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How to Clean Air Ventilation Ducts Yourself

Updated on January 7, 2017
Cre8tor profile image

Dan has been in the HVAC industry for 22 years with experience in aspects ranging from installation and service to sales and distribution.

Cleaning your ducts will cut down on dust in your home for a long time to come.
Cleaning your ducts will cut down on dust in your home for a long time to come. | Source

Reduce Dust in Your Home and Save Money

There are many reasons to clean the air ducts in your home. When ducts are clean, the heating system lasts longer (because there is less dirt wearing out its components), we dust less often, and the air we breathe at home is cleaner. For those of us with allergies, this should be a welcome improvement.

Probably you don’t own a high-powered, truck-mounted vacuum system with 150 foot-hoses; perhaps you can't afford the cost of such service. But I am going to tell you how you can clean air ducts yourself. Sure, you won't be able to reach every nook and cranny, but you can still eliminate roughly 85% of the dust in your system without spending any more than the cost of your new furnace filter.

There are many different designs of duct systems, such as attic systems and underground systems, but the theory of cleaning these systems is the same. You may not be able to access all parts of these systems (for example, underground ducts), but you can make a difference in your air quality by cleaning the parts of the system that you can reach.

Things You Need to Clean Your Air Ducts

  1. Furnace Filter. You will definitely need a new furnace filter at the end of the job. Make sure you choose the right filter option for you.
  2. Vacuum. A household-type vacuum with a decent hose attached will work, but a heavier-duty "Shop Vac" unit is better, if available.
  3. Brush. Something closely resembling a toilet brush will work best, but a stiff-bristle paintbrush or something similar will do.
  4. Screwdriver or Hex Driver. Your registers are likely held in place by some kind of fasteners. You will need to use whatever tool fits the fasteners, usually a Phillips screwdriver or 1/4" hex driver.
  5. Paper Towels. Unless you want to do a lot of dusting and sweeping right after you clean your ducts, you will find these useful to cover some registers while you clean others.

Step-By-Step Duct Cleaning

1. Cover supply registers. Start by covering up your supply air registers (openings that supply heated air to the rooms) with paper towels. You do this to keep dislodged dust from drifting into the rooms as you work. Simply lift the register, wrap the paper towel over the top of it, and replace it.

Covering the register helps keep the dust down.
Covering the register helps keep the dust down. | Source

2. Turn on fan. You want the fan running while you are cleaning, to move the dust along that you are going to loosen with your banging and brushing. Set the thermostat to "fan on," and shut off the "heat/cool" mode so that only the fan is running. If you don't have a fan-only option, you can run the heat, or you might take this opportunity to install a newer thermostat with this helpful option.

3. Check filter. Make sure your old furnace filter is in place, so that the dust you knock loose doesn't end up getting pulled into the fan motor.

4. Loosen dust in ducts. Knock loose any buildup of dust in the duct work. Simply take the handle of your brush and begin tapping on any accessible duct work you have in the basement. This will help break up any deposits of dampened dust that may have stuck to the insides of the duct.

5. Clean supply registers. Now you can start sweeping out the dust in your supply registers. With the vacuum running and the end of the hose near the register, lift the register. Use the hose to catch any dust that is being pushed out by the fan, and proceed to sweep as far into the register's piping as your hose can reach. Use your brush to scuff loose any built up dust in the register. As you go through the house sweeping out the supply registers, you can remove and dispose of the paper towels you've put in place.

The registers in the floor should lift out easily.
The registers in the floor should lift out easily. | Source

6. Clean return air registers. Sweep out your return air registers. These will likely be fastened with a screw and require your tool to remove them. Again, brush and sweep as far back into the register piping or cavity as you can.

Return air registers are usually mounted to the wall.  They gather more dust and dirt than supply registers.
Return air registers are usually mounted to the wall. They gather more dust and dirt than supply registers. | Source

7. Shut off fan and furnace. Shut the fan off at the thermostat and the power off to the furnace via the service switch or breaker panel. Do not just shut off the thermostat, because that doesn't turn off the power to the unit.

8. Clean out blower compartment and return air boot. With the power off, you can remove the panels on the front of the furnace and access the blower compartment and the return air boot. Use your vacuum to sweep up the dust built up in the blower compartment and return air boot. This is where the great bulk of your dust will be. Since you’re in here, you should clean the furnace fan as well.

9. Replace furnace filter. Buying a better filter will definitely cut down on the dust in your home. But the better the filter, the more often you should change it; a dirty filter restricts the airflow to the fan, which results in the blower motor running hotter and reducing its lifespan. How often you should change your filter depends on your home, your pets, and your location.

