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A professional contractor is cleaning AC Ducts, and after he scrubs the ducts, he wants to apply an acrylic duct sealer and de-odorizer. The container of the duct sealer has minimal lableing and does not even display any active ingredients. All it says is Acrylic Duct Sealer in an otherwise non-descript container.

Is an acrylic duct sealer necessary at all and if so, will it contaminate the air flowing through the ducts?

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It depends (but likely no).

IMO, duct cleaning does have it's place in today's world (pet hair/allergen reduction for example). However, it likely only needs done once every 10-15 years in most cases.

Duct sealer is basically like the sealant you can put in a bicycle tube to fix a leak except that since ducts aren't a completely closed system like a tube, it will either dry (sealing) or be evacuated when the process is complete. Its also airborne instead of a sludge/goop since it needs to travel large distances. It will travel through the ducts and seal any small gaps in corners of ducts or along the seams. The intent is to reduce air loss into what would be presumably the structure of your house (inside walls and ceilings) by making sure everything that goes in (at the furnace/ac blower) comes out an open vent.

The following is what my HVAC installer (not the sales man) told me when they installed my new heat pump. Unless your home was designed to be air-tight (with the appropriate filtration/recirculation systems in place to bring in fresh air), there is little to no gain to be had by sealing your ducts. If you were going to retrofit an existing non-airtight home to be airtight, my guess is that the duct work would need to be mostly replaced anyway (especially returns since they frequently run between joists with no actual ductwork in places) and even if you didn't replace the ductwork, sealing the existing ducts would be near the bottom of the to-do list. Lastly, They probably didn't tell you this but depending on the ductwork in place, it may take more than one application to actually seal the holes since the sealer, will seal only very small gaps and you will have to build up layers. No idea if the price you were quoted assumed a single application or if they quote for a "complete job".

Since I declined the service, I didn't ask about the contents of the sealer itself but there is mention of this (that it is pretty much an unknown) in the EPA document below.

 

Here is a link to the EPA document that another answer mentioned:

https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/should-you-have-air-ducts-your-home-cleaned

The first sentence is:

Knowledge about air duct cleaning is in its early stages, so a blanket recommendation cannot be offered as to whether you should have your air ducts in your home cleaned.

There are two sections of that document that apply directly to your question:

Should chemical biocides be applied to the inside of air ducts?

And

Do sealants prevent the release of dust and dirt particles into the air?

Manufacturers of products marketed to coat and encapsulate duct surfaces claim that these sealants prevent dust and dirt particles inside air ducts from being released into the air. As with biocides, a sealant is often applied by spraying it into the operating duct system. Laboratory tests indicate that materials introduced in this manner tend not to completely coat the duct surface. Application of sealants may also affect the acoustical (noise) and fire retarding characteristics of fiber glass lined or constructed ducts and may invalidate the manufacturer's warranty.

Questions about the safety, effectiveness and overall desirability of sealants remain. For example, little is known about the potential toxicity of these products under typical use conditions or in the event they catch fire.

In addition, sealants have yet to be evaluated for their resistance to deterioration over time which could add particles to the duct air.

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no - you are being offered a great big glass of snake oil

duct cleaning is already a huge scam. EPA and health canada have already for years been warning people about the risks. this is just a new twist on an already deceptive industry

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  • I agree. My experience with duct cleaning was not favorable. Large mats of rolled-up dust were left behind, probably blocking flow more than before the cleaning. I only discovered it when I did some remodeling and opened the main trunk. Sealer would simply cement all that in place.
    – isherwood
    Apr 15 '16 at 13:50
  • Scam , and it can disturb stuff and cause it to move. Sep 29 '17 at 16:57
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Be sure to check the toxicity of all these products. It's impossible if the products are not labelled properly. But keep in mind, all that will be filing your living space... forever... And imperceptible, incremental toxic injury is as deadly as a massive exposure. Been there. Scorecard is one place, www.ciin.org and www.chemicalinjury.net will get you started.

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Duct cleaning is IMHO a scam as mentioned in other answers, but sealing the ductwork is absolutely beneficial in terms of efficency. Air leaks are one of the leading causes of lost efficiency.

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  • I agree, but I would be truly amazed if a spray product, applied in the blind, could be made to seal the types of gaps and seams that most ducts have. Foil tape, silicone caulk, and other solutions applied from the outside are far more likely to achieve positive results.
    – isherwood
    Apr 18 '16 at 19:54
  • I don't see where the packaging was mentioned in the OP.
    – bigbull15
    Apr 18 '16 at 19:59
  • I'm not sure what else "an acrylic duct sealer and de-odorizer" could mean. It's essentially spray paint.
    – isherwood
    Apr 18 '16 at 20:00
  • I understand your point now. If in fact that is the case, then yes I agree. Duct sealant is usually the consistency of peanut butter. I'm certainly not aware of any aerosol versions.
    – bigbull15
    Apr 18 '16 at 20:11

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