Exposed: The "$99 Air Duct Cleaning" Bait & Switch Scam!
When you need to hire a service company to come into your house, you likely spend a lot of time searching for an affordable deal. Unfortunately, some companies in the air duct cleaning industry take advantage of budget-conscious shoppers. Hundreds of unsuspecting customers fall for these companies’ bait-and-switch tactics and outright lies daily.
$99 Air Duct Cleaning Scam- A Price Point Ripe With Fraud!
The $99 air duct cleaning price tag is a scam that targets uneducated first-time customers. The $99 price tag is a bait and switch strategy used to persuade homeowners to fork over hundreds of dollars. Scare tactics are often used in the sales pitch. These companies will provide you with a very dishonest and unprofessional cleaning service.
Once these companies get through your door, they will try to pressure you into expensive upsells. Even worse, some companies will lie about finding mold and other dangerous substances, which they then offer to remediate for upwards of $1,0000.
We have been in this business a long time, and we have seen all the scams. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it is.
Thankfully, with our help, you will be able to identify these scams and avoid them. First, we’ll explain how these scams work and how to avoid them. Then we’ll detail the best ways to locate a quality air duct cleaning company in your area. Let’s begin!
The Basics of How Scam Works
These $99 air duct cleaning companies survive by preying on a homeowner’s worst fears. Common scare tactics they love using include: “finding” allergens, rodents, contaminants, and mold in your air duct system.
Other fraudulent companies avoid this kind of tactic. Instead, they build hidden fees into your final bill for every component of your ducting system.
Here is how the 99 dollar air duct cleaning scam works:
- A homeowner decides they want to have their air ducts cleaned and starts researching local companies. Often, the homeowner becomes discouraged because air duct cleaning can be an expensive service.
- Target ads begin to appear on sites like Google, Facebook, and Groupon based on the customer’s search history.
- A great ad for a $99 air duct cleaning pops up, and the customer, happy to have found such a fantastic deal, eagerly reaches out to the company in the advertisement.
- Typically, the company’s first point of contact is very smooth-talking over the phone. They will reaffirm that the company will give your ducts a thorough, professional cleaning for $99. At this point, the customer books an appointment.
- The scam company shows up at the appointed time and quickly begins to upsell the homeowner. The company will suddenly be very open about the fact that the $99 price only covers vacuuming the vent registers.
The company will offer a variety of upsells, including:
- Cleaning each branch line for x amount of dollars multiplied by the number of vents
- Cleaning each return line for x amount of dollars multiplied by the number of vents
- Cleaning one supply trunk
- Cleaning one return trunk
- Cleaning one plenum
- Cleaning one furnace
- Mold remediation (In many states, including ours, a technician needs to be licensed. The company will not be licensed.)
- Sanitizing ductwork (This is purely a cash-grab scam that you should always avoid.)
- Dryer vent cleaning
- If the homeowner hesitates to pay for additional services, the company will offer “free” add-ons and use the same scare tactics about mold and other contaminants. By the time the whole
- Before the customer knows what has happened, the deal of a lifetime turns into 5 to 10 times more than what they originally planned.
- The scam company will quickly get to work, taking 30-60 minutes to complete the job. The homeowner won’t know any better, but professional air duct cleaning takes a minimum of 3-4 hours, depending on the size of the house and the number of technicians.
This scenario is the air duct cleaning scam in a nutshell. The worst part is that even if you pay these for every aspect of the duct cleaning service, the company probably does nothing more than what is known as a “blow and go” service.
Essentially, they’ll use an airline to blow the debris in the ducts farther without cleaning it out. Pushing the debris farther back makes it look like they worked hard and left your air duct spotless, even though they didn’t remove any debris at all.
Now that you know how these air duct cleaning scams work, you are likely thinking twice about hiring one of these companies. Read the following section to learn how to spot these scams and avoid hiring one of these companies.
Spotting and Avoiding Fraud
Luckily, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for when researching air duct cleaning companies.
These companies primarily advertise online, so we have put together a few tips for spotting the disreputable companies and some tell-tale signs of the scams themselves.
