If you own a home or a business, you will eventually need to hire a professional duct cleaning service to clean out the heating, cooling, dryer, and exhaust vents and ducts. Technicians at cleaning companies that specialize in air duct cleaning are equipped to work with any type of duct, including rigid sheet metal, flexible nonmetallic material, fiberglass and other materials. Professional duct cleaning services take care of air ducts in homes, commercial spaces, offices or multiunit buildings of any size or number of stories.
Various factors affect the average cost of air duct cleaning including the size of your air cooling system, the size of the home, the location of the air conditioning system, the overall air quality, the amount of use your air conditioning system or furnace gets each year, and the amount of buildup on your existing air ducts.
What cleaning entails
A complete cleaning of your air conditioning system will include all of its parts, including its air ducts, coils, drain pan, registers, grills, air plenum (the space above dropped ceiling tiles), heat exchanger, air filter, air cleaner, and the blower and motor assembly. A proper cleaning of all these component parts consists of two key steps: breaking contaminants loose, and collecting those contaminants.
A cleaning service will loosen contaminants from within your air conditioning system by using agitation devices like brushes, air whips, and compressed air nozzles or "skipper balls." The cleaning service will likely attach a vacuum to your HVAC system to create continuous negative pressure during the cleaning process, so that any contaminants loosened during the cleaning are pulled out of the system and your home. Duct cleaning companies can also check and clean your dryer ducts at the same time.
Mold, pollen and dust
Sometimes an air conditioning system can get infested with mold that grows when pollen and dust combine with humidity in the HVAC ductwork or settle in the drain pans. In these cases, a duct cleaning service provider might apply antimicrobial chemicals to control microbial contamination. Certified HVAC technicians or contractors or will only use chemicals registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After cleaning you should notice an improvement in the overall air quality.
When to clean your HVAC
Homeowners decide to have their HVAC systems cleaned for a variety of reasons, including after water contamination or water damage to the home, after renovations or remodeling, or before occupying a new home. Existing homeowners might hire an HVAC cleaning service if there are smokers or pets that shed in the household, or if residents in the home have allergies or asthma. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) recommends getting your air ducts cleaned every three to five years, or every two to three years in regions where homeowners use their air conditioning and heater for many months of the year.
Many companies charge a flat rate for air duct cleaning and will outline what services are included in their rate. Other companies have tiered pricing based on the extent of the services they provide. Here’s an example of tiered pricing from Twin Cities Furnace Cleaning in Maple Grove, Minnesota:
Standard cleaning: $99.95
- Truck-mounted industrial vacuums, high-pressure air wands and air snakes clean all supply and return vents, branch lines, and main trunk lines.
Advanced cleaning: $199.95
- Standard cleaning services, plus rotobrush or viper clean sweep in the main trunk lines.
Ultimate cleaning: $399.95
- Advanced cleaning, plus insertion of a viper microline into all vents to force debris down the branch lines and into the main trunk lines, to be handled by the viper clean sweep. All ductwork surface is contacted, before-and-after photos are provided, and the furnace is cleaned.
NADCA recommends being skeptical of services offering "whole house air duct cleaning," which could be a bait-and-switch scheme to offer you a low flat rate and then charge for unneeded services. NADCA warns that these “blow-and-go” scams have also defrauded homeowners by telling them they needed expensive mold removal when they really didn’t.
The larger the home, the higher the cost for air duct cleaning. Some companies offer a set price up to a certain square footage, beyond which customers pay an additional fee. The added cost covers employees’ extra time and use of equipment required for larger homes. Twin Cities Furnace Cleaning offers three cleaning options up to 2,500 square feet. For larger homes, they have the following additional fees:
- Each additional 500 square feet (over 2,500) for a standard or advanced cleaning: $20
- Each additional 500 square feet (over 2,500) on an ultimate cleaning: $40
Commercial air duct cleaning typically costs more than residential because furnace and air conditioning systems operate at a higher rate, with more airborne particles than most residential homes. Costs are based on the number of forced-air components in the commercial space, square footage and any special sanitization required.
If you have a business that generates a lot of dust or dirt, or if you run a restaurant that fries food in oil, your HVAC system is going to be dirtier than a residential air duct system, and will likely cost more to clean.
Number of furnaces
Some older homes have more than one furnace, which increases the cost of air duct cleaning. Each furnace has its own set of air ducts, so professionals must hook into two different systems and clean the ducts for each. The added time and use of equipment and tools result in a higher cost to customers.
Number of vents
Some companies charge by the vent or by the air duct, but it is more common to charge by the furnace or air conditioning unit. HVAC systems in older buildings or homes with DIY improvements might be difficult for a cleaning service to access, which could increase the cost of the cleaning.
Licensing and certification
It’s a good idea to make sure your HVAC cleaning service or HVAC contractor is certified by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA). A company affiliated with NADCA will have at least one Air Systems Cleaning Specialist on staff certified by NADCA; will maintain a general liability insurance policy; will agree to clean according to the NADCA standard of Assessment, Cleaning and Restoration of HVAC systems (ACR); will comply with NADCA’s code of ethics; and will maintain their accreditation by attending continuing education courses every year. You can check to see if a contractor is NADCA certified by visiting www.nadca.com.
Depending on what state you live in, an HVAC contractor or cleaning company may require a state license as well.
Many air duct cleaning companies offer one-time specials to bring in new customers. Read the fine print carefully to confirm what services will be provided, and make sure the equipment used by the company is professional — such as vacuum-equipped vans and negative air machines — and that the trapping of the dust will not take place inside your home. Here are examples of specials for overall air duct cleaning, or as add-ons to larger services:
- Air duct cleaning of unlimited vents from Before & After Air Care in Elk Grove Village, Illinois: $289
Although mold is a real health concern, be cautious of companies that report finding mold in your ducts and encourage you to purchase mold elimination services from them. If you believe mold could be in your air ducts, get a separate opinion from an independent mold removal specialist before contracting any additional work.
HVAC cleaner technicians may need to cut access holes into your existing ductwork in order to reach inside with cleaning tools.
- Visually inspect your HVAC system with a flashlight before and after the cleaning.