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Welcome to our Air Duct Cleaning Blog!

Selecting the right air duct cleaning tools for the job!

Posted by Peter Haugen on Wed, Mar 08, 2017 @ 03:19 PM

Part 1 – Cleaning Tools for Residential/Light Commercial Projects

Residential air duct cleaning contractors face the challenge of cleaning a wide variety of ducts; sheet metal, flex duct, ductboard, internally lined ductwork, etc. Unfortunately with this many different types of ductwork there is no one magic cleaning tool that can clean every type and size of duct.  Selecting the right cleaning tool(s) is important because 95% of the cost of air duct cleaning is your labor cost. Your goal is to achieve the desired level of cleanliness (source removal) as fast as possible. The more productive you are the more profitable you will be.

Before we look at the different cleaning tools we need to look at the different levels of cleaning that can be achieve.

Level 1 - Air Washing: Air washing is the use of high-pressure air that comes from the air compressor through an air hose to an air nozzle. This air nozzle delivers streams of high-pressure air, which dislodges the accumulated dirt and debris found in the duct.

Level 2 – Air Whips: An air whip is the combination of air washing (high-pressure air) with agitation from the whip(s). The high pressure of the air and whipping action dislodge the accumulated dirt and debris found in the duct. Air whips achieve a higher level of cleaning than air washing.

Level 3 – Brushing: Brushing (both manual and powered systems) makes physical contact with more of the interior surface of the duct. This brushing action effectively dislodges the accumulated dirt and debris found in the ductwork. Bushing achieves a higher level of cleaning than both air washing and air whips.

Level 3 – Contact vacuuming: Contact vacuuming makes physical contact with more of the interior surface of the duct. This contact vacuuming action effectively dislodges the accumulated dirt and debris found in the ductwork/furnaces/air handlers. Contact vacuuming achieves a higher level of cleaning than both air washing and air whips.

Now let’s look at the most common residential air duct cleaning tools

Air Washing Tools  

Air washing tools use the high-pressure air that comes from the air compressor through an on/off control, through an air hose/rod to an air nozzle. This air nozzle delivers streams of high-pressure air, which dislodges the accumulated dirt and debris. Normally the forward and reverse skipper line is 25’ long but some systems could be longer. The blowgun normally has an on/off control and 10”-14” copper tube which supplies a single high pressure air steam. We recommend (at minimum) an air compressor that has up to 175 psi, 18 cfm of air and 20 gallon receiver tank. This will give you acceptable air washing productivity

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Description: The most common types of air washing tools are the:

  • Forward skipper line (for blowing dirt/debris forward)
  • Reverse skipper line (for blowing dirt and debris backward)
  • Blowgun (for more precise air washing)

Pluses: Easy and quick to use, fits through a 1” hole, can negotiate turns and drops in the ductwork.

Minuses: Does not clean as well as air whips or brushes.

Where best to use: When you have light to medium dust in small and medium ductwork.  

Air Whip Systems

Air whips use the high-pressure air that comes from the air compressor through the on/off control, the rods and then to the whip head. The whip(s) thrashes around inside the duct making contact with some of that duct surface as it blows air forward. The single whip head gives you the most aggressive whipping action and the octopus whip head gives you the least aggressive whip action. If you don’t have enough air pressure (psi) and volume (cfm) the whip(s) will not thrash around properly. We recommend (at minimum) an air compressor that has up to 175 psi, 18 cfm of air and 20 gallon receiver tank.     

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 Description: A typical air whip system includes:

  • Three or more whip heads (single whip, tri whip and octopus whip heads)
  • Set of five foot flexible and non flexible rods
  • Forward and reverse air nozzles
  • Duct ball support assembly
  • On/off control (ball valve or trigger valve)

Pluses: Easy and quick to use, agitates and blows in one pass, will work in most ducts, cleans better than air washing alone, can negotiate turns and drops.

Minuses: Do not clean as well as brushes or contact vacuuming.

