by Julia Woodbury
(last updated August 14, 2017)
Have you ever sat and watched thousands of little particles of dust come shooting out of your heater vent when the air turns on? Gross, right? That is the air that you are breathing! Well, don't worry, you don't have to just sit there and take it. You can clean up your own air.
There are a few different parts to your air system. The most visible is the vent cover. These covers can get pretty grimy from all the air that is blown through them. They are also exposed to water damage, sun warping, and other accidental stains. The process for cleaning these vent covers depends on the location and type of cover that you have.
If your vent is set in the floor, you should be able to just lift it up. Vents set in walls and ceilings are probably secured in with screws. Be sure to find the right screwdriver to remove the screws. Hang on to the screws! You don't want to lose them. Also, be sure to have a trash can or newspaper set under the vent so that it can catch the dust and dirt that might fall out when you remove the vent cover.
If your vent cover is metal, you can clean it by soaking it in degreaser for 10 to 20 minutes, based on how dirty it is. This will make it easier to scrub off a lot of the grime. Use a cloth or a brush to remove the dirt and then rinse and dry the vent cover.
For painted vent covers, you can choose to degrease and clean it or sand and repaint it. If you do degrease a painted cover, don't let it soak too long or the paint will begin to come off.
For wood vent covers, remove grime and stains using a gentle scrubbing agent like Bon Ami.
It may also be necessary for you to clean the area around the vent where dust has been caught between the wall and the cover lip. To do this, use a gentle cleaning agent that will not harm your wall, ceiling, or floor, and scrub with a cloth or cleaning brush.
Once you have removed and cleaned your vent covers, it is now time to clean your ducts. For this part of the process you will want to use a pair of work gloves and a vacuum with a hose attachment. A flashlight may also be handy.
Floor ducts tend to collect small items that fall or are dropped into the vents. Before you use your vacuum to clean out the dirt and dust, reach into the vent and scoop out the large items. If you can, use a flashlight to check for items that you've missed or that are beyond your reach. You can also check on the state of the ducts deeper in the air system. If you notice a lot of dust and dirt blocking up your ducts, or if you find mold or other undesirable items (like rodents and bugs) you will want to have all of your ducts professionally cleaned.
Once you have cleaned out what you can by hand, use the longest and most flexible attachment on your vacuum to clean out the duct. If your vacuum had a brush attachment, use it to brush the sides of the duct to loosen the dirt and grime. Be careful to not lose any vacuum pieces or gloves down the vent.
At this point, you may also choose to wipe down or deep clean your air duct with a degreaser. Just be sure to rinse and dry the duct when you are done. If you plan to be working for a long time on the air duct, you might want to turn off your heater so that hot air won't start blowing in your face.
Wall and ceiling ducts will follow a similar pattern for cleaning, although you probably won't have to clean too many large items out of your ceiling. If your ceiling vent is too high and you are unable to remove the cover, it is useful to use a broom to brush it off and remove as much of the dirt as you can.
When you're finished with the ducts, screw or set the vent cover back into place and enjoy your cleaner air.
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