How to Avoid Air Duct Cleaning Scams

There are many companies out there that market regularly to homeowners claiming to improve your home’s indoor air quality. Some of them are scams preying on people’s pollution and air quality concerns.

Some companies send out coupons to entice new customers to try out their company through a seemingly inexpensive air duct cleaning. If you’ve received something like this and are considering hiring a company through one of these discount offers, please read on for a quick primer so you can know what to look for in an HVAC duct cleaning!

A quality company’s estimate may seem more expensive compared to a cheap offer on a coupon, but a lot goes into doing an HVAC duct cleaning. In order to properly perform a cleaning, a State Certified HVAC contractor must use specialized equipment to reach all of the ducts in your home. The task is exacting and somewhat extensive because of the difficulty of reaching all the ducts, and it takes several hours to complete.

If you know what a duct cleaning should include, you can be an educated consumer when shopping for a company to perform the service.

A duct cleaning should actually include cleaning the following areas:

  • • Supply and return air ducts and registers
  • • Heat exchanger’s heating and cooling coils
  • • Condensate drip pans, also known as drain pans
  • • Fan housing and motor
  • • Grilles and diffusers
  • • Air handling unit housing
  • • Vacuuming all debris from all vents

First off… do you even need them cleaned?

Air ducts aren’t like air filters that need to be regularly changed out. Whether or not you need to have your air ducts cleaned regularly all depends on your type of dwelling.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that in most houses duct cleaning be done only as needed (when you start to notice ducts seem dirty). However, if you have a fuel-burning furnace, a wood fireplace or wood stove, they recommend you have them cleaned before the beginning of every cold season to protect you and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you look at your vents and see that there are visible deposits of mold or dust, cleaning is probably required. Mold can be a very dangerous growth to have in your home and is best wiped out as soon as it is detected.

Why do ducts need to be cleaned?

Even with regular air filter changes, some particles will still escape through and into your HVAC system. Duct cleaning prevents dust from blocking your system and/or re-entering your home. It also prevents mold growth in your ducts. These two are both factors for allergy sufferers especially.

Get your ducts cleaned if:

  • • You see mold growth
  • • You see debris released from your vents
  • • If you have pests infesting your vents
  • • If you see a lot of dust buildup, especially if you’ve noticed an increase in your allergies

So, you’ve determined that you do need your ducts cleaned. What should you look out for in a vent cleaning company? If you do choose to go with one of these inexpensive offers through a coupon or flyer (and we highly recommend you don’t), there are three common ways that companies can scam you.

    1. 1. The upsell

Companies that offer an HVAC vent cleaning at an extremely low price can be continually offering upgrades to the service for additional fees because this job can’t be done properly for the low quote they offer. In order to be able to offer this service so inexpensively, companies must schedule lots of cleanings throughout the day to be able to make money. So they can’t take the time to thoroughly clean your system with so many other appointments booked for the same thing.

They may try to charge for extras like “sealants” for your ducts to keep out dust or non-EPA approved chemical biocide sprays to prevent mold from growing. Neither of these are currently approved by the EPA to be effective.

Note that applying sealants to the ducts to prevent dust and other contaminants is different than sealing air duct leaks, which are leaking actual conditioned air.

  1. 2. The quick and dirty

These companies will look like they’re cleaning the air ducts for a while, and then clean the vents where you can see actual dirt built up to create the illusion of having cleaned more.

The problem with this technique, in addition to not being worth the price paid for the complete cleaning, is that it can actually leave your system dirtier and working less well than before the service! How is that possible?

A cleaning that is just for show will not completely clean your ducts. Dust will be pushed farther into your system into areas that are even harder to reach (and again, require a proper cleaning). Then your system will re-circulate the dust and germs back through your house!

  1. 3. The “mold discovery”

A mold inspection scam is a classic twist on the air duct cleaning scam. A technician will come under the guise of cleaning your vents. Then after a short while of cleaning, they will “find” mold, which you will now have to pay a much larger fee (as in, 10+ times what you thought you were paying) for them to “take care of it” for you!  Unless you have previously worked as a State Certified HVAC Contractor or mold inspector and you know how to prove it, you will have to take the technician at their word.  Some companies go so far as to produce fake tests to back up their story.

Some shady companies like this will tell you once they find the mold that it’s not safe to stay in the house. While mold does need to be taken seriously and eradicated as soon as possible from your living area, a small amount of mold that would usually grow before being noticed in an air vent is usually not going to require you to leave your home. Avoid anyone who makes you feel pressured to do something like this!

A reputable contractor will be perfectly fine with you watching them work and will show you what they’re removing from the ducts.


When choosing a company to perform a duct cleaning, a coupon with a cheap offer can seem enticing. But in this case, it really is “you get what you pay for”! If the price seems too good to be true, remember that it probably is. The company is going to get their money somehow, or they wouldn’t have sent out the coupons. Do just a little bit of homework when choosing a duct cleaning professional and you will thank yourself when the job is done thoroughly, efficiently, and for the original price quoted.



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