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Ceiling Air Register

Your air conditioner handles a lot of airflow—filled with numerous particles of dust, pollen, smog, hair, skin cells, and all kinds of things you don’t want to think about—throughout its lifetime. Sure, if you change the filter regularly (as you should), lots of the stuff you don’t want in your air gets removed. But air coming in from outside carries certain types of particles, but even the indoor air returns its own set of particles to be filtered and conditioned once again. All along the way is your ductwork. Over time, debris not only settles in the ductwork, but can build up inside, causing dirty air to flow through the system and requiring more frequent filter changes. You may wish to call in a professional to fully clean all your air conditioner vents and ductwork from time to time, but you can reduce the buildup with some regular home maintenance.


A few tools you may even already have can help you do the job.

  • Screwdriver (likely Phillips, but could be flat or even hex)
  • Stiff-bristled cleaning brush (even an unused toilet brush could work here)
  • Vacuum (household vacuum should work, but a heavy-duty wet/dry vacuum for shop use would be ideal)
  • A/C filter

How to Clean Air Conditioner Vents

  1. Turn off your A/C and set your thermostat to run only the fan. The airflow will help move dust and debris through the ductwork so you can clear it up. Make sure there is still a filter in place, though, to protect the internal workings of the air conditioner and the blower fan.
  2. Using the screwdriver, remove the covers from the air duct supplies (usually in the floor or angled against the wall, or on the ceiling) and the returns (larger grilles on the wall, either low or up high on taller walls). To reduce stirred-up dust, you can vacuum these before removing them. Unless soiled, these shouldn’t need further cleaning, but if any cleaning solutions are required, dry thoroughly.
  3. Use the brush to loosen built-up dust deposits in the ducts. A little elbow grease might be necessary, but still use caution, as ducts are just made of sheet metal.
  4. Vacuum up dust—as far as you can reach—from both the supply registers and the return vents.
  5. Turn off the power to the A/C.
  6. If you’re familiar with how your air conditioner works, you can clean the dust out of it at this stage as well. But if you’re inexperienced or uncomfortable, this is a great time to call us for a professional tune-up.
  7. Replace the old filter with a new one. Choose an HVAC filter that is fine enough to reduce the kinds of particles that can make the air uncomfortable for you, but that permits enough air flow so that the system doesn’t have to work too hard. Monthly changes are often recommended, but your mileage may vary depending on the quality of air outside and inside your home or business.

If you do this maintenance about twice a year, you’ll help your air system stay cleaner, work more efficiently, and more readily reduce the air pollutants you’ll be exposed to day to day. Just a little cleaning of your air conditioner vents can go a long way toward the life of your HVAC system.

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