Linda Wetzel of Shaker Heights, Ohio, says she was skeptical about air duct cleaning until a friend told her it had improved her allergies. “I figured common sense said, if there’s dust on the table, there has to be dust in the vents,” Wetzel says.
After hiring a highly rated cleaner, Wetzel was very pleased with the results. She says she noticed an immediate improvement in air quality — everyone in the house suffered fewer allergies afterward — and the entire HVAC system worked more efficiently.
“We used our air conditioner less in the summer because it had so much more airflow,” she says. “And we used the heater less during an incredibly cold winter.”
Despite such anecdotal experiences, there’s no scientific evidence that regular duct cleaning improves air quality, according to a 1997 brochure published by the Environmental Protection Agency. Laureen Burton, senior scientist in the EPA Indoor Environments Division, says that while the document is more than a decade old, the science hasn’t changed and the agency stands by its recommendations.
“Checking and changing filters, keeping systems maintained, having regular inspections, and ensuring moisture doesn’t get in are more important,” she says.
However, both EPA and the National Air Duct Cleaners Association – which represents more than 1,000 cleaning companies nationwide – agree that there’s some value in the work.
Buck Sheppard, NADCA president and duct cleaner in Portland, Ore., says the association consulted on the EPA pamphlet and agrees with all but one of its findings. “Where we differ is on how often it should be done,” he says.
The EPA does not recommend that air ducts be cleaned routinely, but only as needed — such as when mold, pests or excessive debris clutter the system. According to a recent online poll, 13 percent of Angie’s List members have their ducts cleaned routinely, but 60 percent do so only if serious problems develop.
Ultimately, the decision to clean air ducts comes down to a homeowner’s own judgment. “Get a screwdriver, open up the register and look in there yourself,” Schulte says. “Most can make up their mind at that point.”
This article originally appeared at magazine.angieslist.com.