IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Here's the right way to clean your vent covers, plus how often to do it

Here's how to battle those pesky dust bunnies for good.
Woman kneeling cleaning a vent cover
Vivian Le/ TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

The dust bunnies surrounding dirty air conditioning/heat vent covers not only call attention to no-dusting zones, they also tell the world that you haven’t been changing the filters enough. But getting rid of those tattle tales is easy! All you have to do is regularly maintain the vents — the small ones and the main intake vent.

We spoke to green cleaning coach Leslie Reichert as well as Jessica Ek, senior director of digital communications at the American Cleaning Institute, to give us some 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.

How often to clean vent covers | How to get mold out of air vent covers | How to change the filter | Cleaning ceiling vent covers vs. floor vent covers | How to clean vent covers without removing them | How to clean the inside of vents | The best products for cleaning your vent covers

How often should you clean vent covers?

"Wipe them down monthly and do a deeper clean once or twice a year," says Ek. "Spring cleaning is a good time for this task and will usually include removing the cover with a screwdriver and washing it in hot, soapy water before rinsing it and letting it fully dry before replacing it."

Reichert agrees, saying you should change the filter and clean the outside of the vents monthly and clean the inside twice a year.

How do you get mold out of air vent covers?

If soap and water does not fully clean the air vent covers and there is still mold that needs to be removed, mix a diluted bleach solution to disinfect, following the instructions on the bleach bottle. Fully rinse and let dry before returning the cover to the vent.

How to 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 says. “If not, write on the filter the date you changed it. That way, nothing’s left to guesswork.”

How to clean ceiling vent covers vs. how to clean floor vent covers

"The methods are similar for both are similar," says Ek. "Using a vacuum will require an attachment for ceiling vent covers. When removing a ceiling vent cover to clean, it can be helpful to put down an old sheet underneath to catch any falling dirt or dust for easier cleanup."

How do you clean vent covers without removing them?

  1. Before cleaning vents, turn off the heat or A/C. If ceiling vents are particularly dirty, protect furniture by covering the area below the vent with a sheet. “You also may want to wear a baseball cap to keep falling dust out of your eyes and hair,” Reichert adds.
  2. Next, vacuum vents using a dusting brush attachment or a microfiber extendable duster. Don’t have either? Simply wipe with a dry microfiber cloth or a slightly damp Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
  3. 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,” Reichert warns.

How do you clean the inside of vents?

This should be done a couple of times a year, but for a full cleaning of the ductwork, you will need a professional service, says Ek.

  1. Remove the smaller vent covers by unscrewing 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. Because of its size, you may have to clean the larger intake cover outside or in the bathtub. “Just follow the same directions,” says Reichert.
  5. Make sure the covers are completely dry before reinstalling them, otherwise dust particles will cling to the vent slats.
  6. “A final light wipe with a microfiber cloth will remove water spots and have vent covers looking perfect,” Reichert said.

The best products for cleaning your vent covers

Cleaning your vent covers doesn't have to be an ordeal when you have these easy-to-use products.

8-Piece Crevice Cleaning Kit

This handy kit has everything you need for dusting inside your vent cover slats without having to take off the cover. Use it for your monthly, lighter cleanings. Bonus: you can use it for dusting and cleaning other things around the house, like your blinds, keyboard and more!

Mrs. Meyer's Liquid Dish Soap

Use this mild dish soap on a cloth during your monthly vent cover cleanings and also when you do a deeper clean — just fill your sink up with warm water and soap and soak the cover. Just remember not to leave it soaking too long to prevent paint from peeling off!

Rubbing Alcohol

When a mild soap isn't cutting through any grease or oily residue on your vent covers, try using a bit of rubbing alcohol on a microfiber cloth.

Amazon Basics Microfiber Cloths

Microfiber cloths are eco-friendly (yay for multiuse products!) and great for monthly upkeep or bi-yearly deep cleaning your vent covers.

Ceiling Duster

If you have high ceilings and hard-to-reach vent covers, this extendable duster will help you clean without having to pull out a ladder.