Cleaning a Grungy Grille aka the Cover of the Central Air Return

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Heather says:

Builders and contractors don’t always use common sense when planning the layout of a home’s heating and cooling duct work. Sometimes the grille, or vent cover, is right in the middle of a wall. Even though I frequently run the soft brush attachment over the grille and occasionally spray it off with the hose, our vent cover was gross. After giving it some thought, I realized this was due to pollen. Each year, despite common sense, we throw the windows wide open and invite the fresh air in. There is something wonderful about airing out a home, those first warm days. Unfortunately riding on the breeze comes pollen in all its sticky, tacky glory. Over time, dust clings to pollen and forms an unholy bond. I know this, because I have tried scrubbing the grille with soapy water and brush with less than stellar results.

I wish I'd been able to have input on the placement of the air return. Seriously.
I wish I’d been able to have input on the placement of the air return. Seriously.

Two days ago I was hit by inspiration.

Somewhere in the recesses of the cleaning supply cabinet was a can of fume-free oven cleaner. Why we have this, I’m not really sure*.

I think the oven cleaner may have arrived when a friend passed along what the movers wouldn’t pack. We have a self-cleaning oven, I can’t imagine what would possess me to buy a can. ┬áThe oven cleaner caught my eye and I decided, what the heck it’s this or buying spray paint. I removed the grille and took it to the bathroom ┬ásince it was raining. After chasing the kids out of my make-up and out of the room, I sprayed down the entire grille, turned on the exhaust fan, and walked away. Ten minutes later I used the shower to rinse off the oven cleaner. To my delight, the grille looks brand new.

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Is this a great cleaning tip for everyone? Not necessarily, as I hope most of you don’t have air returns smack in the middle of your living room. If your air return is in the ceiling, it’s less likely to have the pollen problem. It’ll still get dusty, but a quick wipe with a damp rag or the soft brush of a vacuum cleaner should be sufficient.

Have you ever stumbled on a strange solution to a cleaning problem?

*Am I the only one who has mysterious items show up in their home? Today we found a child’s shoe that does not belong to any of our children.

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16 thoughts on “Cleaning a Grungy Grille aka the Cover of the Central Air Return”

  1. I had a ceramic dog food dish appear in the trunk of my car. No idea where it came from and nobody I knew admitted to putting it there.

  2. We have three tents, and three set of poles, none of which belong together. So with all this stuff, (coming from where?) we do not have a complete set.

  3. My intake is sad in this apartment. There is none. The a/c sits next to the dryer and it takes in air through the bi-fold doors. Talk about a mess. Those doors aren’t even varnished so I wipe a rag over the slats and the rag sticks to the unfinished wood. I have tried everything I can think of to clean those doors.
    Let’s talk about how the ceiling fan blades get so nasty! I clean them once a month..sometimes once a week due to the black (where is there black in here?) that sticks on the blades like fuzz. The blades are always spinning and no one smokes in here. Where does the stuff come from? The white blades need bleached to be white again. At least I hope that will work! LOL

  4. I often find mysterious items. These are usually traced to my oldest daughter, who loves to pick things up she sees and take them home with her, often from school. Small plastic game pieces, dice, counting blocks, broken pencils, small broken jewelry bits, a single playing card, bookmarks, bits of string, colorful paperclips, anything you might find on the floor of a school has come home in her pockets or backpack.

  5. I have heard that the grungy intake grill is a sign you need to change your furnace filter more often. We need to wash ours (we got the reusable metal version) soon. Supposedly summer and AC use needs more frequent washing than winter.

  6. As several of us have allergies -curse you bad genes!- we change our filters monthly. Since they are supposedly rated for 90 days, I’m not sure how much more often I’m willing to change them. This grunge built up slowly over 5 years. It’s only recently that I’ve gotten irritated by the dirt. Now, I have seen what you are referring to, frighteningly fuzzy grilles. That is definitely due to a need to change it more frequently.

  7. heh- today I wore a skirt to church that I did not buy, nor do I know where it came from. But it fit and looked great! Dry clean only though… I DEFINITELY didn’t buy it!

  8. We have a allergy filter too – but when the AC guy came out to refill, he told me to change them because it was already grotty. And I had just vacuumed it that week (does anyone else vacuum their AC filters?)

  9. I don’t vacuum the filter itself, but I give the grille a thorough vacuuming every week when I do all the floors and quick once over when I dust.

  10. Heather,
    My husband built our house and the intake grill is very similarly placed to yours. I wasn’t happy about it, but he said there wasn’t any other functionally suitable spot. I’ve thought many times about how I could possibly camouflage it or something, but it’s probably a lost cause. I have to get over it, alas.

  11. It is unbelieveable to me that the A/C intake grill is not easily removable for periodic cleaning. Must have been designed by a man.
    I usually just vacuum the grill but when I’m forced to deep clean it, I lay a large towel at the base. Then I vacuum the grill on both sides. I take a spray cleaner and spray both sides and wait a few minutes. Then I take a soft bristled brush and rub the grill on both sides. Then I take a spray bottle of warm water and rinse it down. Afterwards, I dry with the towel and put in a new filter.
    What a royal pain!

  12. The return air vent in my apt. IS in the ceiling … of the hallway, no less. The maintenance dude pointed out that it needed to be cleaned the last time he put a new air filter in. But he failed to tell me HOW to clean it or, as I’ve discovered is even more important, how the heck to remove it so I can take it outside to clean it (or even soak it in the tub … ewww, gross!).

    I spent an hour with water, windex, and various other chemicals working above my head in a close/tight area. NO LUCK WHATSOEVER. Got out the pumice stone. Yeah, that works … but unfortunately it also strips the paint!

    If anyone knows how to clean one of these critters that’s in the ceiling, I could use some help. Thanks!

  13. OK, it is years since the original post, but the information about the oven cleaner helped me.

    I do buy oven cleaner because you are actually never supposed to actually use the self-cleaning oven feature — there is a very real risk of damaging your oven.

    Actually, the fancier the oven, the more risk of damage.


    P.S., my dogs bring home things they find, so I’m never surprised to find odd things in the house.

  14. How would you recommend cleaning one in the ceiling that is not removable? I went at mine with a swiffer duster today with little success. I don’ think my vacuum can reach that high but i haven’t tried it yet.



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