It’s essential to do your research before hiring any kind of contractor. With our handy guidelines, you’ll be able to differentiate between the companies that are worth your time and the companies you should never even call.
How Do I Spot These Companies?
The first indicator of a duct cleaning scam is the $99 price tag. Regardless of the small print, you will get a low-quality air duct cleaning that scams you out of your hard-earned money.
A good rule of thumb when seeking out an air duct cleaning company is to be suspicious of any company offering the service for less than $350; we’ll explain why later in this article. For now, let’s look at how these companies advertise their scams.
Where Are the Ad’s Posted?
Here are the most common places companies post their scam advertisements.
Facebook (Meta) Ads
Companies can choose their target demographics when advertising on Facebook. It’s sad and predatory, but unfortunately, deceitful companies will often target the elderly and other low-income demographics who will be attracted to the $99 price tag.
Facebook (Meta) Posts
If you visit local community groups on Facebook, you’ve probably seen these rip off companies at work. A common ploy is to tell a pity story about how they need to book a few more clients to fill their weekly quota. Often, the companies post job and equipment photos that they take from other, more legitimate companies. Not to mention you will have an air duct cleaning mess on your hands!
Facebook (Meta) Marketplace
When Facebook Marketplace first launched, it was a trustworthy place to find local businesses. Unfortunately, companies trying to run their scams have drowned out any sincere contractors offering legitimate services. If you decide to try Marketplace, be cautious and never pay with Zelle.
This website is where a lot of the original scams for low-quality cleanings started, and the problem is still rampant. The safest bet is to stay off Groupon for anything related to home services.
Scammers pay to have their ad show up #1 when you Google a term related to air duct cleaning. They’ll entice customers with low prices, and when you click on their website, it brings you to a landing page with falsified reviews and glowing testimonials.
Avoid Craigslist! No reputable duct cleaning company will use Craigslist as its primary marketing site.
Tell Tale Signs of the $99 Cleaning Trick
Now that you know when these companies post their fraudulent ads, it’s time to learn how to spot red flags about the companies themselves.
Generally, deceptive companies are easy to detect with a quick Google search. Google prides itself on presenting you with the most authoritative and accurate information, and it’s your best tool for finding information.
Here is what to look for when you’re researching a company you want to hire:
- Established companies have websites to answer all your questions in detail. Take the time to read their info and ensure it seems accurate. If they don’t have a website, avoid the company altogether. It’s not worth the risk.
- If the website mentions the owner’s name, run it through a Google search and see what comes up. A quality company will have a LinkedIn page and other social media pointing back to its main website.
- Find their Google business page, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. There should be some consistency between platforms. Read the company’s reviews and see how they respond to customers. These interactions will help determine how the company treats its clients.
- Does the company post legitimate reviews on its website? If they are honest, they should link back to official review pages such as Google, Yelp, and Facebook. If the reviews don’t match, it’s a good indicator that they’re fake and published by the website owner to make them look good. Copy and paste a review into Google to see if duplicates come up from the big review sites.
- Review the photos on the company’s website. Stock photos are a sign the company isn’t being honest about what they do. They should have pictures of their before and after work, vehicles, equipment, and the owner and team.
- Many $99 air duct cleaning companies steal pictures or use high-quality stock images. A little-known helpful tool is opening a second browser to Google and then drag-and-dropping images into the search bar. This process is called a reverse image search. If the photos link to other websites, there’s a good chance the company stole the pictures.
- Finally, see what equipment they use to clean ducts. It’s a huge red flag if they use a shop-vac or a machine with a spinning brush. The only effective way to clean air ducts is with high-pressure airlines and a negative air vacuum that pulls at least 5000 CFM minimum. Please don’t believe anything the company says about how they use the best equipment if they don’t give you these specific details.
Unfortunately, the air duct cleaning business is ripe with scams since the barrier to entry is so low when using cheap equipment and service shortcuts. Furthermore, state and local authorities do not regulate these businesses, and no official training or certification is required to be labeled an air duct cleaning company.
Add in the fact that social media platforms are covered in flashy advertisements with misleading prices, and it’s easy to understand why these scams are so prevalent.
