How To Clean Bathroom Exhaust Fans (5 Simple Steps)

A clean bathroom exhaust fan will just work better, it will exhaust more air, and it will run quieter.

It also will reduce any possible fire hazard due to the build-up of dust. As dust accumulates, it can literally choke the motor, causing it to overheat and start a fire.

In this guide, I will go over...

  • Step-by-step on cleaning bath fans
  • Protecting the motor when cleaning
  • Checking the exterior vent flap
  • Verifying air flow
how to clean bathroom fan

Introduction

During my home inspections, I frequently recommend cleaning bathroom exhaust fans (as well as their exterior vent covers) because they are extremely dirty. Not only does it make a bad impression to a potential buyer, but it can seriously impact the performance of your bathroom fan. If your bath fan is very old, you may want to check out my how-to guide on oiling bathroom fans as well.

And it won't just reduce performance, but it can become a fire hazard if the fan motor overheats. Fortunately, most newer bath fans have overheating safety switches, but older fans likely will not have this safety feature.

Home cleaning can sometimes become a bit complex, and it isn't always a DIY job. That's why I created my own contractor search tool that will provide you free quotes from trusted contractors who have been pre-vetted. 

Read Also: What Are The Best Bathroom Fans With Lights?

#1. Remove The Cover

The first step in cleaning a bathroom vent fan is to remove the cover.

Gently pull on the sides of the fan cover, and you should be able to pull it down about an inch. Once there is a little space, put your fingers behind the cover and feel for the two metal clips holding it to the fan.

Use your fingers to squeeze the metal clips/prongs together, and then the cover will come off.

The easiest way to clean the bathroom fan cover is to just wash it in a kitchen or utility sink. Use warm water, a sponge (or bristle brush), and dish soap.

Read Also: How To Vent A Bathroom Fan Into An Attic?

how to oil a bathroom exhaust fan (cover removal)
remove bathroom fan cover

#2. Disconnect The Power

Now that you have removed the cover, before you doing anything else, you will want to either unplug the fan (on the housing) or flip the electrical breaker to the bathroom.

Some fans will actually have a plug behind the cover, which you can just unplug. If there isn't a receptacle inside the ventilation fan, then you will have to flip the breaker at the electrical panel in order to disconnect the power to the bathroom.

If you have any doubts, you can also use a non-contact voltage tester to check the voltage.

Read Also: Which Bathroom Fans Make The Least Noise?

unplug the bathroom fan motor


#3. Remove The Bathroom Exhaust Fan

If you want to fully clean the bathroom fan, you will have to it from the housing in order to clean the fan blades and motor. There just is no way to truly clean the bathroom fan blades without actually removing the fan.

In order to remove the bathroom fan, you will have to remove a few screws, and there may be a few small metal clips that also have to be undone. After removing the screw(s), simply remove the bathroom vent fan from the cavity.

Be careful to disconnect the vent hose from the bathroom fan during removal. You will also have to remove any electrical wiring to fully remove the fan, which is hopefully an easily removable quick connect.

Home cleaning can sometimes become a bit complex, and it isn't always a DIY job. That's why I created my own contractor search tool that will provide you free quotes from trusted contractors who have been pre-vetted. 

Read Also: How To Replace A Bathroom Fan Without Attic Access?

unclip bath fan housing

#4. Clean Bath Fan With Brush Attachment

After removing the bathroom fan, you can vacuum the bath fan and motor with a vaccum brush attachment. If you have an air compressor, you can also use it to remove dust on the fan blades or squirrel cage.

You can also use something small like a toothbrush to get into the fan blades.

Once the bath fan has been removed from the housing, you can use your vacuum brush attachment to clean the housing that is still attached to the ceiling joists.

And don't forget to remove any caked on dust from the fan motor itself.

Read Also: What Are The Best Bathroom Fans With Heaters?

#5. Reinstall Bathroom Fan

Now that it is clean, you can re-install the bathroom fan. Remember to re-connect the vent hose and electrical wires prior to screwing the bath fan back into the ceiling cavity. 

It's also a good idea to check the vent flap to make sure it isn't stuck. Keep reading for more details on cleaning bathroom vent obstructions (such as bird nests).

dirty bathroom exhaust fan may start a fire

How To Clean Bathroom Vent Hose?

If you clean your bathroom fan, and it still doesn't seem to be exhausting much air, I would definitely check for blockages in the bathroom vent hose.

Bathroom fans should be exhausting to the outside, either to a wall or to the roof. These bath fan covers have flaps which open when the fan is turned on, and they automatically close when the fan is off.

Bathroom fans also frequently have pest screens which help keep out animals such as birds (as well as insects). Birds frequently like to make nests in bathroom vents as well as dryer vents.

bird nest inside bathroom vent (1)

To check the air flow, simply turn the bathroom fan on, and put your hand in front of the exterior vent to see if it is properly exhausting air. If it feels very weak, or if there is no air flow at all, then you know there is some obstruction, and it will need to be cleaned.

Professional vent cleaners usually use long hoses with compressed air to clean out bathroom vents.

Read Also: Why Did My Bathroom Fan Stop Working?

Do Bathroom Fans Really Need To Be Cleaned?

If the bathroom fan hasn't been cleaned in years, it has probably significantly slowed down, and isn't exhausting the air as well as it should.

The truth is that most people never clean bathroom exhaust fans. During my home inspections, I have seen many bathroom fans that are almost fully blocked by dust. I take a picture of these bathroom fans, put it in the inspection report, and recommend cleaning.

If the ventilation fan isn't exhausting air, the moisture will build up in the bathroom, and may lead to mold problems or even wall damage. It will also greatly reduce the indoor air quality of the home due to excessive moisture (and smell).

In addition to poor performance and poor air quality, a dirty bathroom exhaust fan can also become a fire hazard. Most new bathroom fans have overheating sensors so that if the motor gets too hot, it will automatically turn off. But older bathroom fans will not have this simple safety feature. When the motor is coated in dust, it can easily overheat, and may start a fire.

Read Also: What Are The Top Rated Bathroom Fans With Bluetooth Speakers?

How Often Should You Clean Your Bathroom Exhaust Fan?

Having a schedule of home maintenance items is a good idea so you don't forget anything, and cleaning your bathroom fan should definitely be on a home maintenance schedule.

It's a good idea to do a quick clean of your bathroom fans at least once a year.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning a bathroom fan isn't too difficult for a handy homeowner to accomplish. In fact, it is significantly easier than cleaning a furnace blower fan. With the HVAC blower fan, you will have to remove numerous wires (and remember which goes to which), and it usually takes an hour or two --- it is an ordeal. With a bathroom fan, there are just a few electrical wires, and the fan is much smaller.

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Arie Van Tuijl

Arie Van Tuijl

I am a licensed home inspector in two U.S. states and the founder of Home Inspector Secrets. After performing hundreds of inspections, and seeing thousands of house defects, I realized people would love to have an online resource dedicated to home maintenance. I write detailed home guides and product reviews sprinkled with inspection tips. You can read my bio here.

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About Home Inspector Secrets

Home Inspector Secrets is an online resource for owners, buyers, and sellers to understand all aspects of home maintenance. We have detailed home guides, product reviews, inspection advice, and much more.