(707) 800-6287 |  Sonoma Napa and Marin Counties

updated 5/16/22


One of the most effective ways to keep your air conditioning system functioning properly is to ensure the registers are kept clean and free of dust. Although this may not seem as crucial as maintaining other parts of the system, keeping the registers clean can have a big impact on the functionality of the system as a whole. When done properly and fairly often, you can avoid potential problems to ensure your system is operating at top efficiency.


Getting Started

You will want to start the cleaning process by dusting with a broom or regular duster. If your registers are on the ceiling, be careful not to get dust and other particles in your eyes. You should also be prepared to clean up the area underneath from any fallen debris. In addition, you may also wish to wipe the vent with a damp cloth. Once this is done, you will want to unscrew the register covers and set them aside. With a vacuum cleaner, vacuum the air ducts with the appropriate attachment. Doing so will clear out the dust and debris that have been gathering in the ducts. For optimal efficiency, it is recommended to do this weekly, or even more frequently if you have pets. Once this step is done, you will want to screw the register covers back on securely. Upon doing so, inspect the surrounding area and vacuum away any dust that may have escaped during the process.


Changing the Air Filter

Next, you will want to make sure to change your air filter. These filters can quickly become clogged with dust and other debris, especially during warmer months when your air conditioner is running more frequently. This will be especially beneficial to those in your home with allergies, as it will ensure the air being circulated in your home is nice and clean. Changing your air filter regularly will reduce the amount of dust found on your registers while ensuring your family is breathing in clean air.


Professional Cleaning

It is advisable to have a professional clean your registers and systems once each year. While performing regular cleaning to maintain your air conditioning systems yourself is important and beneficial, you are limited to how much you can do. Professionals have industrial strength vacuums, allowing them to get your system as clean as possible. If you consider doing this during the cooler months, when their business is a bit slower, you may be able to save a bit of money.

By performing these routine maintenance tasks, you can be sure to keep your registers free of dust and other particles. By adding this into your normal cleaning routine, you will enjoy fresh, clean air in your home while avoiding potential problems often caused by dust clogs. It is always much easier to perform maintenance to avoid problems rather than sit back and wait for a problem to fix. While cleaning registers and ducts might not be the most pleasant and enjoyable task, it is pretty simple and will save you a headache in the long run.


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Keeping Your Air Conditioner Dust-Free

Every homeowner knows how quickly dust and dirt can build up pretty much everywhere inside. We constantly have to be cleaning our surfaces, under the furniture, and any other little tucked-away spot where dust might be hiding. The same rules apply to your air conditioning system as well. It’s extremely easy for dust and other small particles to get caught up in the different parts of your HVAC system and cause problems. If not properly cleaned, this buildup of dust and dirt can create strain on the air conditioner, increase your power bill, and reduce the actual effectiveness of the system, leading to uncomfortably warm temperatures in your house.


Luckily, it’s not especially difficult to keep the whole system clean and dust-free. You can do most of the cleaning yourself, without too much trouble, although there are a few things that you might want to bring in professional help for. Keeping your air conditioner clean and free of dust is one of the best things you can do to extend its lifespan and make sure it’s working as efficiently as possible. When done properly and frequently, it will keep your A/C unit operating in tip-top shape for years to come.


Cleaning the Air Conditioning Registers

Air conditioners are full of moving parts and little spaces where dust can accumulate, but there are only a few points where it’s essential to clean regularly. These points are usually where air passes in or out of the unit itself. Typically, any access points are covered with vents or filters to catch the dust floating in the air before it reaches the inside of the unit. When the filters or vents are clogged with dust, then the unit has to work harder to pull air inside, causing strain on the inner workings. Some of the most critical spots to clean are the A/C registers.


Vents, Registers, and Grills

If you’ve been doing any reading on air conditioner maintenance and cleaning, you’ve probably seen the words “vents,” “registers,” and “grills” all used in articles like this one, sometimes interchangeably. However, each of these terms does refer to something specific, and it’s important to know the difference.


“Vent” is sort of a catch-all term for any open space where air can pass in or out of the HVAC system. The vent is just the hole itself, not the cover. Air conditioners have vents to pull air into the system, to release exhaust air, pass cooled air into the ducts, and finally, the ducts themselves have vents that allow the treated air to enter the rest of the house. Because a vent is essentially just a big hole, it doesn’t collect dust. Rather, it’s the vent cover that needs to be cleaned.


A register is a specific type of vent cover. They’re used to cover the vents that connect the air conditioner to the outside, which is the source of the air the system cools and releases into your home. This makes registers particularly important since they’re responsible for catching any debris from the outside world before it reaches the inside of the unit. Registers are set apart from grills and other covers because they have dampers, mechanisms that allow you to open and close access to the vent to redirect airflow.


A grill is essentially just a register without a damper. They can’t be opened or closed, and are designed to maximize airflow without allowing any large pieces of debris to pass through. Because they’re wider than registers, they don’t usually get as dusty and don’t have to be cleaned quite as frequently, although you should clean out the grills connecting the ducts to the rest of the house every once in a while.


