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Is Duct Cleaning Worth It?

Published April 26, 2022
Written by Eric Smith
Is Duct Cleaning Worth It?

Do I need to have my air ducts cleaned? -A question commonly prompted by the onset of duct season (and with it, an onslaught of ads misrepresenting all the wonders a whole-home duct cleaning can do for you). This is the ultimate Wisconsin homeowners’ guide to help you decide what to do. Plus: we go in-depth with related air quality topics you may not have asked us, but had on your mind!

There are tons of duct cleaning scams out there. You’ve seen them-$29.99 for a complete house service. Or maybe you haven’t seen them, in which case, count yourself lucky!

In this straight-talk article, we’re only breaking down the facts about legitimate duct cleaning companies in the Southeastern Wisconsin region. These companies all have something in common: they charge what they’re worth. That generally means $800 or more for a whole-home duct cleaning. (Later, we’ll get deeper into the average cost of a whole-home duct clean.)

  • What are the REAL benefits of duct cleaning?
  • What exactly does duct cleaning entail?
  • Which kind of duct cleaning is best? Are different methods really…different?
  • How often should you have your ducts cleaned?
  • How much does (or should) duct cleaning cost?
  • Are there other considerations I should know before getting my ducts cleaned?
  • Who is the best air duct cleaning contractor near you?

What are the REAL benefits of duct cleaning?

No one (currently) at Austin is a doctor, and most of us aren’t even good-looking enough to play one on TV. So we’ll save you the “Duct cleaning is good for your health!” pitch. But that brings up an important point: Do NOT expect health improvements from duct cleaning.

We’re well-aware how often advertisers allude to some wellspring of health benefits in exchange for their underpriced (or is it?) service. Of the numerous benefits duct cleaning offers, provable health benefits are unfortunately not one of them. To say otherwise is, frankly, flat disinformation.

Here are some real benefits of duct cleaning:

  • Your air filters will last longer.
  • Your furnace will operate at peak efficiency for more of its lifespan.
  • You may notice a reduction in dust on furniture/household surfaces.
  • Very old, “stuck” dust and debris are effectively agitated and suspended into the air to be  collected by the cleaning equipment for good.
  • Because there are fewer debris, dust particles and allergens in the air, allergies don’t flare up as often or as severely.

4 Essential Benefits of Whole-Home Duct Cleaning

Excellent question. You should know exactly what you’re paying for.

Obviously, Team Austin wants the opportunity to clean your ducts because we’re better at it than anyone else on the market. We won’t pretend that duct cleaning is a mythical panacea for all kinds of illnesses, but we can and will tell you what you’re actually getting.

So let’s face it: most everyone understands what it takes to clean a house or vacuum a carpet. But ductwork is different. It’s hard to access, so its cleaning is generally left to professionals-which means most people don’t have any experiential knowledge of what that involves.

When you have a true indoor air quality expert, like the ones on our team, duct cleaning will provide you with four essential benefits:

  1. Each supply duct is individually cleaned. 
  2. The main supply trunks are cleaned. 
  3. Each return duct is individually cleaned.
  4. Each return trunk is cleaned.

Yes, they all matter. And no, not every company pays the proper attention to all of them.

For all of this to happen, a duct cleaning machine needs to be connected to both the main supply and the return duct (near the furnace).

Then, each supply register and return air register gets securely sealed-off.

What’s next: room by room, duct by duct, a professional removes the sealed register and carefully deploys an agitation device (imagine an air-powered brush). The job of the agitator is to shake, rattle and vibrate in a manner that can disturb the dust and debris most efficiently-even those that have been stuck-on for years. Anything that can be knocked loose is knocked loose and suspended in the air in preparation for the next step.

Meanwhile, connected to the ductwork in the basement, the duct cleaning machine begins drawing in that dirty, dusty, itchy air and filtering it out. And that’s how you end up with nice, clean ducts.

Which duct cleaning service is the best and why?

As duct cleaning has gained popularity because of its obvious benefits, so have the different methods. Each method has its pros and cons and, if serviced by a true professional, your duct system will see consistent benefits that can only come from a thorough cleaning.

Still, not all methods are equal. Let’s take a look at the major pros and cons of each popular duct cleaning method to see exactly what each one really offers.

Top 3 Common Routes to Clean Ducts

Rotating Brushes (including brand name “Rotobrush”)

A rotating brush system is like a shop vac, but compact and designed specifically for air ducts. It’s most effective for the round supply ducts that distribute heated/cooled air to different parts of your home. For this method, a round brush mounted on a strong, portable vacuum cleaner loosens up clingy dirt and debris for the vacuum to draw out.

