How To Clean the Return Air Grill

A question people asked a lot last year during Spring Cleaning when they saw the checklist: what is the Return Air Grill? So let’s start by answering that. If you have heating and air conditioning, air is sucked INTO some vents and OUT of some vents. Most of the vents around the house are just regular OUT vents, but the ones that pull the air IN are the Return Air Grills.

One of our Return Air Grills is just outside our master bedroom door, tucked away on the ceiling of a little hallway.

They Get Gross

These grills get all the dirty air before it goes through your air filter. Think about how gross those filters are when you change them. Is it any surprise that grills get dirty too?

This is what one of our three looked like when we moved in. I don’t think it had been cleaned in a while. (I had taken the picture last year of the Return Air Grill near my son’s room.)

Easy Regular Cleaning

If I clean it regularly, just a good vacuuming will do the trick. 

Choose the Right Attachment

Select your vacuum attachment that is smaller, most ideally with brush bristles. This is the attachment I use on my vacuum, the Dyson Absolute. The bristles help brush off the dust and grime and the slanted head makes it easier to use.


I definitely use my max setting (which is so strong it can pull fibers from my nice rugs). If you have any power options on your vacuum, max it out!

Time to Vacuum

Carefully vacuum along the lines of the grill, so that the bristles can come between the slats. If you do this regularly, this is all you need to do. I have to stand on a stool to reach mine, even with the long stick attachment on my vacuum … it’s a tall ceiling and I’m pretty short.

I recommend about every 3 months. If you wait, you’ll need to clean with a cleaner and rag. (Keep reading if this is you.)

Deep Cleaning for the Grime

To remove any thick grime, spray down with degreaser spray. Let that soak in for 5-10 minutes. (If possible, you may be able to remove the cover. In that case, put on a towel on your kitchen table and then spray it down to soak on top of the towel.)

After the grill has soaked, the grime should wipe off easily. Repeat soaking if necessary, but it shouldn’t be.

My Favorite Degreaser

You can use your favorite degreaser or try mine. I mix my degreaser with Shaklee’s Basic H2 (the same concentrate I use for glass cleaner and all-purpose spray):

Have you cleaned your Return Air Grill before?

Are you one of the few that already knew about cleaning this? Pat yourself on the back if so, but otherwise I felt this public service announcement was important! Clean your Return Air Grill and breathe easier!!!


Happy Spring Cleaning!

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4 thoughts on “How To Clean the Return Air Grill

  1. Do you sell shakelee cleaner? I try to keep mine cleaned and filters changed monthly because it increases the life of your H A unit. Doesn’t have to work as hard and it’s big bucks to repair or replace.

    1. Yes, I do sell Shaklee cleaner. :)

      Mine doesn’t get dusty enough to clean it monthly, but that is a good thing for people to keep in mind. If yours are getting dusty each month, it may have to do with how many people live in the house and other dust-creating things. I also don’t use dryer sheets, which I read somewhere else also played a big roll in dust-creation. (My dryer is stainless steel so I don’t need to use dryer sheets.) It also might be influenced by where my filters are, which is the attic, instead of right behind the grill.

  2. One of our return air grills is out of reach… so only acuuming is possible. Thankfully it’s on the top floor, so not as much grease as the main floor.

    1. At least it’s close enough to vacuum, right?! I would have to use a ladder if I let mine get gross because my ceilings are high too. Motivation for regular maintenance!

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