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How to Clean an Air Conditioner Register

You can get started by simply using a broom or regular feather duster to brush away dust and other debris gathered in the register. Make sure the register is fully open before you start, so there’s nowhere for dust to hide. If the register is placed in the ceiling, make sure not to let any dust or other particles fall into your eyes. You should be able to get the majority of the dust cleared away from just this first step.


After dusting the register, you can unscrew it from the vent and take it down. Run a damp paper towel over the metal to pick up any stubborn bits of dust that haven’t already been dislodged by the brushing. Finally, you should prepare some water mixed with a little dish soap in a large bucket or your tub. Let the registers soak in the water for about 10 to 15 minutes to make sure that everything has been cleaned, and then give them a quick rinse. If you have older registers that aren’t made of stainless steel, you might want to skip this step so they don’t rust. Letting the registers soak in soapy water means you won’t have to wash them as often.


While the registers are soaking, you can use the hose attachment on your vacuum to clean some of the dust out of the ducts or the unit itself. We recommend doing this about once a week or so if you have pets. It’s worth noting, however, that this won’t fully clean your ducts. We’ll talk a little more about thorough duct cleaning later on in this post.


Air Filters

The air filter is one of the most vitally important parts of any air conditioner. These filters make sure the air distributed through your house is clean and safe for you and your family to breathe, which means you should always stay on top of their maintenance. All filters will gather dust and debris over time, so you should clean or replace them regularly. The specific procedure will depend pretty heavily on the type of filter that you use in your air conditioner.


Why Are Air Filters Important?

There are two main reasons why having a clean and effective air filter is so important. The first is pretty obvious: air quality. The air filter in your HVAC system has an enormous effect on the quality of the air in your house, which is something you should keep in mind. A poor filter can worsen symptoms of allergies and respiratory conditions like asthma, and even allow more dangerous particulates like mold or mildew to enter your home. If allowed to pass through the air filter, mold spores can attach themselves to the insides of your ducts and grow there, creating more spores that are released into your air supply. Some mold can be extremely dangerous, so preventing it from gaining a foothold in your ductwork is a big deal. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and other cold or flu symptoms, especially when the air conditioner is turned on, you might need to clean or replace your air filter.


Having a clean air filter will also affect the function of your HVAC system. If the filter is clogged or blocked with dust and debris, then it’s much more difficult for air to pass through. This means the air conditioner has to work a lot harder to force enough cold air through the clogged filter to keep your home cool. This creates a lot of excess wear and tear on the parts inside the unit, and will also make your electricity bill skyrocket. That’s another common sign that there’s something wrong with your air filter. If you notice your power bill is significantly higher than usual, the air filter should be the first thing you check. You might be surprised at the difference you can see between a clean filter and one that’s clogged with dirt. This is part of what makes the filter such an important part of any HVAC system.


Types of Air Filters

The best way to clean and maintain your air filter will depend on which kind you have installed in your air conditioner. There are a ton of varieties to choose from, so it’s worth doing a little research. We recommend checking the instruction manual that came with your air conditioner to see what the manufacturer recommends.


Flat-Panel Air Filters

Flat-panel filters are the most common and least expensive type of air filter. They’re typically made of fiberglass stretched across a plastic frame and are cheap to buy and simple to install. Flat-panel filters are often disposable, so there’s no sense in cleaning them. You can usually buy them in packs so you have a few spares on hand. The biggest downside of a flat-panel filter is that they’re less effective than other, more expensive filters, so they might allow some particles to pass through.


Pleated Air Filters

Pleated filters are pretty similar to their flat-panel counterparts but made of different materials. They use pleated fabric, usually cotton or plastic fiber, instead of fiberglass. This makes them much more effective than flat-panel filters. Generally, we recommend using pleated filters in a central air system. Pleated filters also frequently come in both disposable and reusable forms, offering a more eco-friendly alternative. Reusable filters can just be washed and returned into place in the air conditioner.


Electrostatic Air Filters

Electrostatic filters use static electricity to capture smaller particles of dust that would otherwise pass through them. However, the effectiveness of this method has yet to be fully studied, so you’ll have to decide for yourself if they’re worth the extra money. Electrostatic filters can also be reusable, but they will gradually lose their static charge as they’re washed, so you will have to buy new ones every once in a while.


Cleaning and Replacing Air Filters

As a general rule, it’s recommended that you check on your air filters once a month or so. Cleaning them less frequently will allow more dust to build up in the filter, reducing the effectiveness and potentially allowing some particles to break through. It’s worth checking on the box when you buy a new filter, however, because some of them have more specific maintenance schedules.


Disposable filters are pretty straightforward. The box or instruction manual will tell you how often to replace them, and typically you can buy them in bulk so there’s always more on hand. If the disposable filter is supposed to last for longer than a month, it’s still worth taking the filter out every month and at least brushing the dust away before putting it back in place.


Reusable filters should generally be washed once a month. Once you’ve taken the filter out of the air conditioner, you can use the hose extension on a vacuum to remove most of the dust built up on the filter. For a deeper clean, you can fill your sink with a solution of one part water and one part white vinegar and let the filter soak for about an hour. Rinse the filter with water before returning it to the air conditioner.


