How To Calculate Air Duct Cleaning Cost

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Air duct cleaning isn't that expensive, but it's too much if you don't really need it. Find out here when you do need it and some average costs.

When you call for professional air duct cleaning, someone will come to your house with a powerful truck-mounted vacuum cleaner. That should be your first clue this isn’t a job you could have done yourself.

That pro’s vacuum system is such a major investment that the national average range for duct cleaning costs — between $450 to $1,000 — doesn’t seem unreasonable. But it’s money you might not have to spend.

Studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation show routine duct cleaning has a minimally beneficial effect on indoor air quality. By raising undisturbed dust, it can actually make things worse. The EPA recommends cleaning ducts only in three specific instances:

  • Dust buildup is excessive and visibly circulating through the registers, or interferes with the operation of the HVAC system. The buildup may be due to years of neglect, but it can also occur after a recent remodeling project.
  • There’s substantial mold growth in the ducts. You may see it on or around the registers or, if you look inside with a flashlight, on the duct walls.
  • You have an infestation of rodents or other vermin.

In any of these instances, only pros can do the job properly. And you still may have some work to do before they arrive.

If you have a mold problem, you’ll need to address the moisture that’s feeding it. That may call for extra insulation around the ducts. If there’s an infestation, you’ll have to hire an exterminator first. Those services cost extra.

Air Duct Cleaning Cost Factors

The most accurate way to determine the cost of duct cleaning — the number of linear feet of duct — is usually impossible to measure, so pros do it two other ways. One is pricing the job according to the square footage of the home. The other? Counting the number of vents.

Pricing by square footage

The average per-square-foot cost for duct cleaning is $0.20 to $0.40. Using this standard, a 1,200-square-foot house could run from $240 to $500, while a 3,000-square-foot one could range from $600 to $1,200.

When pricing this way, cleaners usually include registers and the insides of the ducts themselves, along with the air handler and other HVAC components. It’s important to check first, though. Some cleaners may quote a low square-foot price that doesn’t include these extras, and your bill may be higher than expected. Here find out the cost of house cleaning.

Pricing by vents

The average is $25 to $50 for supply vents and $40 to $75 for return vents. Using this standard, the average quote for a small house with only eight vents is approximately the same as for a 1,200-sq.-ft. home, and a large house with 20 vents about the same as a 3,000-sq.-ft. home.

Be wary of companies that give you a low estimate based on this standard, because some will tack on an additional whole-house flat fee.

Questions To Ask the Pros

Before hiring any contractor for anything, ask about their qualifications, licensing and insurance. It’s important to see proof of insurance so you’re not on the hook in case something goes wrong. Also ask how long a contractor has been in business, and be sure to get a list of references you can contact by phone, text or email.

More specific questions for duct cleaners include:

  • What chemicals do you use? Get a list and look them up to make sure they’re safe.
  • How much do you charge for minor repairs, like resealing leaking seams?
  • How will you control dust during cleaning? A reliable company covers the floor with drop cloths and protects the wall and trim with plastic guards.
  • Do you conform to cleaning standards established by the EPA or the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA)? The EPA doesn’t provide certification, but the NADCA does. Your best bet for quality workmanship is looking for an NADCA-certified cleaning company.
  • Do you provide a visual inspection once the work is complete? A reputable company produces images to guarantee its work.

Can I DIY Air Duct Cleaning?

No. To do whole-house duct cleaning according to NADCA standards, you must put the entire system under negative pressure. This requires a large truck-mounted vacuum, which isn’t something you — or most homeowners — are likely to have.

However, you can still keep your ducts in good condition and avoid professional cleaning altogether. Try this simple DIY cleaning regimen with a vacuum, a dryer vent cleaning brush and some paper towels:

  • Remove the vent covers and wash them. Wipe dirt away from each vent opening with a damp paper towel.
  • Brush out the insides of the ducts with the dryer vent brush. Tap on the sides of the ducts with the brush to loosen dust.
  • With the vacuum’s brush attachment, suck up dust inside each went. Reach the hose into the duct as far as you can.
  • Change your air filters regularly.

Chris Deziel
Chris Deziel has been active in the building trades for more than 30 years. He helped build a small city in the Oregon desert from the ground up and helped establish two landscaping companies. He has worked as a carpenter, plumber and furniture refinisher. Deziel has been writing DIY articles since 2010 and has worked as an online consultant, most recently with Home Depot's Pro Referral service. His work has been published on Landlordology, Apartments.com and Hunker. Deziel has also published science content and is an avid musician.