How often you should clean vent covers — and how to do it

Nothing broadcasts cleaning misses like the dust bunnies that surround dirty air conditioning/heat vent covers. Not only do these call attention to no-dusting zones, they also tell the world that you haven’t been changing the filters enough.

Hushing these tattle tales is easy.

All you have to do is regularly maintain the vents — the small ones and the main intake vent.

Green cleaning coach Leslie Reichert offers simple steps that will not only keep vents looking great, but also reduce allergens and increase the efficiency of your A/C and heating unit all at the same time.

Cleaning vent covers


Change the filter

“If you pick a standing date to change your filter, say the first of every month, it will be easy to remember,” Reichert suggests. “If not, write on the filter the date you changed it. That way, nothing’s left to guesswork.”

Clean the vents

Before cleaning vents, turn off the heat/A/C. If ceiling vents are particularly dirty, protect furniture by covering the area below the vent with a sheet. “You also might want to wear a baseball cap to keep falling dust out of your eyes and hair,” she adds.

Next, vacuum vents using a dusting brush attachment or a microfiber extendible duster. Don’t have either? Simply wipe with a dry microfiber cloth or a slightly damp Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

“Do not use water or other cleaning products because they can easily smear the dust onto the walls or ceilings and you’ll end up with an even bigger mess,” cautions Reichert.

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Twice a year

Before cleaning vent covers, turn off the heat/A/C.

Remove the smaller vent covers by unscrewing the screws in each corner. The covers will probably be full of dust on the inside and the outside. To clean, place the covers in a sink filled with hot, soapy water and wash with a microfiber cloth.

“Use just a small amount of dish detergent,” Reichert advises. “And don’t soak vent covers too long or rub too hard as the paint could come off. Then you’ll have a much bigger project on your hands.”

Some of the dirt may be oily, depending on the type of heat you have in your house, if you burn lots of candles or if the vent is in the kitchen. “Cut through oily residue with rubbing alcohol. Just remember to rub lightly so you don’t damage the paint.”

Because of its size, you may have to clean the larger intake cover outside or in the bath tub. “Just follow the same directions,” says Reichert.

One last point: Make sure the covers are completely dry before re-installing them, otherwise dust particles will cling to the vent slats.

“A final light wipe with a microfiber cloth will remove water spots and have vent covers looking perfect,” Reichert adds.