Your Place | The blades of ceiling fans should be dusted regularly

Posted: April 27, 2007

Question: The blades on my ceiling fan are very dusty. Does dust buildup affect the fan's performance?

Answer: If there is a lot of dust built up on the blades, it might affect the speed, cause the blades to wobble, and put some strain on the fan's motor. In addition, a lot of dust is being kicked up as the fan blades whirl. Dust could build up on the motor as well, and that could be a safety issue.

Even if the dust isn't having a detrimental effect on fan performance, I'd clean the blades regularly - every couple of months in the seasons of greatest use. I would also check the manufacturer's recommendations for cleaning. This is what I typically do: Place a stepladder beneath the fan, have a family member hold the ladder steady for you, and then, while holding each blade in its turn, vacuum the dust. You may want to wipe the blades with a damp cloth and let them dry before turning the fan on. Whatever you do, don't let any moisture touch the motor.

I suppose you can run the nozzle attachment of a vacuum cleaner along the motor housing to remove dust buildup. I've seen some people use canned air to blow the dust from the inside of the housing, but I always wonder whether there's the potential for damaging the motor or spraying oil all over the place.

Our kitchen fan always collected a combination of grease and dust. The blades were plastic, so I used dishwashing liquid and water on a disposable cloth and wiped the blades, then dried them quickly.

Q: Air-conditioning season is on its way. How do I keep my window units working properly in the summer?

A: One major issue with keeping a window air conditioner operating properly during the summer is making sure the filter is clean. (A unit we use in the bedroom comes with a sensor that announces when it's time, in case I forget.) If you don't clean the filter regularly, the unit will work harder and won't cool as well.

The same thing goes for a dehumidifier in the basement: If the filter is dirty, the machine can't work at peak efficiency. Mine was so dirty a few weeks ago that the filter had a coat of ice. Simply cleaning it, letting the filter dry, and reinstalling it allowed the dehumidifier to do its job properly.

To clean the air conditioner's filter, I remove it from the unit, wash it in the kitchen sink, and then let it dry.

When you clean your filters is up to you, but I would suggest that you check them periodically - especially before the start of a forecast heat wave, when the need for air conditioning would be the greatest.

Exterior fins on the evaporator and condenser of a window unit dissipate heat, and they, too, need to be cleaned periodically. Soap and water and a soft brush work well. Be careful not to bend the fins.

Make sure the unit's drain channel isn't clogged. You should be able to tip the air conditioner back safely so that the condensation can drain outside, rather than into the window well.

To save energy, install the unit in a window facing north, if that's possible. If you're looking for a new unit, spend the money on a highly efficient Energy Star-rated model - it will save money in the long run.


Have questions for Alan J. Heavens? E-mail him at aheavens@phillynews.com or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.

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