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Duct Cleaning Scams are a Dime a Dozen—Here’s How to Spot Them

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Duct cleaning can help reduce or eliminate the danger of indoor air pollution, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks as one of our gravest environmental threats.

Dust, dirt, pet dander, chemical traces, mold spores and bacteria will collect in and circulate through your home’s HVAC duct network, putting your family at risk of respiratory distress along with a host of other potential health problems.

If you hire a trained, reputable contractor to clean your ducts on an annual basis, it should be well worth the investment. But there’s the problem: reputable duct cleaning contractors are forced to compete with scam artists, fly-by-night operators and other assorted crooks, cheats and rip-off artists. Fake or low-quality duct cleaning services abound, and their sole purpose in life is to empty bank accounts while doing absolutely nothing to earn their ill-gotten gains.

So how do you identify duct cleaning scams and prevent yourself from becoming their victim? Here are a few warning signs you would be foolish to ignore:

Bargain prices that seem too good to be true: Before hiring anyone you should contact several duct cleaning companies, either by phone or online, to get price quotes, and if any are well below the industry average it’s a fairly safe bet they aren’t legitimate. In many instances the scammers will hide extra fees and charges in the fine print of your contract, and if you’ll let them in your home you’ll end up paying them far more for their (crappy) service than you expected.

An inability to answer questions or provide detailed technical information: When you ask a company’s representatives to describe the duct cleaning process in detail, they should be able to answer all of your questions thoroughly and without hesitation. If they won’t it probably means they can’t, in which case you’d be crazy to use them.

Poorly maintained, cut-rate cleaning equipment: There is standard equipment that all qualified duct cleaning contractors rely on to help them get the job done properly (like high-powered vacuums, for example). But the cheapo outfits may show up with little more than a standard shop vac and a box full of cleaning rags. You should ask to see a potential contractor’s arsenal of cleaning equipment ahead of time, to make sure they aren’t cutting corners.

Over-the-top warnings about health dangers or imminent HVAC equipment damage: Your ducts do need to be cleaned, but there’s really no such thing as a duct cleaning emergency. If a company’s technician tries to scare you with lurid tales of impending catastrophe, you should recognize this as the sales pitch of a snake oil salesman.

Multiple negative reviews or complaints: Thanks to the Internet it is not hard to find customer reviews for most companies, including those involved in duct cleaning. The Better Business Bureau keeps online records of complaints against such companies, making it even easier to check out duct cleaners to make sure they are on the up-and-up.
No real online footprint to speak of: What if your Internet search about a particular company comes up empty? While it’s possible a reputable start-up might not have a website yet, or a lot of online reviews, in most cases the lack of an online presence should be considered a bad sign.

A general air of unprofessionalism: A clean, crisp, professional presentation by friendly representatives eager to answer questions and offer information about the services they offer: this is what you have a right to expect when you audition duct cleaning contractors. But the con artists seldom live up to these standards, and if your initial instincts tell you to stay away you would be wise to listen.

Please Dont Feed Sign

Please Don’t Feed the Scammers

In general it’s best not to take shortcuts in life, and this is certainly true with duct cleaning. If you avoid the temptation to automatically hire the company that gives you the cheapest quotes, and go with a contractor that has a firmly established reputation instead, you’ll get the service you need at a price that’s reasonable and fair to all.

The duct cleaning scammers are always out there, circling like hungry sharks waiting for their next unsuspecting victim to jump into the water for a swim. Do yourself a favor and stay in the boat, where it’s safe.