Even if you pride yourself on being squeaky clean, the tiny dust particles released when you vacuum carpets or polish furniture often get recirculated through your house, all thanks to your air-conditioning system.
And then you breathe all that dust back in.
But there are a few things you can do to help the dust settle somewhere besides your lungs. Mike White, a board member of the nonprofit National Air Duct Cleaners Association, or NADCA, offers some advice about improving the air you breathe in your home.
“Air ducts get dirty over time and when you start seeing dust and dirt around the grilles or on your furniture, that is a sign that dust and dirt are being moved around with the ventilation system,” said White, who has an Air System Cleaning Specialist certification, or ASCS. “You want to get the ducts cleaned to improve the air quality within the living space of the home or business.”
The dust flying around the ventilation system also includes chemicals you use in the home, including things like hair spray or the cleaner you spritz on the countertop.
“The dust basically absorbs that, so when you’re breathing, all of that is being absorbed into your upper respiratory system and can aggravate breathing problems like asthma and allergies,” White said.
Dander from pets also can contribute to air contamination. “It depends on how good your filter is on your air conditioning system, and if your return air duct is big enough for the type of filter you are using,” he said. “If the return is too small for your unit, it can build up pressure in the system, and it won’t operate as efficiently. That’s why you want to change your filters on a regular basis, too, because it traps a lot of that dust that is being circulated.”
Have your air circulation system inspected once a year to make sure your coils, return air and ductwork are clean, White said. The period of time between cleanings depends on what goes on in your living space. “If you get in there and you find one area is dirty, you may want to check the whole system, to make sure other areas are not contaminated with dust, dirt or mold,” he said.
In hot, humid climates, it’s especially important to keep dust out of the system because dust and dirt are a food source for mold. Keeping it clean reduces the likelihood of having mold in your air supply. “If you have asthma or allergies, a lot of times dust does affect that,” White said. “But when you start dealing with mold, that will absolutely give you upper respiratory problems.”
To clean the ducts, grilles are removed, the inside of the ductwork is brushed, and a vacuum is used to capture the dust, which avoids recontaminating the air. A provider with ASCS certification following NADCA guidelines can do this properly, White said. “You know they have been trained to do the job, and do it correctly,” he said.
After cleaning, some providers will use sealants to coat and resurface any dilapidated insulation. There are currently no Environmental Protection Agency-registered sanitizers on the market for ductwork. However, you can disinfect components like coils or the blower.
Besides cleaner air, you also can see reduced utility bills with proper duct maintenance, White said. “When you clean the blower, the coils and the duct system, you can see up to a 10 percent savings,” he said.
If you have remodeled, changed carpets or done any construction work, it’s a good time to get the duct system cleaned, because improvement projects stir up a lot of dust.
“When you hire someone, make sure to check them out and ensure that they have the certifications to clean the system like it should be,” White said.
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