Dust Buster: Cleaning Those A/C Vents

Air-conditioning vents covered with dust are not only unsightly, they can create an unhealthy environment for those with asthma, allergies or respiratory issues.

Fortunately, there’s a variety of tools and methods to make sure those vents deliver cool, refreshing bursts of air all summer long.

“Air vents aren’t particularly difficult to clean, but you’d be surprised how neglect can lead to a buildup of dust and grime,” said Dean Croft, president and owner of Automotive Training Centres, a Canadian-based campus that trains and certifies automotive technicians. “In some cases, it may even lead to the growth of mold.”

Inhaling these harmful pollutants can be troublesome for drivers or passengers with allergies and asthma, Croft said.

Croft offers the following tips and suggestions for getting rid of the dust and keeping the air in your cabin fresh and clean:

  • Use specialized brushes to get deep into the vents. Avoid using brushes with rough bristles, as they can crack or scratch the slats in the vents--or damage interior components. Instead, look for brushes with microfiber bristles, which are specially designed to fit in those narrow spaces.
  • Don’t have special tools handy? Common household items suffice until you can get to the parts department. Foam paint brushes are inexpensive and can get it between vent slats to remove dust and dirt. The handy cotton swab also works in a pinch. It fits in tight spaces and is softer than using a toothbrush.
  • Clean and disinfect. Use your preferred cleaning product of disinfectant spray to get rid of grease and dirt.
  • Steam-clean. In cases where the vents are especially crusty and dirty, steam cleaning might be your best choice. Pass the steamer nozzle over each individual vent and wipe down to dry. Don’t worry if some water gets behind the vents, just turn the fan on full-blast to dry out the moisture.
  • Use a deodorizer or air-freshener. Add a personal touch to your interior with aromas of citrus, cherry or new car. Some types are designed to hang on the vents and are activated by the flow of air.
  • A moldy system requires additional cleaning. If mold has infiltrated your ventilation system, an air freshener or deodorizer will only temporarily mask the odor. That musty, moldy smell could originate in the air conditioning system itself. Ask your service technician to check whether the cabin air filter needs to be replaced.