Air duct cleaning is a relatively straightforward process: the combination of a vacuum and agitation tools or air pressure is used to clean debris from inside your HVAC ductwork. For savvy and motivated homeowners who are determined to do things themselves, air duct cleaning is also in their sights. Here are some things you can do yourself to help maintain the cleanliness of your air ducts.
Clean vents and registers
A fair amount of the debris found in your air ducts is located in the area just behind your registers, especially those in the floor. To clean this debris, remove the register and insert a vacuum hose as far as you can reach, sweeping from side to side to collect as much as possible. You'll likely hear debris as it moves through the hose, an indication that the effort was successful. Some DIY sites suggest the insertion of a brush of some kind, even a dryer vent cleaning brush, to loosen debris stuck to the sides. Do this if you feel the need, though it's unlikely to add much to what you collect.
The registers themselves are usually easily lifted from the floor or unscrewed from the wall. Once removed, they can be wiped down with a cloth dampened with multi-purpose cleaner or mild detergent. Allow to dry before replacing.
Regularly change your air filter
This is the single-most important thing you can do in order to keep your air ducts (and furnace) clean. An air filter—or furnace filter--prevents dirt and debris from entering your furnace and clogging up its parts, and further from being deposited in your ducts and recirculated to the rest of your home. In short, most dirt stops at the filter. Keep in mind that a cheap filter will likely allow too many particles through, while the most expensive and effective option may block particles so small they hinder air flow. Best practice would be to opt for something in between the two extremes. But based on how inexpensive filters cost and how easy they are to replace, there's little excuse for not changing them regularly.
Vacuum your furnace
The motivated homeowner may want to take things a step further and vacuum their furnace's combustion chamber. After ensuring the power to the furnace is off, remove the panel to the combustion chamber. Use your vacuum's attachment tool to carefully suck up any dust and debris from around the various parts. Be careful not to jostle any wires or delicate parts in the process. This measure can be followed up with a wipe-down from a slightly damp cloth to finish.
Where the pros come in
The above steps can help to reduce the amount of dirt and debris in your duct system but are limited in their reach. Your home's ductwork, because of its vastness and necessarily complex layout, will have many areas that are simply inaccessible with laymen's tools. Professional duct cleaners, with their gas-powered vacuums and flexible air whips designed to easily snake around inside duct systems and thrash debris loose, are equipped to tackle the various challenges presented by diverse configurations and labyrinthine HVAC systems.
Further, there are myriad cases when levels of dust and debris are such that the most thorough cleaning available is called for, and no DIY attempts are going to cut it. These cases include the following:
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Air Duct Cleaning Company.
Many thanks to our technician Zach C for lending his expertise to this article.
No one likes to see visible evidence of a dirty HVAC system in their office. It conjures images of magnified dust mites, pathogens, and contaminants lurking in the air ducts and being expelled into the workspace, leaving employees wanting to hold their breath. Supply diffusers and return grilles are usually the most visible element of an office HVAC system, and when they're dirty, building occupants rightly question the cleanliness of the associated ducts and air handlers and by extension, the air they breathe 8 hours a day.
Return grilles and supply diffusers work together in harmony with the HVAC (Heating, Cooling, and Air Conditioning) system to distribute heated or cooled air throughout a commercial building. Air is pulled through the return grates into the system, then heated or cooled in the air handler and returned via the ductwork to the indoor space through the supply diffusers. Supply diffusers function to diffuse or spread out the air into the workspace in a controlled manner rather than blasting it out just beneath the opening in one strong current. Both return grilles and supply diffusers are usually located in the ceiling, and often above desktops.
As air moves through any HVAC system, it picks up dust and debris over time, which recirculates through the system and collects in certain auspicious places. One of these places tends to be the back of supply diffusers. As air blows through them, small amounts of dust are loosened and cling to the front of the diffuser, or are blown into the air or onto desks. It's at this point that the office manager or maintenance supervisor usually calls in a commercial air duct cleaning company, either because they're aware that dirty diffusers and grilles signal a need for cleaning the ducts overall, or because employees are complaining of dust being blown onto their desks (or in cases of fiberglass interior-insulated ducts—black specks of sloughed-off insulation).
Of course, the cleaning of return grilles and supply diffusers is only one step in the process of HVAC system cleaning as a whole, but it is an essential one, because any dirt left in these areas will still be blown into the workspace even if the ducts are clean, but also, because having clean grilles and diffusers instills confidence in the overall cleanliness of the HVAC system.
Most grilles and diffusers can be easily removed for cleaning, which would be the preferred method. (The vent openings are then taped over so that suction is not diminished during the duct cleaning process.) Once they are removed, they're transported outside and washed thoroughly with a degreaser, such as Simple Green, or in tougher cases, Zep, diluted and applied with a Hudson sprayer. They can then be rinsed off with a garden hose and left outside to dry until the duct cleaning is complete.
In cases where the supply diffusers are welded into place, an alternative cleaning method is to first use a dry vacuum on them, followed by hand-wiping with a cloth and degreaser, with the technician reaching his hand behind each of the louvers to ensure its cleanliness.
Often the ceiling tiles in close proximity to supply diffusers also dirty over time from dust expelled. These can be carefully vacuumed to restore them to cleanliness in most cases. Those dirty with grease or other stubborn substances may need to be replaced.
Once the air duct cleaning process is complete and the diffusers and grilles are cleaned and put back in place, the indoor workspace will be observably cleaner, and employees can have confidence that their 8 hours spent in the office, however drudgy or exhilarating, will not be spent breathing dirty air.
Wanna dig deeper? Our commercial air duct cleaning page contains detailed descriptions, before and after photos, and videos of our commercial duct cleaning processes.