A furnace filter
A furnace filter

Accessing Main Ducts

The areas you could not reach with the steps above are not likely to contain a lot of dust and dirt. However, if you are determined to clean every place you can, there are a couple more things you can do.

1. Remove end caps from rectangular duct work. If you have rectangular duct work, like in the picture below, you can remove the end caps to access the inside of the ducts. You can slide the "drives" down off the duct and pull the cap out of the "slips." So long as the duct is not butting up against the wall, you should be able to reach your vacuum hose in through the space uncovered by removing the cap, and sweep out any dust you find. You could even use a flashlight to look inside the duct for dirty areas.

The vertical piece of metal on the right is called a drive. It is folded over on the top and bottom of the duct to hold it in place. With a pair of pliers, you can unfold it and pull the drive down off the duct on both sides to detach the two pieces.
The vertical piece of metal on the right is called a drive. It is folded over on the top and bottom of the duct to hold it in place. With a pair of pliers, you can unfold it and pull the drive down off the duct on both sides to detach the two pieces.

2. Clean inside basement registers. Often duct work will include registers installed throughout the system to distribute air to the basement. If you remove these registers, you'll gain even further access to the main trunk line.


If you do what you can of the items above, you will have made a significant dent in the dust in your environment, and you will have done the best you can, short of calling a professional air duct cleaning company.

Do-It-Yourself Duct Cleaning

Is cleaning your own duct an option for you?

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    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      Colleen - I assume you have underground ducting then and you would need to have them cleared and sealed which will likely require a fair amount of money and a professional. If they aren't underground and you're experiencing this then it sounds like your ducts are in need of insulating because they are in an unconditioned space and the inner and outer temps are creating condensation. Thank you for reading.

    • profile image

      Colleen Vincelli 6 weeks ago

      what happens when you have a lot of water in your air ducts..we only have central air, not heating ?

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 3 months ago from Ohio

      Thank you Greenmind!

    • greenmind profile image

      greenmind 3 months ago

      Hey great hub with lots of good info and advice. I like the way you write and you clearly know what you're talking about.

    • profile image

      violet shrop 3 months ago

      Thank you so much Daniel-

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 3 months ago from Ohio

      Violet Shrop - Thank you and no. You don't want the power off while cleaning registers...you want the fan running. Now once you get to the furnace itself, at the end and you're ready to change the filter and wrap up...yes. Turn off the power.

      Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      VioletShrop 3 months ago

      This is really well written & helpful. Just to make sure: so to clean your return register, you don't need to shut the power off? I wouldn't think so either, mine looks like yours, just a space under the hvac cabinet, no electric element seen. Thanks.

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 3 months ago from Ohio

      Tyler - Yes. If the breaker to the furnace is off, you should be safe under normal circumstances. A simple voltage detector is always nice to have though to be sure. You just touch it to anything and if there is voltage, it will blink and/or beep. Only costs like $20 and is useful for many things. Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Tyler 3 months ago

      If I switch off the breaker, then I can touch everything on the unit at the intake right? Thanks Daniel this is awesome.

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 3 months ago from Ohio

      DCME - Nothing really happens. You just won't be able to clean that area without getting up there. If you get as much as you can, you're still doing something.

    • profile image

      DCME 4 months ago

      some of the supply registers are in a valeted ceiling. since i can't tech them what happens

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 4 months ago from Ohio

      Christine - I think you're misunderstanding. I'm recommending you cover the supply registers, not the return and only temporarily, not forever. It would take a lot more than a paper towel over the supply registers for a few minutes to burn up a motor. Especially on the supply side. If it were return air, I'd say you're right but even then, it would take a lot more than a paper towel and few minutes to cause any sort of damage to the motor.

    • profile image

      christine 5 months ago

      covering the registers and running the fan will burn out the fan. bad idea.

    • profile image

      D. Bunch 6 months ago

      We bought an older mobile home over a year ago. I bought a wet dry vac and it didn't have enough suction power to vacuum the floor duct. The return air is disconnected. I run window a.c. units and have just floor heat. There are blockages in the duct. So, is a shop vac better than wet/dry vac? I need heat desperately before winter arrives.

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 6 months ago from Ohio

      Bill - The metal shouldn't hold the smell and you probably won't be able to clean it all unless you disconnect it so for the time and effort, I'd replace the damaged duct and registers rather than try and clean them.

