Air Conditioning Ducts: What's Lurking Inside Your Air Vents?

If you suddenly experience severe skin and respiratory allergy symptoms that make you feel sick and lethargic, check the condition of your home's air vents. Dust and other airborne allergens can block the insides of your air vents over time. Eventually, the contaminants travel to your cooling system's air handler. If you don't take steps to clean out and sanitize your air vents, they can damage or cause problems with your cooling system. Here are things you should understand about the allergens in your home and how you can make your air vents healthier.

How Do Allergens Affect Your Air Vents?

Your home contains many different types of allergens that live in your air, on your carpets, on the surfaces of your skin, and even on your pets' fur. Allergens, such as dust mites, can cause asthma attacks, dermatitis and sinus infections if you inhale or touch them. If you didn't experience allergies before now, the sudden attacks on your skin and respiratory systems may baffle you. But if you look inside your home's air vents, you may find the sources of your problems.

Air vents are designed to circulate warm and cool air throughout your home. However, the vents also help clean your home by removing contaminants from the air and transporting them to the air handler's filter. If the air filter builds up with too many contaminants and becomes blocked, the contaminants recirculate back into the home. Eventually, the contaminants build up along the insides of vents until they stop circulating air properly.

Even if you change your dirty air filter, you still need to clean out the air vents to get rid of your allergies.

Is It Easy to Clean Out Your Air Vents?

Air vents are easier to clean than your air ducts, which lie hidden behind your walls, inside the basement and inside the attic. If you want to clean out the air ducts in your home, it's a good idea that you have a professional HVAC contractor do it for you. The contractor generally provides a whole-house duct cleaning service that removes contaminants from every area of the home that has a duct system. Until you contact a contractor, clean out your air vents.

First, gather the items below:

  • Bucket of warm water filled with 3 cups of white vinegar and 3 teaspoonfuls of dish detergent
  • Cleaning rag
  • Drying towel 
  • Eye goggles and vinyl gloves
  • Screwdriver
  • Vacuum with long attachment hose
  • Wide-based ladder

Now, follow the steps below to begin:

  1. Position your ladder beneath an air vent in one of your rooms, then put on your goggles and gloves. 
  2. Remove the grill from the vent with your screwdriver, then place the screws in your pocket for safekeeping.
  3. Vacuum out the vent as far as you can reach safely.
  4. Dip your cleaning rag into the soapy water, then wipe down the outer edges of the vent's entrance.
  5. Wet the rag again, then wipe down the insides of the vent.
  6. Dry the inside of the vent with the drying towel.
  7. Wait 20 minutes for the vent to dry completely. You can proceed to the next vent while the first vent dries.
  8. Repeat all steps until done.

If you have floor and wall vents, you can follow the steps 2-8 to clean them as well. To clean the grills, soak them in hot water and lemon juice. Lemon juice contains acids that help break down dirt and other debris, as well as kill pathogens like dust mites. Before you place the grills back over the air vents, dry them thoroughly with a high-speed fan. Mold can grow on the surfaces of the wet grills.

You may notice that the air seems cleaner immediately after you complete the steps above. However, it may take a week or so before your allergies go away. 

If notice that your air vents appear heavily soiled with animal feces, mold or some other dangerous contaminant, have a contractor from a company like Enright and Sons clean the vents for you when they do the air ducts.