselves are unlikely to be the source. The most likely culprits are the cooling system’s evaporator coils, which your heating and air-conditioning contractor — and most duct-cleaning companies — can inspect and maintain. Leaky return ducts can also introduce moisture. Again, if you suspect a mold problem, consider having a service company inspect the duct system for leaks.
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.
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It’s 11 years plus in the industry I have only had to sanitize two systems both were slab systems that were in concrete and could be cleaned with a different method than normal duct cleaning. We were able to use water to rinse out the disinfectant. Would you use a chemical on anything else you use to eat or drink with and not rinse it off? The ducts in your home should be thought of as your homes heart and lungs and breathe the same air that you do. And just like us we wouldn’t use bad chemicals in our lungs and heart.
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts as a means to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold) and prevent future biological growth. They may also propose the application of a "sealant" to prevent dust and dirt particles from being released into the air or to seal air leaks. You should fully understand the pros and cons of permitting application of chemical biocides or sealants. While the targeted use of chemical biocides and sealants may be appropriate under specific circumstances, research has not demonstrated their effectiveness in duct cleaning or their potential adverse health effects. No chemical biocides are currently registered by EPA for use in internally-insulated air duct systems (see Should chemical biocides be applied to the inside of air ducts?).
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