    • profile image

      Bill 6 months ago

      Hello, just bought a house where previous owner allowed dogs to urinate all over air vents. Some urine must have leaked down air ducts. What is best way to clean air ducts?

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 6 months ago from Ohio

      Mila - Not all ducts can feasibly be reached and vertical ducts in the wall are not usually the main culprit in holding dust. This article is about doing a pretty darn good job on your own but not necessarily to get to every nook and cranny. Thank you for reading!

    • profile image

      Mila 6 months ago

      I have air exchanger the pips are in the wall.Haw can I clean them my selfish?

    • profile image

      Kim Spraggins 6 months ago

      After trying to find as good deal on air duct cleaning I thought about researching how to do it ourselves and I'm so glad I did! This rehab house has been sitting for 9 yrs and only God knows what's been lurking and swirling around for the 2+yrs since we installed the furnace. Now with 2 cats everything gets covered in dust especially in the summer with no central air, only high-powered floor fans. I bake cakes and have to turn them all off to keep the dust, lint, cat hair etc from landing in them! Eeek...and when the sun shines through the window the dust becomes even more visible! Dust, dust, dust...I can't take it any more and will be so happy when we're done with this DIY project! Update to follow! Thank you so much!!!! Mmmwah

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 24 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Daniel, these were great tips on how to clean the air vents yourself with simple and easy steps. Voted up for useful!

    • profile image

      MarkE 2 years ago

      I would like to add that a lot of the dust is from your home and mostly found in your return vents and return ducting because as it pulls the air into the ducting from your house, along with the dust and moisture, some of it will gravitate towards the bottom of the ducting due to

      1) gravity

      2) moisture condensing

      3) static electricity

      Your supply vents ought to be relatively clean in comparison due to the fact that there is an air filter upstream from the supply vents preventing any dust , usually, from going any further than the filter. However there will be some albeit a lot less in any event.

      Banging on the outside of your vents may release some dust but opening up the vents at their ends if possible will allow you to vacuum a heck of a lot more dust.

      I am replacing as many joist liners as possible, because it is relatively cheap and gets rid of any rust, mold, bacteria, and of course dust that you may or may not see.

      Good luck in your ventures, may the wind always be at your back!

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 2 years ago from Ohio

      Well, if it's just a piece, I'd throw it away. It's likely a scrap piece that's been in there longer than you may have realized and in your cleaning, worked it's way to visibility. Unfortunately, much debris found in duct is from construction and people using the duct as a dustpan. If you don't see any parts missing or holes in the ducting, then just toss it and know that they're that much cleaner.

    • profile image

      Nina 2 years ago

      Prior to reading your article, I cleaned my ductwork with a shop vac and it worked really well. The next day I found a piece of ductwork in one of the floor registers. Not sure what to do about it. Any help is much appreciated.

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 2 years ago from Ohio

      Jeremy - I allow all comments. Particularly ones like this because it gives me the opportunity to educate people. First off, if you really read the article, I clearly state this is a pretty good way to go if you don't have the money for professionals. I'm guessing you're a duct cleaner and don't want me showing people a nice alternative that will save them money and improve their air quality far more than doing nothing. My articles are not aimed to help or hurt anyone's business...only to help people who can't afford such services to do the best they can to help themselves enjoy these luxuries when it's within their ability to do so. I stand by every word in this article. With over 20 years in HVAC from loading trucks to currently running large commercial projects and everything in between, I think the professionals are already on it. Thanks for reading...or kind of anyway.

    • profile image

      Jeremy 2 years ago

      lol!! You think this compares to a real cleaning in any way? Not even close. Some jobs should be left to the professionals.

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 3 years ago from Ohio

      Yes. It is expensive. Glad I could help.

    • profile image

      Candice 3 years ago

      I was just quoted between $300 and $600 to clean my ducts. I refuse to pay that. So I'll be doing this myself and I greatly appreciate this how to.

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 4 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks bleedercleaners. Yes and the good news is, in a new home, if you clean the ducts really well right after the home is built, you will cut down on much of the dust forever. Unfortunately, in a new home, the drywall and sawdust often gets into and is swept into the heat vents. Get it now and it can help a lot.

    • profile image

      bleedercleaners 4 years ago


    • christianajohan profile image

      christianajohan 4 years ago

      I agree with you that to have a healthy life, let us first have a healthy environment.

    • Hady Chahine profile image

      Hady Chahine 4 years ago from Manhattan Beach

      Informative hub! Most people don't realize the health benefits associated with clean duct work. Thanks.

