Or rather, some stories. Everybody loves the before and after photos some companies offer after an air duct cleaning job. Customers like to see the results of the service and the accompanying assurance that their money was well spent, not to mention the visible affirmation that they'll be breathing cleaner indoor air. HVAC cleaning companies enjoy showcasing their work, and before and after photos provide explicit testimony of the benefits of the service. Below are a few examples, with context and caveats.
The images above are from a 70-year-old home in St. Paul whose ducts had never been cleaned. The duct is a standard sheet-metal return, fairly easily cleaned with a multi-tentacled air whip such as the Viper Clean Sweep, our technicians' tool of choice.
The photos were taken (as all of ours are) with the technician's cell phone—not, as many customers assume, with a scope. The reason we opt for cell-phone photos over those of borescopes is due mainly to resolution, and ease: a cell-phone photo has a much higher resolution than that of a scope, providing a high-quality and detailed image. Cell-phone photos can also be shared much more easily, quickly sent from the technician's phone to the customer's e-mail. Finally, a visual representation of the condition of the ducts can be had more easily from an access point or vent than from deep within the duct (which would require the use of a scope), with the latter providing no obvious advantage.
The images above were taken inside a Minneapolis home built in the 1960s in which the trusses (the cavity between the main-level floor and the basement ceiling) were used for return air. This building practice was relatively commonplace until recently. These kinds of duct spaces can get quite dirty, due to the porousness of wood and the tendency of dust particles to coagulate within that space. That is to say, dust particles stick more easily to wood than, for example, to metal, and once one particle sticks, subsequent particles stick more easily, resulting in quicker and more abundant buildup than inside a metal duct. This cavity was also cleaned with the Viper Clean Sweep.
In cases of newly constructed homes (above), the ducts are often dusty with drywall particles, which are ubiquitous and stubborn. At first glance this debris may not appear as voluminous as that in some of the other photos. However, because drywall dust tends to collect so densely, it can be considered equivalent to twice its amount in run-of-the-mill household dust. Drywall dust is easily disturbed, and because its particles are so small and lightweight, once rendered airborne, they create a nuisance everywhere they settle—within HVAC system components, on your furniture, in your lungs.
You may notice in the image that a few larger (relatively) pieces have been left behind inside the ducts. These are heavier bits of concrete or rubble that, because of their weight, cannot be removed by duct cleaning tools. This is of little consequence—these are too heavy to become airborne and thus are not going to compromise indoor air quality.
Flexible poly return ducts (above) are commonly found in townhomes in Minnesota. That pictured is from a townhome built in the early 2000s. Because this particular duct was located in the main living space, the dirt within was an accumulation of debris generated over several years, from the kitchen, dining, and living areas. The after photo demonstrates the subtle power of the Viper Microline, a single-tentacled air whip perfect for smaller cavities. Because it is not as forceful as multi-tentacled air whips (or brushes), it does not harm flex lines, but its gentle and swift thrashing loosens debris from every nook and cranny.
Because debris from wood-floor sanding is easily airborne, it often finds its way into a home's air ducts (above). Like drywall dust, this debris tends to cling to the walls of the ducts and its removal requires a more advanced cleaning than that which simple air-pressure provides, such as a rotary brush or tentacled air whip. Our technicians prefer the latter, especially in rectangular ducts (as rotary brushes are circular).
A final word on before and after photos: those that you see online, for obvious reasons, tend to place toward the end of the best-to-worst spectrum, the above included. Though those included here are fairly typical jobs that our techs see regularly, there are plenty of others that are not so remarkable or exemplary, especially in homes whose ducts are cleaned regularly. The salient point here is that no matter what your ducts looked like before cleaning, the top-level cleaning, utilizing an advanced agitation method as opposed to simple air pressure, will get them picture-perfect after.
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Air Duct Cleaning Company.
Many thanks to our technicians Ben S and Roy S for providing photos and lending their expertise to this article.