Post: How to Clean Your HVAC System

No matter how thorough a job you do at cleaning your home – dusting the baseboards and getting into every nook and cranny to sweep away dirt, dust and cobwebs – you have likely overlooked one of the most critical components of your home comfort: your HVAC system. The HVAC not only regulates the temperature of your indoor air, but it also affects the purity of the air you breathe. That’s why it’s essential for smart homeowners to make HVAC cleaning part of their routine maintenance checklist. 

Cleaning an HVAC system involves the following steps.

  1. Replace your filters: The filters are a crucial part of helping your HVAC run at peak efficiency, which increases its lifespan. Dirty, clogged filters force the HVAC system to work harder to circulate air through your ducts. 
  2. Clean around your outdoor unit: Though the outdoor components of your HVAC are designed to be robust enough to stand up to the elements, they are also subject to an accumulation of dirt, twigs, dead leaves and other debris. Sweep around the unit and remove anything that might be blocking the airflow. Then, with the power turned completely off, use a garden hose to wash the condenser coils. 
  3. Clean air vents and registers: These elements of your HVAC system play the vital role of distributing heated and cooled air throughout your home. However, they can get clogged with dust. Use the hose attachment on your vacuum cleaner to get rid of this buildup. 
  4. Clean and inspect the air ducts: When the duct work gets clogged, it can block airflow in your home. The ducts are also an ideal environment for creatures such as dust mites to congregate.

The Importance of Cleaning Your HVAC System

HVAC systems often fall into the home maintenance category of “out of sight, out of mind,” but by keeping your system clean, you can protect yourself and your family from the perils of poor indoor air quality and help ensure the air you breathe is free of dust, pet dander, volatile organic compounds and other allergens. Who doesn’t want fresh, pure indoor air?

When you think about air pollution, you probably picture a car’s exhaust pipe or a factory smokestack belching clouds of dark smoke into the air. However, did you know the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that our indoor air quality could be two to five times more polluted than the air outside? To make matters worse, most of us now spend up to 90% of our time inside, breathing those recirculated contaminants. That’s why it’s vital to keep your HVAC system clean for your health and peace of mind. Consider the following benefits.

Fewer Allergens

If anyone in your household lives with asthma, allergies or respiratory illnesses like COPD, preserving your indoor air quality should be an even higher priority. Common allergens that can inhabit your air ducts include mold and mildew spores, pet dander, pollen and dust mites. Even the healthiest people can develop congestion and other breathing problems when the air in their house is dirty. Help everyone breathe easier with routine maintenance.

Makes Your Home Feel Cleaner

When you walk through your front door, do you ever notice your home feels stuffy and stale? Over the years, stubborn odors from cooking, smoking and use of household cleaning products can get captured in the indoor air and stay there, making your home smell musty. A thorough cleaning of the air ducts will remove all these odor-trapping particles, leading to a fresher-smelling home.

Makes Airflow More Efficient

Dirty air ducts will restrict the flow of cooled or heated air throughout your house. As a result, your system will work at less than peak efficiency, leading to premature breakdowns and higher energy bills. A clean system, on the other hand, will work at top capacity, providing you with more bang for your buck when the monthly bills come due.

Tools Required

  1. Vacuum with hose attachment
  2. Long-handled dust brush
  3. Paper towels or cleaning rags
  4. Screwdriver
  5. Replacement air filter

How to Clean Your Air Ducts and Vents in 9 Easy Steps

If you’re handy around the home and have the appropriate tools and equipment, you can make air duct cleaning a do-it-yourself weekend project. DIY air duct cleaning can improve your indoor air quality, make your home healthier and save you a lot of money, if you’re confident in your abilities. Follow these straightforward steps to tackle this task on your own. 

Step 1: Cover the supply registers

It defeats the purpose of doing a thorough cleaning if you send dust circulating all over your home. To complete this step, lift the grilles and cover the registers using either clean dust cloths or paper towels. 

Step 2: Turn on the fan

We suggest doing this immediately before cleaning the air ducts, as it will help break up the accumulated dust. Make sure to switch off the heat first, however.

Step 3: Clean the supply registers

You’ll want to remove the accumulated dust and other allergens on the registers. To do so, use the hose attachment on your vacuum cleaner or sweep out the dust and debris using a long-handled, stiff-bristled brush to reach deep inside the air ducts.

Step 4: Clean the return air registers

Using a screwdriver, remove the registers to access the inner workings of your system. You’ll need a brush with a longer handle to get at hard-to-reach areas.

Step 5: Turn off power connected to the system

After leaving the fan running for a few minutes, we always suggest shutting off all power to your HVAC system. That’s because it can be inherently dangerous to work with a unit that’s still running; risks include electric shock, among others. 

Step 6: Unscrew air duct covers

Using your regular household screwdriver, detach the fasteners holding your air duct covers in place. Clean the gratings using a paper towel or washcloth. If you need to remove years of accumulated grime, you can do so with dish soap and warm water. 

Step 7: Vacuum clean the air ducts

With the hose attachment on your vacuum, thoroughly clean out the dust and debris in your duct work. Use your long-handled brush to sweep away any mold or other contaminants you can see. Wipe the inside of the air ducts with your cleaning cloth or paper towel.