Where best to use: When you have light to medium dust in small and medium ductwork. 

Flexible Cable Brush Systems

You select the right size brush for the duct and conditions, attach it to the brush end of the cable, attached the other end of the cable to a portable drill. Insert the brush into the duct, pull the trigger on the drill and clean the duct as you push the cable/brush back and forth into the duct.   The nylon brushes can be use on most any duct surface while the silica carbide brushes are designed for aggressive cleaning on hard surfaces only.

Brush_flexible_cable.jpg

Description: These systems normally include the following:

  • 15’ or 25’ flexible cable
  • (3) nylon brushes (8”, 12” 18”)
  • (3) silica carbide brushes (8”, 12” 18”)

Pluses: Easy to use, makes contact with most of the duct surface, cleans ducts with turns and drops, cleans better than air washing and air whips.   More productive than manual brushes.  Some flexible cables now have a bearing in the drill end of the cable. The bearing reduces the internal friction/resistance in the cable which will minimize the twisting/kinking outside the duct and most important it will give you longer cable life

Minuses: Not repairable, not recommended for ducts larger than 16” x 16”.

Where best to use: All types (sheet metal, flex, ductboard, etc.) of small and medium size ductwork.   

Solid Core Cable Brush Systems

You select the right size brush for the duct and conditions, attach it to the brush end of the cable, attached the other end of the cable to a portable drill. Insert the brush into the duct, pull the trigger on the drill and clean the duct as you push the cable/brush back and forth into the duct.   The nylon brushes can be use on most any duct surface while the silica carbide brushes are designed for aggressive cleaning on hard surfaces only.

Brush_solid_core_cable.jpg

Description: These systems have a stiffer cable than the flexible cable and give you more control of the brush head. These systems normally include the following:

20’ or 33’ solid core cable

  • (3) nylon brushes (8”, 12” 18”)
  • (3) silica carbide brushes (8”, 12” 18”).

Pluses: Easy to use, makes contact with most of the duct surface, the stiffer cables gives you better control over where the brush is going, cleans better than air washing and air whips, if inner solid core breaks it is field replaceable.  

Minuses: Will not negotiate turns and drops very well. Eventually the inner solid core will break if used on turns.

Where best to use: All types of small and medium size ductwork and shafts that are relatively straight.  

Contact Vacuuming

You attach your cleaning tool (the 3” round soft bristle brush is used most often) to the hose that is connected to the vacuum, turn the unit on and vacuum the surface you are trying to clean. If its ductwork, you reach through your access opening and vacuum the duct as far as you can reach and then cut additional access openings as needed. If you are cleaning a small air handler, rooftop, furnace you typically remove the panels and  vacuum all the surfaces you can reach. On large air handlers, rooftops or ductwork you may actually be able to walk or crawl inside the unit and vacuum the required surfaces.

 hepa_vacs_img03.jpg

Description: Contact vacuuming is typically done with a HEPA filtered portable vac that has a set of vacuum cleaning tools (much like your home vacuum cleaner). Most systems include:

  • 10 or 15 gallon capacity HEPA filtered vacuum
  • Set of cleaning tools
  • 10’, 25’ or 50’ length of hose.

Pluses: Gives you excellent cleaning results.  

Minuses: Not very productive for cleaning small to medium size ductwork compared to other cleaning tools.  

Where best to use: air handlers, rooftops, furnaces and grilles/registers

Summary:

All of these cleaning tools are used by air duct cleaning Contractors every day. Based on the level of cleaning required you will select the cleaning tool that will give you the level of cleaning you want while maximizing your productivity. Most contractors, over time, end up with a tool box that includes various cleaning tools. If you have any questions about this blog article, contact Peter Haugen, ASCS, CVI at 855-Vac-Systems, 952-808-1619 or phaugen@vacsysint.com.  

Additional Resource:

Selecting  the Right Cleaning Tool  Guide

 Part 2 – Cleaning Tools for Commercial Projects - Next Month

 

Tags: air duct cleaning tools

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