Pros of a Rotobrush Duct Cleaning System:

  • Small and portable 
  • Great for round ductwork 
  • Typically offered by lower-cost providers 

Cons of a Rotobrush Duct Cleaning System

  • Doesn’t perform well in square ducts (that’s most of your ductwork).
  • Not designed for long duct runs (which most people have).
  • Overall less effective than other methods of duct cleaning.

Truck-Mounted Duct Cleaning Machines (Duct Trucks)

Getting your ducts cleaned by high-powered trucks… It has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? In terms of sheer power, there’s no debate: your most powerful option is a truck-mounted duct cleaning machine.

But here’s the thing. In order to connect that truck to your ductwork, potentially hundreds of feet of hose have to be strung through your house, all the way down the stairs to your basement and reaching far enough to connect to your main truck line. Every single foot along the length of this duct-cleaning hose eats up precious suction power along the way-not to mention the loss of suction that happens when the truck has to work uphill!

After friction and gravity have had their say, the duct truck’s potential energy has been largely lost. As in, before it can even suck the dirt out of your ducts. For tons of Wisconsin homeowners, this method over-promises and under-delivers.

Duct Truck Pros

  • Highest initial suction power (at the truck)
  • Easy set-up for the duct cleaning company
  • Let’s be honest: it does look pretty cool.

Cons of Duct Trucks

  • To run the large hose through your home, you have to leave your door open. On that note…
  • …It’s especially messy during Wisconsin winters due to rain and snow.
  • The truck and the air compressor have to run simultaneously, which increases emissions and pollution.
  • Potentially the most expensive of all duct cleaning methods, and not for the right reasons. The dog-and-pony show put on by a duct-cleaning truck really is impressive to behold, increasing perceived value of the service. Take a look at this elaborate truck setup with all the bags jumping off of it:

Companies that use this method are known to charge more-and may even rush the process just so that they can get to more paying customers within the same day.

Portable duct cleaning systems 

The mission in duct cleaning is to maximize suction at the point of abatement. That means if you can get a high-power, commercial duct-cleaning unit that fits right next to your furnace, you can connect it to your ductwork with a much shorter hose, resulting in the highest achievable suction power for your device.

With portable duct-cleaning units-like the ones we use at Austin Plumbing, Heating & Air-we’re able to get as close to the duct work as is humanly possible. That legitimately gives us the best shot anyone could have at capturing the entirety of the suspended particulate matter clogging up your ducts. Leave no speck behind!

Pros of a portable duct cleaner

  • Generally provides the highest level of suction at the duct system
  • Runs on electricity (no added emissions)
  • No gigantic suction hose occupying your doorway (and much of your floor) during the process.
  • Usually the most economical option for ensuring a thorough duct cleaning.

Cons of a portable duct cleaning system

  • Frankly, it’s a little loud. Since the basement is the ideal location for the duct-cleaning machine, be prepared to hear it running until the service is finished. (But hey, when the noise is over, the dust is gone with it! Isn’t that the entire point of the money you spent to get your ducts cleaned?)

Which duct cleaning method is the best for you?

Ultimately, the choice is yours. We can only speak for the experts at Team Austin: our choice to use a commercial/portable duct-cleaning system is based on decades of research, taking into account efficacy as well as efficiency on a per-dollar basis.

How often should you have your ducts cleaned?

This question is one that many, many clients have, and it’s one you absolutely should be asking.

Unfortunately, asking a duct cleaner if it’s time to get your ducts cleaned is like asking your barber if it’s time for a haircut. It’s always in their best interest to say yes-no matter how recent your last appointment was!

As you have come to expect from Austin Plumbing, Heating & Air, we answer questions like this with nothing but straight truth and integrity. Is it utilitarianism, or are we just great guys? Does it matter?

But I digress. If you have a really good company perform a really good duct cleaning, you shouldn’t need your duct system serviced more than once every 5-7 years.

The reason we give a range of 5-7, rather than just stating the average of 6 years, is this: even a truly perfect duct-cleaning job will last longer in some homes than others. There are some cases wherein a homeowner may prefer to have their ductwork cleaned every 5 years like clockwork rather than trying to squeeze out another year or two, depending on mitigating factors.