Step 8: Clean the blower compartment

With the power to the system still turned off, remove the panels on the front of your furnace. Then, use your vacuum cleaner to get rid of dust and debris buildup inside the blower compartment. As you do so, take special precautions not to damage the furnace’s fan. 

Step 9: Replace the furnace filter

After a comprehensive air duct cleaning, always conclude the job by replacing the old, clogged filter with a new one. If you’re not sure what filter to use, or how to switch out filters, consult your owner’s manual.

Making Sure You’ve Done the Job Properly

Once you’ve finished cleaning your air ducts, visually inspect the system to verify a job well done. As you do so, you can use the checklist below to determine the thoroughness of your work. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, revisit those elements.

Post-cleaning checklistDescription YesNo
GeneralDid you clean the entire heating and cooling system, including duct work, drain pans, humidifiers, coils and fans?
Heating ComponentsIs the heat exchanger surface noticeably clean?
Cooling componentsAre both sides of the cooling coil clearly clean?When you shine a light into the cooling coil, can you see it coming out the other side? Are the coil fins straight, not bent or pushed together?Did you fully clean the drain pan? Is there adequate drainage?
BlowerIs there any remaining dust or debris on the blower blades?Is the blower compartment free of visible dust or debris? 
PlenumsCan you see any dirt on the return air plenum?Do filters fit properly, and are they the highest possible efficiency recommended by your HVAC system manufacturer?Is the supply air plenum (directly downstream of the air handling unit) free of moisture and contaminants?
DuctsDid you remove all visible debris from your duct work surfaces? 
FiberglassIs all fiberglass material in good condition (free of tears and abrasions; well attached to underlying materials)? 
Access DoorsWhen the system is running, is there little to no air leakage through access doors or covers? 
Air VentsCan you see any remaining dust or grime on the registers and grilles?Did you correctly reattach all registers and grilles to your floors, walls or ceilings?
System FunctionDoes your HVAC work correctly in both the heating and cooling modes after cleaning?

Ongoing Maintenance: Preventing Your HVAC System From Getting Contaminated

After you’ve cleaned your air duct system, you’ll want to prevent future contamination by following a sensible regimen of proactive maintenance.

To keep dirt from re-entering your system:

  • Use the highest-efficiency air filter your HVAC system will allow. If in doubt, review your owner’s manual. 
  • Make sure to change your filters at least once every three months. If you have pets or if anyone in your household has allergies, check filters more often to see if you need to switch sooner. 
  • Double-check that all necessary filters are in place and fitting tightly, with no gaps.
  • Periodically inspect your cooling coils and drain pans to see if you need to clean or empty them.
  • If you are renovating an area of your house or having any significant repair or construction work done, close all the air registers and don’t run your HVAC system until you have ensured your house is free of dust.  
  • Regularly dust furniture and appliances with an electrostatic cleaning cloth. If possible, get a vacuum cleaner with an onboard HEPA filter and vacuum your home at least once a week – more if you have pets or if any member of your family has respiratory issues. 
  • If your heating system came with in-duct humidification equipment, ensure you are following all manufacturer recommendations for humidifier maintenance. 

In addition to cleaning the system, homeowners should also take the appropriate steps to keep their ductwork as dry as possible. The presence of moisture from condensation and high relative humidity is a significant factor affecting the air quality inside your home, since moisture creates an ideal environment for mold spores and mildew to thrive.

To keep moisture from building up in your air ducts:

  • Immediately address any leaks or water damage.
  • Take special notice of the cooling coils, which work to remove water from the air and can be a considerable contributor to mold growth. Ensure the condensate pan drains correctly. If you see any standing water around the unit, you have an issue that necessitates urgent attention. Double-check any insulation near cooling coils for wet spots.
  • If your home has any spots such as garages, attics or crawl spaces, make sure to seal and insulate any ducts in those areas. Taking this step will prevent water condensation and keep moisture out of your HVAC system.
  • If you are getting your air conditioning system replaced, make sure that the unit is the correct size for your needs, and that you have all ducts sealed at the joints. A unit that is too large or too small will have trouble keeping up with your home’s heating and cooling needs, resulting in the potential for moisture buildup.

Reliable HVAC Maintenance in Ocean City, NJ

Now that you have a greater respect for the role your HVAC plays in your home, as well as an understanding of how to keep it clean for your family’s health and well-being, be sure to add routine maintenance to your home cleaning checklist. The tips we’ve outlined here can keep you and your family healthy, save you money on your energy bills and extend the life of your HVAC system by keeping it running smoothly.

And, if you need a partner in air conditioning repair and other HVAC services, be sure to call the professional team at Pileiro Heating and Cooling. As a certified Trane Comfort Specialist, we routinely exceed stringent standards of customer service and employee training, which means you can look forward to receiving the highest level of professionalism and quality when you choose to work with us. 

Whether you require 24/7 emergency repairs, a system tune-up or a full replacement, we are happy to meet your needs all year long. Reach out to our friendly team today by calling us at 609-602-7796 or emailing

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