    • pinto2011 profile image

      Subhas 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      This is of great help and surely going to help me save some bucks by cleaning it myself.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 4 years ago from USA

      This hub comes just in time for me. I was about to seal up all the duct-work in my basement. You have convinced me that I should take advantage of this time to do some cleaning first. Thanks for a great hub!

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      This is a nice step by step guide on cleaning ventilation ducts. No wonder it's the hub of the day. Congratulations.

    • profile image

      summerberrie 4 years ago

      Great information about cleaning air ducks, Cre8tor! Voted up and useful.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 4 years ago from the Ether

      Most people have no idea how much dirt & dust gets trapped inside of their ducts. It's truly scary what other things have been found in ductwork too (dead animals, MONEY, etc.) I have worked for the country's largest duct cleaning franchise company for the past 6 years, and so I hear a lot of nasty stories. Thanks for sharing. Awesome hub!

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 4 years ago from Northeastern United States

      With 2 dogs and lots of dirt outside, you can only imagine the build up in those air ducts over the years. We actually are putting in a new furnace so we are hiring a pro to do it...but now I know what to watch for. Great tutorial and congrats on being Hub of the Day! Wow! Voted very UP and useful.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      This is very helpful...I appreciate the step by step information as well as the pictures. I will pass this along to my son-in-law as I think this is something he will use soon. As a matter of fact, he will probably use it at my house!!! Great job...congrats on the hub of the day too....

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Most of our air ducts are up in the ceiling except for the return air ducts. At least we can use your suggestions to clean those. Never even thought about it except for changing out the filters. Congratulations on your HOFD award.

    • urmilashukla23 profile image

      Urmila 4 years ago from Rancho Cucamonga,CA, USA

      I am making my husband to read this hub so that he can clean air ducts in our house. Useful and voted up.

      Congrats on HOTD!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 4 years ago from Illinois

      I just had my air ducts cleaned professionally a couple of weeks ago. I couldn't believe the gunk that was on the old filter after the job was done. Since then the amount of dust circulating around my home is drastically reduced. It never occurred to me to attempt this job on my own. Great hub.

    • livingpah2004 profile image

      Milli 4 years ago from USA

      Great step by step instruction to clean ducts. Thanks for sharing it. Voted up and congratulations on Hub of the day!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      Congrats on Hub of the Day. This is very informative. I'm not sure I could do this my self but maybe my son in law could do it for me. I voted this UP, etc.etc.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Great tips and information! This is not something that I do regularly, but I really should. Congrats on getting Hub of the Day!

    • dbuddhika profile image

      dbuddhika 4 years ago

      Congratulations HOD. Excellent and Very useful.

    • christianajohan profile image

      christianajohan 4 years ago

      Hi Cre8tor,

      Congratulations for being a great writer in Hubpages. How lucky you are to have chosen as hub of the day in your informative hub!

      All is well especially if we can do house job. If not, I suggest you hire someone and this hub of yours is a great guide to instruct those who will clean it.

      I am looking forward for your hubs.

      I myself is eager to be chosen someday for this hub of the day reward.

    • kthix10 profile image

      kthix10 4 years ago from IL

      Great Hub! Congrats on Hub of the day! We had ours professionally done a year ago when we bought the house, but this will help us maintain a cleaner healthier air quality in the house.

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 4 years ago from Georgia

      What great information this is! It doesn't look too complicated at all. It fits right in with spring cleaning. Thanks for compiling and sharing it here.

    • Clive Donegal profile image

      Clive Donegal 4 years ago from En Route

      That was very helpful. Thank you,

    • Michael J Rapp profile image

      Michael J Rapp 4 years ago from United States

      Very informative Hub Cre8tor. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

    • profile image

      kelleyward 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this information. This was well written making it easy to understand! Congrats on HOTD!

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Awesome - thank you so much. You're right - I don't have a high-powered vacuum with a super long cord, so your instructions are perfect.

      Congrats on the hub of the day!

    • Nare Anthony profile image

      Nare Gevorgyan 4 years ago

      Excellent! Even though we don't have those here, it was interesting to read and know :) You have written very professionally with nice formatting! Congrats!

    • vims003 profile image

      Vimesh Ummer.U 4 years ago from india

      good one really useful...voted up...

    • singhrakeshs profile image

      singhrakeshs 4 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Easy to follow step by step those tips you have shared thanks for sharing

      voted up and useful...!!!!

    • boundarybathrooms profile image

      Thomas Mulrooney 4 years ago from Colne, Lancashire, UK

      It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it ;-)

      Thanks for the tips, voted up and useful!