Factors that affect the longevity of duct cleaning results:

    • Multiple pets present, especially those prone to dander and shedding, in the home. (Dogs and cats are the main culprit here, but you gotta love ’em.)
    • Windows kept open regularly or for long periods of time. (Again, there are plenty of reasons for this. Just keep in mind it causes dust to accumulate faster.)
    • Busy, “in-and-out” households with a high level of activity/foot traffic (every time the door opens and closes, that invites some foreign debris into your air space).
    • Homes near farm fields where tilling, harvesting, and other dust-producing labor is commonly found.
  • Residents who are susceptible to dust-related allergies (this one’s pretty self-explanatory, but we just can’t overstate the importance of breathing comfortably in your own home).

How much should a whole-home duct cleaning cost?

As with any service, it’s a matter of time, labor and materials.

To properly clean the duct system in an average Southeastern Wisconsin home requires an experienced crew working a full day (or at least, most of the day). Well, that’s what it takes to meet our standards for clean ducts, anyway.

Now, what does that mean to you as far as cost? As they say, time is money-and you get what you pay for. The good news is that Wisconsin’s pricing tends to be pretty fair: normally between $750 and $1,000. Of course, when you choose Team Austin to clean your ducts, you will always get an upfront, itemized quote before purchase and a copy of your final bill-also itemized-after the fact.

Once again, you can probably find someone willing to “clean” your ducts-or scoot the dust around for a few hours-for double-digits pricing. But if they don’t get your ducts clean, can you really say you got a duct cleaning service for $30? We don’t think that counts, and our clients tend to agree.

Additional air duct cleaning considerations

  • Have reasonable expectations.

We can blame marketing, the economy, or any number of things for the price of a good duct cleaning. But at the end of the day, the key to a successful job is having the right equipment, company, and expectations.

If you hire the right people, who use the right equipment, then we can knock almost everything loose, draw it in from our access points, and use our portable air duct cleaning equipment to remove all of it from your home in a snap.

Still, you should know that it’s physically impossible to remove every single stray particle from your ducts. Any claims to the contrary should immediately raise an eyebrow. Whatever we don’t get will stay there-but we get more of it than our competitors, and that’s a fact.

  • Have your whole house ready.

We’ll need access to just about every room in your home. To complete a thorough cleaning, that means every room with heat registers or return duct work. To make the appointment go as smoothly as possible, make sure that all furniture and other household items are located away from any air ducts so that the airways are clear all the way to the furnace in the basement.

  • Flexible ductwork makes things more complicated.

Flexible ducting can absolutely be cleaned, but not without some damage. Again, any company claiming otherwise is…well, frankly, lying to you.

If a room in your house has flexible ductwork, or if your entire condo is ducted in flexible ducting, no duct cleaning method comes without a high level of risk! For this reason, we do not recommend cleaning ductwork that is flexible or otherwise not designed for industry-standard cleaning procedures.

  • Zoned HVAC systems reduce duct cleaning results.

A zoned HVAC system means your home is sectioned into smaller duct systems that use zoning dampers. These zoning dampers can restrict access to ductwork and even prevent your chosen duct cleaning system from operating at full power. To aid in the abatement of dust and debris, we still strongly recommend cleaning the duct system, even if you have zoned heating and cooling. But, as always, we want you to have the full truth; in this case, that includes a reduction in effectiveness.

  • Air duct cleaning is an all-day project.

We’ve said it before, but it warrants reminding. To properly clean the ductwork in a home in Southeastern Wisconsin, you’re looking at a solid 6-8 hour day. And that’s with a fully-manned, highly experienced crew.

So, is duct cleaning needed?

Duct cleaning is like sleep. You can get by a while without it, but eventually, the need does become apparent.

So yes-duct cleaning is necessary. If not today, then that day will come no matter what you do to preserve your indoor air quality.

We know the decision to move forward with a duct cleaning is a personal one. If you’re in Waukesha or Washington County, or live in one of our coverage zones of Milwaukee, and seeking the best air duct cleaning contractor near you, give us a call at 262-367-3808. You won’t be disappointed.

Who is the best air duct cleaner in Wisconsin?

You can always trust Team Austin for your air duct cleaning or dryer vent cleaning services. Nothing gets by the boss’s eye. To book an appointment with one of our expert indoor air quality technicians, call the number above or visit our official duct cleaning page to learn more!

About The Author: Eric Smith
Eric Smith is a 3rd generation State of Wisconsin Master Plumber, Water Well Pump Installer, Plumbing Contractor, Water Well Contractor, HVAC Contractor and Water Treatment Expert and the owner of Austin Plumbing, Heating & Air.