Clearing the Air About Air Duct Cleaning

Air duct cleaning may help freshen up your home, but can it really reduce your allergy symptoms? Find out what the experts say.

Staying inside during allergy season won't necessarily limit your exposure to allergens — allergies to substances such as mold, dust and pet hair can be troublesome year-round in your home. In fact, over half of all homes contain at least six detectable allergens, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

If you or someone in your home is among the millions of people with indoor allergies, you may have heard about air duct cleaning as a way to reduce your exposure to indoor allergens.

What Is Air Duct Cleaning, and Is It Effective?

Air duct cleaning is removal of dirt from the surfaces of the air ducts inside your home in an effort to reduce the levels of allergy-producing particles in the air. But there is controversy over whether cleaning your air ducts will actually reduce your allergy symptoms.

For someone with an allergy, duct cleaning "tends not to be helpful," says Julie McNairn, MD, an allergist/immunologist in Cincinnati. But, she adds, "It is surprising how much garbage you can find in your ducts."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is not enough evidence about the effects of air duct cleaning to recommend it, so each person must consider the potential benefits and drawbacks before making a decision.

What's Involved in Cleaning Air Ducts?

The EPA suggests that you should consider air duct cleaning if:

  • The surfaces of your ducts or other components of your heating and cooling system have a substantial amount of visible mold on them. An air duct cleaning service may be able to show you this mold, if it is present.
  • You have rodents, insects, or other vermin infesting your ducts.
  • The ducts are clogged with dust and debris.
  • Dust or debris is being released into your home through your system's air supply registers.

Currently, there is no evidence that duct cleaning can prevent health problems, and studies have not shown that dust levels inside of homes are increased by dirty air ducts. But the EPA does say that duct cleaning is not harmful.

If you or someone in your household is experiencing symptoms of an allergy, and you think it may be related to dirty air ducts, discuss the issue with your doctor. The company that services your heating and cooling system may also be able to advise you about duct cleaning for your particular heating or cooling system.