Thankfully, you now have the knowledge to help you quickly identify when a company is legitimate and when they are trying to scam you. The only issue left for us to address is how to find the quality air duct cleaning companies in your area. Let’s go over that now!
Tips for Finding a Quality Air Duct Cleaner in Your Area
If you follow the steps outlined below, you will be able to avoid the $99 air duct cleaning scams and find an honest company that will clean your air ducts properly.
- Avoid companies that only have a presence on Facebook, Marketplace, or Groupon. If you see an ad on these sites, research the company thoroughly.
- For reputable air duct cleaning companies, use Google and pick from the lists of companies with Google reviews. Check their website and read all their reviews on Google and Facebook. (Yelp has become unreliable, so avoid picking a company through there.)
- Use the search term “Air Duct Cleaning Near Me.” Click on the map and filter out any company with less than a 4.0 review rating and less than 20-30 reviews. These parameters will filter out most scammers and give you a good idea of the service quality through customer comments. Also, read a few negative reviews and see how the company responds. Make a judgment from there.
- Read over their website and see what kind of equipment they are using.
Proper duct cleaning vacuum equipment includes:
Negative air electric 5000 CFM vacuums
220v portable duct cleaning vacuum.
Negative air gas-powered 5000 CFM vacuums
Meyer machine portable gas powered vacuum.
Truck-mounted vacuums with large vacuum bags mounted on the roof
A little overkill for residential cleanings, and expensive to operate.
High-pressure airlines with a minimum of 175 psi, a 30-gal two-stage compressor, and at least 23 CFM
Castair 30 gallon 2 stage truck mounted air compressor.
Agitation tools, whips, rods, and air guns
Agitation tools that connect to airlines.
- Air duct companies need various attachments that work with the air compressor to agitate the debris in your ducts. Air ducts can span up to 20-50 feet, so these tools need to be the right length to get all the way through; otherwise, they’re not agitating all the debris.
Avoid companies using inappropriate equipment for duct cleaning, such as:
- Rotobrush: This equipment lacks any vacuuming power. This machine uses a spinning brush head mounted on a shop-vac tube. The brush extensions don’t fit in many vents and are not long enough to reach debris.
- Ram Air and other knockoffs: This company puts a plastic cage over each vent and sucks out debris through a shop-vac-like vacuum system. It only pulls about 120 CFM suction. An average home vacuum draws the same amount in comparison.
Air duct professionals call this “Scam Air”.
- Carpet cleaning truck-mounted vacuums: These vacuums are great for cleaning carpets, but they’re not intended for vent cleaning. They’re not powerful enough to suck up all the fine particulates in ducts. Some carpet cleaning companies try to double up and use this equipment for air duct cleaning.
This is for carpet cleaning only!
- There are other variations of the equipment listed above, so you should always ask the company what equipment they are using. Google it. They are not cleaning your ducts properly if it is not negative air.
- Ask the company to provide before and after photos of your cleaning. Some even offer videos of your ducts’ interiors.
- Ask for proof of the company’s licensing, bonding, and insurance.
- Lastly, a good air duct cleaning company will be completely transparent about its air duct cleaning process. You should only hire a company that’s happy to work with you and answer any questions you may have.
If you follow these seven guidelines, you will be in a fantastic position to get quality air duct cleaning.
Avoid the $99 Air Duct Cleaning Fraud and Find a Quality Cleaning Company Near You
The fact is that you will never get a quality duct cleaning for $99. No company could perform a high-quality duct cleaning service with the right equipment and training at that price.
Air duct cleaning is expensive because it is very labor-intensive. In fact, it takes anywhere from 3-5 hours for a proper cleaning. Additionally, the appropriate equipment and setup are costly. Factor in other costs like employee overhead, fueling vehicles, sheet metals costs, and liability insurance, and it becomes easy to understand why air duct cleaning can be an expensive service.
On the positive side, you do not need to have your ducts cleaned every year. With that in mind, you can add up the costs of cleaning and divide the total by 5-7 years. This equation helps put into perspective how expensive this particular home maintenance task is and may help you rationalize spending the money to have it done correctly.
If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We would be happy to explain the air duct cleaning process to you.