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Selecting the Right Air Duct Cleaning Tool for the Job Part 2 – Cleaning Tools for Commercial/Industrial Projects

Posted by Peter Haugen on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 @ 08:26 AM

Commercial air duct cleaning is different than residential air duct cleaning and presents a different set of challenges.  The HVAC systems are bigger and more complex.  This complexity requires even more tools and equipment.    Like residential, there is no one magic commercial cleaning tool.   Like residential, selecting the right cleaning tool 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 (via source removal) as fast as possible.  The more productive you are the more profitable you will be.   

Before we look at the different commercial 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 WhipsAn 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.

 All of the cleaning tools listed in the previous residential clean tools blog (listed below) can be used on some parts of commercial HVAC systems.  To review the description, how they work, pluses, minuses, where best used go to: Part 1 – Cleaning tools for residential/light commercial projects,        3-8-17.   

  • Air Washing Tools
  • Air Whip Systems
  • Flexible Cable Brush Systems
  • Solid Core Cable Brush Systems
  • Contact Vacuuming


Now let’s look the additional cleaning tools you will need for commercial projects: 

Pneumatic Brushing & Air Washing/Whipping System

Description:  These systems are pneumatic (air driven) and allow you to brush and then air wash/whip  the ductwork with the same system (but not at the same time).  They include:

  • 12”, 24” nylon brushes (32”optional)
  • 12”, 24” silica carbide brushes (32” optional)
  • Reversible air motor
  • Guide system
  • Set of extension rods (23’ of reach). Additional rods can be added
  • On/off control
  • Forward and reverse air washing nozzles
  • Optional whip kit

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  How they work: You select the right size brush for the duct and conditions, attach it to the air motor, attach the guide system with the right size legs (to center the brush in the duct) to the air motor, attach an extension rod to the guide system, attach the on/off control to the rod, connect the air hose from your compressor to the on/off control.  Pull the trigger on the on/off control to rotate the brush and then push/pull the rod to clean that section of duct.  Add additional rods to clean the further down the duct.

After brushing, remove the brush/air motor/guide system assembly and connect the forward or reverse air washing nozzle to the rod and do a final air wash. 

Pluses: Easy to use, wide brush maximizes productivity, makes contact with most of the duct surface, guide system and rods give you excellent control, can brush and air wash with one system.  Optional whip kit gives you additional cleaning capabilities.    

Minuses: Will not negotiate turns.

Where best to use: Clean straight sheet metal and lined ducts and shafts from 4” to 30” high no matter what the width.


Long Reach Brushing Systems 

Description:  These electric or pneumatic systems give you extra long reach from one access point to maximize your productivity.  They include:

  • 45’, 65’, 80’ or 130’ of cable
  • Reel system
  • Electric or pneumatic powered
  • Reversible and variable speed
  • Foot operated on/off control
  • Select from several types of brushes from 8” to 48”
  • Optional centering device and other accessories


How they work: You select the right size brush for the duct and conditions, attach it to the end or the cable, insert brush/cable into duct, step on the on/off control, adjust speed if needed, push and pull cable down the duct or shaft.  Several of the systems can also air wash and spray.  

Pluses: Easy to use, wide selection of brushes, excellent reach for excellent productivity, makes contact with most of the duct surface, cleans better than air washing and air whips.   

Minuses: Will not negotiate more than 1 or 2 turns.

Where best to use: Long commercial ducts and shafts. 


Robotic Systems

Description:  Most robotic systems allow you to air wash/whip, power brush and spray.   These systems usually include:

  • Robotic vehicle with
  • cameras and lights
  • 100 cable
  • Air washing/whipping package
  • Power brushing package (ductwork up to 22” high)
  • Spraying package (ductwork up to 36” high
  • Control module
  • Color monitor
  • Recording capability (optional with some systems)
  • Travel cases


How they work: You determine what level of cleanliness you want and select either the air washing, air whip or brushing option and attach it to the robotic vehicle, connect the cable and any other connections needed for set up, you then can watch your cleaning activities on the color monitor as you drive the vehicle with the cleaning tool through the ductwork.   

Pluses: Excellent reach, choice of cleaning tools, great option when confined space is an issue or access is limited.  

Minuses: Usually requires two people, sometimes not as productive as other tools.

Where best to use: Clean medium size sheet metal and lined ducts with limited accessibility.



Description:  Applying coatings and sanitizes in ductwork is not really cleaning but is a very common task, especially when fiberglass is present and if you are working on a fire or mold restoration project.   Sealing or eliminating leaks in ductwork is another service with great potential. 

An airless sprayer by itself or an airless sprayer with a cart or robotic spray system is typically used to apply coatings and sealers.

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How they work:  You connect the cart/robotic system to the liquid line of the airless sprayer and position the cart/robot at the far end of the duct you want to coat.  Then you spray as you pull the cart (or drive the robot) toward yourself.

Pluses: Is the most productive way to apply coating, sanitizers and sealers in ductwork that is to small to crawl.       

Minuses: Dealing with coatings and sealers can be messy and require set up and clean-up time.  

Where best to use: Rectangular ductwork that is 8" to 36" high no matter what the width and round ductwork that has a 18" to 36" diameter. 


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. See all of your agitation and cleaning tool options.  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

Tags: air duct cleaning tools, commercial air duct cleaning