Tips on How to Clean Air Ducts: Heat Pump Maintenance Tips

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Most of us are aware of the trend in the world's cities for people to go around wearing face masks. It's an attempt to protect themselves against airborne pollutants. It's not just here and there; it's widespread.

Everyone is worried about what they are breathing in, and they are right to be. But what about our heat pump air ducts? Are they safe, or do they need regular cleaning?

We'll also show you how to clean air ducts of your heat pump system and ensure greater comfort and healthier air in your home.

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Why to clean air ducts: Pollutants increase the risk of illness

Numerous products we use at home contain pesticides. We use them regularly to control bugs, plants, and rodents around our home and in our garden.

A single word on each package – Caution, Warning, or Danger, specifies the level of toxicity for each product. That word indicates the potential harmfulness of active toxic elements when combined with other ingredients in the pack.

Today we spend up to 90% of our time indoors, at home, the office, school, or the workplace, and the air quality in each place is vital for our health, especially where there are people with allergic reactions to certain chemicals or who suffer from asthma.

Studies carried out by the E.P.A. show that there are often higher levels of pollutants present in indoor locations compared with those found outside. Those pollutants increase the risk of illness.

The E.P.A.'s view is that indoor air contamination is potentially a serious health issue. It actively promotes Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), benefits, and standards for homes, schools, and workplaces.

Air ducts in our heat pump systems store dust, debris & mold

Referencing a scientific review carried out in 2010, the E.P.A. noted that there was clear proof that HVAC ducting can hold dust and act as a refuge for microbial growth. The results suggested that the accumulation of dust combined with heating and humidity could cause problems if not checked.

Heat pump air ducts should be regularly checked in any HVAC system to prevent the growth of Penicillium Chrysogenum. It's the mold linked with the antibiotic Penicillin, which has saved millions of lives since WWII, but it's not so nice if you find it growing in your ducting. It should be removed, especially if older adults live on the property or those with respiratory diseases or compromised immune systems.

The E.P.A. recommends cleaning your dirty air ducts as often as necessary, especially when you have people at risk in your home.

The main benefits of cleaning your whole HVAC system and getting dirty air ducts cleaned, are clear. A clean system delivers the highest levels of efficiency, giving you the lowest operation cost, and that has to be worthwhile.

An annual air duct cleaning is a good idea, especially if you have people at risk living in your home. Under normal circumstances, it should become part of your annual maintenance routine.

Filters should also be checked and cleaned regularly too.

If you undertake major renovation projects in your home, it's wise to clean your ducting afterward. You should ensure no debris or contaminants have gotten inside your ducting during the process.

The regular maintenance of your HVAC system should include the following items:

  • Fan assembly – every 2 months
  • Grills and registers – every 2 months
  • Air filter – every 2 months
  • Ducting system – once a year
  • Evaporator and condenser coils – once a year
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Professional air duct cleaning and who to contact

If you decide to have your ducting professionally cleaned, contact The HVAC Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Association, which is also known as NADCA. They will connect you with a qualified technician near you. It was formed in 1989 as a non-profit organization of companies offering HVAC cleaning services. You can also ask your local HVAC company if they offer the service.

Ducting gathers dust and debris; however, most of it sticks to the duct walls rather than being circulated throughout your home. 

The crew runs your system under negative pressure during cleaning to ensure no contaminants are spread.

They usually bring a powerful truck-mounted vacuum unit, which they connect to your ducting using a large diameter hose. To clean your system, they use a range of different tools to loosen and remove contaminants. High-pressure, small-bore hoses loosen the dirt and debris in your system, which is then sucked out through the large-diameter hose directly into the vacuum unit in the truck. They clean every duct in your system thoroughly.

Brushes on extended handles are also used to loosen debris inside the ducting. While the process is straightforward, occasionally, access holes are cut into the ducting to ensure access to the entire system. The access holes are covered and professionally sealed when the work is complete.

Antimicrobial chemicals can be used to help deal with odors. NADCA members only use products that are permitted by and registered with the E.P.A. You can read their information sheet on chemical products for HVAC systems here.

If there are people in the house who are allergic to certain chemicals, it is especially important to check before allowing the contractor to use them. 

DIY duct cleaning and tools to use

Professional duct cleaning costs money, but it saves you cash if you can undertake the work yourself. Using brushes, vacuum cleaners, and basic tools, you should be able to clean the ducting system and remove most of the accumulated debris that's inside there.

Remove each grill and clean them individually. They trap dust, debris, and animal hairs but are usually easily removed, vacuumed, and washed clean. Reach as far into the ducting as you can. It may not be as deep and clean as a professional team would do, but the debris you remove is a huge help. A small leaf blower is a useful tool to blow dust through the system when the registers are off. Use a vacuum cleaner hose to get as far into the ducting as possible.

It's common for the return registers to get clogged up as air passes through the grating. It does not necessarily mean your air ducts are full of dust or debris; the registers are easily cleaned by brushing or vacuuming them.

Cleaning your whole HVAC system is worthwhile

There is evidence to support that cleaning your whole HVAC system, including the ducting, fans, and filters, improves the efficiency of the system. The system will last longer and is more efficient, saving on power and maintenance costs.

If you have your ducting professionally cleaned, the contractor may suggest using chemicals to kill mold and microbiological pollutants inside your ducting. Before agreeing to their use, you must ensure the chemicals used are suitable for anyone in your home with asthma or allergies.

Professional vs. DIY cleaning: Pros & cons

Professional duct cleaning


  • Registered professionals from NADCA or your local HVAC specialist.
  • More thorough, in-depth cleaning with specialist tools and experienced technicians.
  • Quicker, usually a team of two or more in larger homes. 
  • Powerful vacuum unit.
  • High-pressure small bore hoses are used to loosen dust from registers.
  • Contractors may offer deodorizers or antimicrobial products.
  • Supply a guarantee.


  • Cost can be high.

DIY duct cleaning


  • Save cash
  • Do it to suit your own schedule.


  • Not as in-depth. You may miss stuff.
  • Hard work.
  • Messy, plus, you have to dispose of the debris.
  • Time-consuming.

So, how to clean air ducts and have no worries

HVAC air duct cleaning is probably best done professionally if you can afford it, but always use registered, qualified, and trained professionals with insurance and a guarantee. The rest of your HVAC system can be cleaned as a DIY project. With a few tools and some effort, you can have your whole system sparkling clean in no time.

When linked to a professional air duct clean-up, your clean HVAC system gives you a system that's ready for anything. It runs better, saves you energy and cash, and lasts longer. You should also have fewer maintenance issues, which is a further saving.

The final choice is yours; now you have the facts.

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