Vacuum out your heat ducts right now

Guest post by Amy Anderson-Gaber
By: Daniel MorrisonCC BY 2.0

My home has forced air heat and about half a dozen of our vents are actually on the floor. I don’t think they do that anymore but Victorian construction practices and over a hundred years of “modernization” have left some rather interesting features in our house.

This past spring (or the winter that would not quit here in Minnesota) we noticed that our heat seemed to not be working so well. My head immediately jumped to how to find a furnace repair person and how much that would cost. My wife suggested we try vacuuming out the ducts.

All I can say is OMG, shit is NAA-STY. We filled the vacuum twice in our half-dozen floor vents, found about 20 lbs of kitty litter, two gloves that were never ours, some toys (no human children in our lives), and an empty cigarette box (neither of us smokes). Ew.

A bit of internet research has shown that apparently you’re supposed to do this on a regular basis, but I had never thought to do it before. So now you know!

Comments on Vacuum out your heat ducts right now

  1. I second this! When I moved in to my house two years ago, the heating wasn’t working. The furnace would come on, but it seemed nothing was happening. Turns out there were two mummified bats in the vent … the perks of old houses, amirite

  2. OK, so the people who owned our house before us were hoarders. I mean, like on TV. We have confirmation of this from three different sources. Things that I have found while vacuuming out our air vents: packing peanuts, McDonald’s happy meal toys, army men, cat litter, letters and receipts, acorns, cat hair, rocks, pennies, pencils, hunks of broken mirror, a hair brush, two pairs of glasses, and a pill bottle full of BBs. And honestly, I feel like I need to do it again with a shop vac instead of a regular vac, because who knows what’s still down there.

    Yeah, unless your house is brand new with brand new ducts, you should vacuum your vents. Who knows, you might find money. 🙂 (Or at least breathe better air.)

  3. I lived in two newly built houses recently and both had floor vents. So it’s still happening. Vacuuming vents is definitely a good idea but don’t get sucked into the air-duct cleaning services. They’re scammy.

    • They’re not all scammy! The key is finding verified ones who are fully up front. You’re not going to get a good real pro cleaning for a $99 living social/groupon style deal of the day. Those are total bait/switch deals. A real pro cleaning is going to cost you around $400-500. You want to find a company that is a member of the NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association). Look for positive reviews of them in Angie’s List or, use Yelp with scrutiny.

      The benefit to a pro cleaning is that they have a more powerful vacuum than you have, they have the tools to get around bends and into tighter areas you don’t and they have the ability to get into the long central sections that you will not be able to get into on your own. The good ones also have cameras to go in and look at and show you what they see before they start and after they finish. Our vents had been cleaned relatively recently but they got to the central line in the basement and it looked like it had never been touched. Dust covered the entire surface and after it was vacuumed all you could see was sheet metal. Very impressive.

      • They’re definitely helpful and appropriate for some houses and situations but the problem is that most vent cleaning companies say that all houses need pro vent cleaning on a very regular basis. At several hundred-to-thousands of dollars a pop, especially when many provide no proof that they’re helping, this is a problem. Just google “vent cleaning scam” and you will find a wealth of info on the topic.

    • Not all are scammy but you have to be smart in what you look for. Cleaners who do offers of $99 for your vent cleaning are total bait/switchers. A pro service is going to cost between $400-$500 depending on where you live. They should be members of the NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association) and you should check them out via Angie’s List and Yelp (with caution).

      While you can easily clean your vents, and you should, the average person isn’t going to have the brushes and other tools that get down around bends into tighter more awkward areas. Also, the Central line in your house is probably so long you don’t have anything to get it all clean. So regular house management, do the vents yourself, but if you’re seeing you have exceptional allergic reactions, seriously consider getting a pro. Our vents were relatively clean, but our central line was a nightmare. They used a camera and let us see the video as they looked around in there. Dust covered everything and you couldn’t see metal. When they were done, you could. It was amazing.

      So, not all pros are scammers, just be cautious and thoughtful when hiring one. And avoid duct cleaning deals on Groupon/living social like the plague.

  4. Funny to see this post today. I started having insane allergy issues in our new home around January/February. It wasn’t until March we realized it was directly related to the house. We looked for mold, did a massive spring cleaning and still I’d have a sneeze attack non-stop from walking in the door until leaving with barely a break for sleep. Finally we decided lets get the ducts cleaned and did so 2 days ago. The night after, I had a massive attack again, but it felt different that time. The next day I was fine. This morning sneezing again but that’s been out of the house as well as in, so I think it’s actual pollen issues not home issues.

    Anyway, a tip for after vacuuming them out, run your central air in some way for a day or so after doing it. Preferably with you out of the house. That way anything not sucked up in the vacuuming but shaken loose in the process has a chance to get pulled up by the filter. Oh and change your filter too! no point doing all that work and still having a dirty filter. 🙂

  5. Yes! I want to hear more weird shit you guys have found in your vents! I have no vents. I must live the strange “treasure hunt” vicariously through y’all. 😉

  6. I doubt I’ll find treasure, but does it still make sense to vacuum vents that are up high? Seems like I might be able to get rid of some dust . . .

    • The intake ducts where the worst, lots of cat hair and dust. If you’re keeping your furnace filter clean it’s likely not as much of an issue with out ducts that are high. The vents that are on the wall had far less junk in them than the ones on the floor.

  7. I’m suddenly very glad that my house has no air vents…. wow. I’d have never thought of that. Now, if I live in a house with air vents again (likely), I will know!

  8. At first I wasn’t sure about moving into a house that only had electric base board heat but now I am glad we don’t have to deal with vents since my husband and I both have allergies.

    • My grandparents, and my old neighbours had this happen, so we’ve always been particularly vigilent about clearing the dryer’s lint filter before and after each use (that’s the theory anyway, to double the chance of it getting done :P)

      • Even with religious cleaning of the lint trap inside the dryer, lint can accumulate elsewhere in the vent pipe. I just cleaned my outside vent for the first time and there was definitely some lint piling up in there.

  9. I wish I had known this in college! For 3 years I lived in an old Victorian that was built in 1884 and we had those same kinds of giant vents in the floor. It was ALWAYS COLD in the house in the winter, even when our heating bill was $200+ a month. Although, ours were probably particularly gross since I had a housemate whose puppy would repeatedly pee DIRECTLY INTO the vents. We think he was trying to save us the trouble of having to clean pee off the floor…

  10. Thank god for radiators! Lol. Although you do have to bleed those (yes, that is the term) occasionally to get air out. So if you have rattling and banging radiators it’s because there’s air in the pipes! Bleed those suckers out, y’all.

  11. My family has done this forever! When I was growing up I used to think it was silly and laugh at my parents (as a child) when they would be cleaning out the ducts. But now I totally get why they do it every year. It’s necessary to keep the air flowing freely and also to keep dust and other things out of the air. My mother has asthma and allergies, and we have pets. So it makes sense to vacuum them out. You’d be surprised what you find in there!

    As kids we used to pull out toys, bits from craft projects, cat hair, people hair among other forgotten treasures.

    Now I look forward to these ritual cleaning activities. It makes me feel like I am ready for when the cold weather starts to come. And it’s a good feeling knowing the air ducts are cleaned out and you’re not breathing in all that dusty air.

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