    • weezyschannel profile image

      Lisa 5 years ago from Central USA

      great information! thank you so much! Made my hubby read

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Boy, I wish I had read this when I was still living in my old apartment- that ventilation duct needed some serious cleaning and I didn't know that it was so easy to do!

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 5 years ago from Ohio

      There are many things that people can do themselves in regards to HVAC when given the needed information. I am glad you find this useful. I have and will continue to publish hubs that not only show people things about HVAC they can do themselves but will also save very significant amounts of money. HVAC is an expensive service so anything you can learn to do yourself will save a minimum of $125 as this is the common base rate of a licensed service trip.

    • Sadie14 profile image

      Brittany B 5 years ago from U.S.

      Great hub! I didn't know this was something I could do myself. I live in a pretty windy area and dust is a major cleaning issue so I'm pretty sure the ducts are going to need this!

    • kittyjj profile image

      Ann Leung 5 years ago from San Jose, California

      Very useful. You're right about the cost. we paid close to a thousand for a professional cleaning last time. I forwarded your hub to my husband who is responsible for those type of work. Hopefully, this will save us some money. ;) Thanks for sharing!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Very useful info here. I'm going to make hubby read it! Voted up.

    • roxanne459 profile image

      Roxanne Lewis 5 years ago from Washington

      Great Hub!It's very clear and detailed, thank you!

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 5 years ago from Ohio

      @ poowool5 - It actually was not at my home but yes, it was real. You can't fake that. (He typically is clean though...just out of the country for a few months and needs his ducts cleaned!)

      @ Marcy and all others - First, thank you very much for the positive feedback.

      Like I'd mentioned in the hub, this isn't a professional duct cleaning. One might pay $300 - $700 for a professional cleaning. For someone who doesn't have that kind of money for this type of service, they can do it themselves and achieve nearly 85% of the success. Knowing that people don't have the equipment or ability to disconnect the entire duct system as a service might do, this is a great alternative. As for the fan, since we don't have a truck mount unit that pulls the CFM as they clean, you need something to move the loose dust down to the filter. Since you banged on the duct, the dust would just sit there and you wouldn't be able to get to it. This is why you wrap the registers with the paper towel though most of the dust is being pulled back to the blower as opposed to push out of the vent.

      You'd be surprised as to how much of the dust collects at the blower and just inside the register itself. The rest of the system is likely quite clean and with our knocking, even cleaner now. One could feel free to take apart as much of their duct as they are comfortable with but for the time this could take, I'm not sure it would be worth it unless you are well versed in how to do it efficiently.

      Also, buy better and replace more often the filters. You can buy a lot of good filters for $500. (Multiplied by however many times you pay to clean your ducts.)

      I hope this further explains the situation. HVAC is very technical, requires a wide variety of uncommon tools and I try to keep it easy to understand to the average homeowner. Beyond that, there could be licensing required by law in certain cases.

    • alliemacb profile image

      alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

      Easy to follow step by step guide. Useful info. Voted up

    • Mmargie1966 profile image

      Mmargie1966 5 years ago from Gainesville, GA

      Excellent! Very thorough! Voted up and useful!

    • Horatio Plot profile image

      Horatio Plot 5 years ago from Bedfordshire, England.

      Clear and concise. Now I know how to clean the air-con, not that we need it over here in the UK.

      Voted up and shared for my friends that do though.


    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      I have wondered if it was okay to tackle cleaning ducts yourself. I had them done professionally years ago, in a different house, and it was quite a job - but they had a rotor rooter sort of thing that went all through the duct work.

      I'm curious as to why you would leave the fan running while you do this? Wouldn't that increase the chance of the dust getting into the house?

      Thanks for your hub! Voted up, useful and interesting!

    • poowool5 profile image

      poowool5 5 years ago from here in my house

      Oh dear, another thing to add to my to-do list! But at least I know how to do it now, Crea8tor, thanks to this very clear and well-explained hub. Nice job!

      Love your first pic too (was your home really that dusty, or did you have to "fake" the dust??!)

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 5 years ago from Ohio

      @ Robie - Thank you for reading and I'm glad this will be helpful to you in the near future. Spring is a great time to do this chore.

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 5 years ago from Ohio

      Cre8tor, this comes at the perfect time for me: the dust in my house has been increasing (and I hate dusting!) and I have been looking to the ads for duct cleaning services with new interest. Thank you for this clear and easy directions on how to do it, I foresee duct cleaning being added to my spring cleaning list! :)

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