Bathrooms serve as a perfect breeding ground for nontoxic molds such as Mucor and Chaetonium. While these types of molds will not necessarily result in the immediate brain damage commonly linked to toxic spores, they can trigger asthma attacks, allergic reactions, and serious lung infections in immunocompromised individuals.
Fortunately, proper ventilation mitigates the risk of mold accumulation in bathrooms. Exhaust fans reduce the formation of unhealthy mold and mildew by diverting excess moisture out of bathrooms. By regularly running bathroom exhaust fans during baths and showers and at least 30 minutes after, homeowners spare themselves the tremendous hassle and expense of mold infestations.
Oftentimes, however, people overlook the importance of routinely cleaning and maintaining bathroom exhaust fans which prevent the collection of irritating allergens that ultimately interferes with the system’s effectiveness. Neglected bathroom exhaust fans can even pose a fire hazard, as accumulated lint can overheat the motor and easily ignite.
The following tips will enable homeowners to efficiently clean their bathroom exhaust fans without compromising personal safety. The entire process should take up to 15 minutes to complete.
Step By Step Instructions: Cleaning a Bathroom Fan
Step 1. Shut off the fan.
While seemingly common sense, the frequency of injuries from home improvement related electrocutions makes this worthy of mentioning. Turning off the fan at the circuit breaker greatly reduces the risk of electrocution due to someone accidentally turning the unit on at the switch. Additionally, allowing units that have been recently used enough time to cool off will eliminate the risk of burns. Poorly maintained units tend to overheat which causes excessive heat transfer to external parts.
Step 2. Take off the cover.
This should be done gently to avoid damaging the cover and any parts that hold it in its place. Bathroom exhaust fan covers typically rely on spring-loaded wire clips to remain fixed in overhead installations. These can be removed by pressing the springs together then pulling them from their slots. This generally requires no use of tools.
Step 3. Soak the cover.
If the bathroom exhaust fan has gone an extended amount of time without proper cleaning, the cover will likely have a high level of grime that will require a lot effort to remove. Soaking dirty fan covers in a mixture of warm water and a few drops of dish soap facilitates the cleaning process, saving time and energy spent on removing built up dust and dirt. Fan covers can be left to soak while other components of the bathroom exhaust fan are being cleaned.
Step 4. Disassemble the Bathroom Fan
Loosen any nuts and screws holding the fan and motor in place, then twist the motor assembly to remove it completely. Most homeowners have very little trouble figuring out how to disassemble and reassemble the fan and motor for cleaning, but snapping a picture of the pieces prior to taking them apart will make reassembly much easier. It is also very important to keep track of each smaller piece, as misplaced nuts and screws will complicate the process of putting the unit back together. The number of nuts and screws requiring removal will depend largely on the age of the bathroom exhaust fan. Most units, especially the newer ones, contain very few nuts and screws. Although powered drills greatly reduce the amount of time spent on this step, screwdrivers with appropriate heads will work just fine. Cordless powered drills typically range from $20 to over $200, while screwdriver sets range from $1 to over $150.
Step 5. Clean the fan blades and motor.
Admittedly, this step requires the most time and effort, especially if the bathroom exhaust fan has not been cleaned in a while. More often than not, thick layers of hair, dirt, and dust completely coat these components and accumulate in the crevices. However, use of household cleaners to remove these particulates may actually do more harm to fan blades and motors than good. Reusable microfiber cloths consist of split fibers that absorb moisture and completely lift dirt and dust from surfaces without requiring harsh chemicals. They are relatively inexpensive. In fact, most dollar store chains stock them in their household products section. When used to clean fan blades and motor assemblies, microfiber cloths should be dampened with water then wrung out. This improves the cloth’s effectiveness without destroying the fan blades and motor.
Step 6. Clean the exhaust vent and fan housing.
Similar to the fan cover, fan blades, and motor assembly, the exhaust vent, and fan housing attract a decent amount of dust and grime that will require some attention. A vacuum will clear most of the hair, dust, and dirt. However, not all vacuum attachments have the range to reach bathroom exhaust fans installed in the ceiling. Handheld vacuums offer a fairly affordable solution to this problem. The cost of a handheld vacuum ranges from as low as $10 and to over $200. Once vacuumed, the housing unit can be wiped with the damp microfiber cloth used to clean the fan blades and motor. Thorough cleaning of the fan blades, motor assembly, vent, and housing unit minimizes the risk of the unit catching fire.
Step 7. Replace the internal components.
Once cleaned, the fan blades and motor assembly need to be placed back into the ceiling. This can be done by carefully fitting each component back into the housing when using the nuts and screws to secure them. The photo taken at the beginning of the cleaning process can guide users in reinstalling the disassembled pieces correctly. Each screw needs to be fastened tightly to prevent the unit from slipping out of place and falling.
Step 8. Clean and replace the fan cover.
Once all the internal components are thoroughly cleaned and replaced, the fan cover will need to be dried then vacuumed and wiped down to remove any lingering particles. A clean reusable microfiber cloth works best for drying the cover because of its efficient absorbency and ability to remove and trap dirt and dust. Once fully dried, the cover can be snapped back into place by pressing the spring loaded clips together then slipping them back into the slots in the fan housing.
Thoroughly cleaning bathroom exhaust fans every six months ensures that they continue to properly function which ultimately reduces the risk of unhealthy mold accumulation. It also minimizes the risk of overheating and fires. Additionally, regularly maintained units run with less noise and are better able to eliminate odors. In short, a little time and elbow grease once or twice a year goes a long way.