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Many thanks to our commercial project manager Ben S for lending his expertise to this article.
It's happened to the best of us: one minute your precious item is in your hand or on your nightstand, a few fateful seconds later you hear the clink—or thud—of its unintended journey down your air vent. If you're lucky, the item didn't travel far and all you need to do is stick your arm in a few feet to grab it and then whisper your thanks. If you're not so lucky, it can be a big hassle to retrieve.
The best-case scenario
Air vent and duct configurations vary considerably but generally consist of a series of horizontal and vertical runs that lead to the main trunk line and, eventually, the furnace, often located in the basement. If the lost item can be located in the few feet from the vent opening but it's out of reach, it's possible for light items to be retrieved with a household vacuum hose covered with pantyhose. Heavier items could be fished out with a wire coat hanger or any number of jerry-rigged contraptions that feature a combination of length and stickiness. At any rate, an enterprising and motivated homeowner could with some effort likely retrieve the item without calling in outside help.
The not-so-best but feasible scenario
Items that are too far from the vent opening to be retrieved this way could potentially be pulled closer, using air duct cleaning tools, until they can be grabbed. This is a tricky process and would require experience on the part of the technician and a knowledge of which tool would be most effective. In many cases a multi-tentacled air whip, such as the Viper Clean Sweep, could be used in this fashion. The object's weight will play a role in the effectiveness of this process: a heavier object such as a phone will be difficult to move, and a lighter object such as a ring may simply be blown around. It will likely take patience and repeated attempts.
The worst-case scenario
If the item is in a branch line but too far to be reached or drawn closer with tools, then another option may be to use air duct cleaning tools to push it toward the main trunk for retrieval. If the main trunk is in a finished basement, this is when things become problematic and perhaps more trouble than they're worth. A finished basement will likely have a ceiling covered in drywall, with the ducts behind it, making retrieval of any item messy, labor-intensive, and costly. A high-value item may be worth this cost, but most won't be.
If the basement is unfinished, the job becomes quite a bit easier but still tedious and potentially somewhat destructive, as access holes would need to be cut into the ducts in various areas in order to locate the item and retrieve it. A borescope inserted down the vent or into an access hole could assist the technician in pinpointing the location.
Another difficult scenario is if the item is not within reach of the vent opening, and your home's ducts are of the flexible variety. Smaller items would be very difficult to remove from the corrugations that characterize flexible ducts.
This method of retrieving a lost item from an air vent cannot be neatly categorized, as there are many possible outcomes, depending on the technician's equipment. If the technician has portable equipment with a filter between the hose and the containment, the item would likely be sucked into the filter before entering the containment and therefore retrieved relatively easily, probably intact, and with minimal damage. Many duct cleaning companies, however, utilize gas-powered truck-mounted equipment, with large-bladed fans providing suction. The item may pass through the fan blades relatively unscathed, but more likely it would suffer extreme damage. Either way, depending on how often the technician empties the industrial vacuum container, he'd likely have to sift through a huge amount of debris in order to retrieve any particular item—an unpleasant prospect for him and probably a costly one for you.
Letting it be
If the item is of little worth and not easily retrievable, there's little risk of harm in leaving it in place. Excessively large or numerous items could potentially block air flow, but this would be a highly irregular occurrence. Regarding a potential fire hazard, there is little to fear (unless somehow the dropped item is highly flammable and landed in the main trunk near the furnace). Otherwise, the temperature inside air ducts is not sufficiently warm to cause combustion.
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Air Duct Cleaning Company.
Many thanks to our technicians Kris, Roy, Zach, and Ben for lending their expertise to this article.
Condenser coils and evaporator coils work together to provide cooling to an indoor space. Evaporator coils are located inside the conditioned space, in the air handler, and they serve to absorb heat and remove humidity from indoor air. The condenser coils are located on the outside of the building, and they serve to expel heat with the aid of a fan.
Why clean condenser coils?
In buildings such as apartments, assisted-living facilities, or other multiple occupancy dwellings, heating and cooling is often supplied by self-contained HVAC units, such as Skymark Skypaks, Magic-Paks, etc. These units have flat condenser coils on the exterior of the building. As outside air moves over the condenser coils, dirt contained in the air gets deposited over time onto the coils and settles between the fins. Airborne plant debris such as cottonwood, dandelion seeds, etc. also clings to and clogs the coils. This accumulation of debris reduces the efficiency of the unit, increases energy costs, and left unchecked can lead to equipment failure. It also reduces air flow as well as indoor air quality.
How are commercial condenser coils cleaned?
Commercial HVAC cleaning companies have the necessary expertise and equipment to clean commercial condenser coils without damaging them and to restore them to efficiency. The first step in the cleaning process is to remove any exterior grille (Skypak), as an abundance of debris can collect behind them relatively unnoticed without removal. To clean the condenser itself, a high-powered air trigger is used, pointing downward so as to prevent any bending of the vertical fins. In cases when the dirt and debris are more heavily impacted in the coils, the technician will don a backpack pressure-washer and employ pressurized water to loosen the debris and wash it away. Coil cleaning solutions, which are available in acid and alkaline-based varieties, can also be used if necessary.
How much does it cost to have condenser coils professionally cleaned?
Because every commercial coil cleaning job is different, there is rarely set pricing for them, but rather the HVAC company will send a project estimator to the job site to prepare a bid. The estimator will take several factors into consideration when preparing the estimate, such as the following:
To maintain peak performance and high energy efficiency, commercial condenser coils should be cleaned yearly. An annual contract with an HVAC cleaning company will ensure consistent and reliable service.
Want to learn more about cleaning of commercial HVAC components? Visit our commercial air duct cleaning page.
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Many thanks to our commercial project manager, Ben S, for lending his expertise to this article.