Effectively cleaning your heat registers
There’s an argument to be made for cleaning your heat registers…actually, there’s several.
First, there’s the energy argument. In theory, especially in forced air systems, air flow is reduced as heat or air registers become clogged and otherwise dirty. Anything that reduces airflow has the potential for jacking up your energy bills because the furnace (or a/c for that matter) has to work harder to attain the desired room temperature.
And for non forced air heating systems (radiant heating for example), if the heating apparatus is dirty, the furnace (or heat source) as to work to warm the outer layer – which will impact how much warmth is given off to the ambient air surrounding the heater. The dust or grime (or whatever might be on the heater) acts as an insulator, which in effect counteracts the heating system. It is like placing insulation on your radiant heater. The amount of heat given off that is useful is greatly reduced.
There’s also a health argument to be made. Aside from the fact that dirty heat registers don’t look nice or fit in with most decors, forced air systems will actively spread the dirt throughout the house. As the furnace blower turns on, it will blow the dirt (or whatever else accumulates in the registers and ducts) throughout the home. For radiant systems of other heaters, the dirt will not be spread by a fan – rather, it may be melted or heated, then absored by the air.
The primary function of a furnace filter is to reduce the flow of airborne dust, dirt, and other items through the furnace and out into the house. However, if they are in your ducts or in the registers, you will be exposed to it before the filter can catch it.
So, careful maintenance and cleaning of your heat registers is important.
How do you effectively clean them?
Chances are its not possible to clean your heating / cooling ducts effectively yourself. This is more than likely a professional’s job. It involves taking a large overpowered vacuum and basically sucking the air and dirt from your ducts. They may also have special brushes and hoses which are flexible and either trap the dirt and dander or suck it up. There may be consumer products out there that allow you to clean your own ducts – however, I haven’t had any exposure to them and thus can not in good faith make any recommendations.
Now, cleaning your registers is another story. You can easily and effectively clean your hvac registers. I’d recommend removing them if possible so you can clean both sides. Using a soft brush (like a large toothbrush) you should be able to clean the dirt, dust, pet air, grime, etc from both sides of the registers / grill. You can use a mild soap if you’d like as well. The soft brush and mild soap should not affect the finish or paint on the register while still cleaning the small areas in the grill. You should also be okay to use a soft rag or sponge as well.
Leave the register out to dry completely before replacing it on the wall / floor.
While the register is off, you can vacuum the portion of the duct you see. Take the hose attachment and clean as best you can. This should remove at least some of the debris that accumulates in your duct as a result of daily household activities.
For radiant or other heat systems (such as oil, water, or wallboard “pumped” units), you should be fine to clean it with a sponge or washrag and a mild detergent mixed with warm water.
As a reminder, its best to clean when the furnace / heater is not turned on!