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Duct Cleaning: The Inside Dirt

Chances are, you've seen advertisements from duct-cleaning companies encouraging you to have dust and debris removed from your home's heating and air-conditioning system. Some services even promise to improve your home's indoor air quality or make claims about health benefits associated with cleaner ducts. But a recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found little reason to recommend duct cleaning. The agency says there is no proof that having your ducts cleaned will improve the quality of the air in your home, and that duct cleaning has never been shown to prevent health problems.

According to the study, knowledge about the potential benefits and possible problems of air-duct cleaning is limited because conditions in every home are different. The quality of air inside your home can be affected by cigarette smoking, cooking, and open windows. Even vacuuming the carpets can kick up household pollutants. With so many sources of indoor pollution, it's difficult to prove any role that ducts play in adding to the problem.

The EPA brochure Should You Have the Air Ducts In Your Home Cleaned? says, "... if, after a visual inspection of the inside of the ducts, you see no indication that your air ducts are contaminated with large deposits of dust or mold, having your air ducts cleaned is probably unnecessary." It also notes that it is normal for some dust to collect at return registers.

The question remains: Should you ever consider having your ducts cleaned by a professional service? According to the EPA, there are three times when the answer is an unqualified "yes." Have your ducts cleaned when there is substantial visible mold growth inside the ducts, when ducts are infested with vermin, or when ducts are clogged with so much dust and debris that particles large enough to see are blowing into the home from supply registers.

Changing furnace filters and other standard maintenance for your heating and cooling system will help ensure proper performance and energy efficiency, but the EPA does not recommend air-duct cleaning as part of routine maintenance. Agency officials also point out that duct-cleaning technicians, if not properly trained, may cause problems. A company's inadequate vacuum collection system can leave more dust and dirt in your home than if you had left the ducts alone, and a careless provider runs the risk of damaging ductwork.
If you decide to have your ducts cleaned and a cleaning service tells you that you have mold or bacterial growth in your ducts, think twice before shelling out the extra cash for "sanitizing" chemicals. Mold in your duct system means that your home likely has a moisture problem, and treating the mold will only be a temporary remedy. According to the EPA, little research has been conducted to prove the effectiveness of biocides when used inside ducts.

For a copy of Should You Have the Air Ducts In Your Home Cleaned?, call the Indoor Air Quality Clearinghouse at 800/438-4318 and ask for document EPA-402-K-97-002. You can view the brochure on the Internet at the EPA's site:

Courtesy of "Better Homes & Gardens"

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