If you do wash the filter with water, be sure to let it air dry for about 20 to 30 minutes before putting it back in place. This will prevent any mold from forming in the filter. Most filters will have directions for cleaning somewhere on the packaging, so be sure to follow whatever the manufacturer recommends. Different filters have different requirements, and you don’t want to accidentally mess anything up inside the unit.


Duct Cleaning

We’ve gone over cleaning your vents, registers, and air filters, but the last piece of the puzzle is having clean ducts. This is a much less frequent requirement, as you’ll only have to clean your ducts every once in a long while. However, it’s still one of the most important parts of maintaining your central air HVAC system, and a failure to keep your ducts clean can lead to significant problems down the line. Clean ducts will keep your air conditioner running smoothly for years and years to come without any issues with your air quality.


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Why Is Duct Cleaning Important?

While keeping your air filters and registers clean can go a long way towards preventing buildup inside the ducts themselves, some things will inevitably slip through the cracks. Over a long enough period, dust will start to accumulate in your ductwork, no matter how carefully you take care of your filters. Dust can get caught in corners or crevices of your ducts and gradually start to build up, capturing more and more dust particles that blow past it. Eventually, this can lead to issues similar to the ones caused by clogs elsewhere in the system. Dust can restrict airflow in your ducts, forcing the air conditioner to work harder and potentially damaging the mechanisms inside as well as draining electricity.


There is one significant difference between a clog in the filter or register and dust buildup in the ducts, however. Because the filter is between the air conditioner and the ducts, there are only a few grills between anything building up in the ductwork and the rest of your house. If anything nasty is allowed to accumulate in the ducts, it could easily end up blown out into the room and inhaled by you or your family.


This is especially dangerous if mold spores pass through the filter and take hold inside your ducts. If mold is allowed to grow, it will continue to release spores into your air supply, potentially causing serious health effects for you and anyone else living in the house. Because the mold will just keep releasing new spores, the only way to get rid of it is to completely clean the ducts so nothing survives. While this might sound like a real pain, you must keep up with it. Mold is no joke, and some forms of it can be severely hazardous to your health.


Can I Clean My Own Ducts?

The other cleaning procedures mentioned in this article are easy for any homeowner to do by themselves. However, duct cleaning is another matter altogether. While registers and filters are single points of access that you can easily clean, ductwork runs through your house, and cleaning it would require you to completely take the ducts apart, clean each one separately, and put them all back together again. It’s an extremely time-consuming process, and any mistakes could mean having to start all over again.


Missing even a single spot of buildup can mean problems down the line as well. That’s especially true for mold since even the smallest patch of mold can continue to release spores and grow larger again in a matter of months. Carefully cleaning every inch of your ductwork without causing any damage or missing any spots is a lot more difficult than you might think. For that reason, we recommend hiring a professional to take care of it for you. Even the most dedicated do-it-yourselfer has to bring in outside help now and again, and duct cleaning is definitely one of those times.


Professional HVAC technicians have specialized training that allows them to clean your ducts without damaging them or missing even a single spot of dust or mold. They also have tools that allow them to access the ducts more easily, spot any trouble areas that you might have missed on your own, and stay protected from mold and other inhalants while they’re up there. For a true deep clean, you really should bring in a professional even if the price tag is a little higher that way. It’s absolutely worth it for the service and peace of mind a professional technician will bring.


How Often Should My Ducts Be Cleaned?

Typically, we recommend having your ducts cleaned every two to five years. That’s a pretty broad range, but it depends on a variety of factors specific to your situation. For example, anyone living in the Southern Californian desert should probably have them cleaned more frequently because of all the dust in the air, while someone in the Bay Area could leave it for a little longer. When you first have your air conditioner installed, we recommend asking the technician how frequently they suggest getting the ducts cleaned.


Cleaning your ducts is also a little bit like maintaining a car. If you take good care of the rest of your system, then you won’t have to clean the ducts as frequently. Cleaning or replacing the air filter, brushing the registers, and other bits of standard maintenance will go a long way towards pushing the time between cleanings up to three, four, or even five years instead of every two years. Like with all appliances or mechanical devices, HVAC maintenance can be looked at from a holistic point of view. Everything you do to keep one section running smoothly will affect the other sections and so on and so on.


Finding Professional Help

While cleaning the registers and filters yourself is an important part of maintaining your HVAC system, you should still get the whole thing professionally cleaned about once a year or so. You can make this part of your regular yearly maintenance and ensure that you have fresh, clean air to breathe year-round. You should also get your ducts cleaned by professionals every two to five years, depending on the recommendation of your technicians and the specifics of your system.


If you live in the Bay Area and you need to have your air conditioner system cleaned, or you just have some other questions, feel free to contact Valley Comfort Heating & Air today. We’ve been serving Marin, Sonoma, and Napa Counties for years and we have all the experience you’ll need to handle even the toughest ducts and A/C vents. You can contact us here through our website, give us a call at (707) 329-3182, or just stop by our Santa Rosa location Monday through Friday between 7:30 and 5:00. We’re more than happy to help out in any way we can and we’re confident we can be the company you come back to for years to come.