How To Clean A Bathroom Fan (9-Step Guide)

how to clean a bathroom fan (1)

Bathroom exhaust fans should be cleaned on a regular basis. 

Bath fans can get choked by all of the dust on the cover and motor. But most important of all, a dirty bathroom fan will reduce its performance by restricting airflow.

A dirty bath fan can even become a fire hazard if the fan motor overheats.

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

Keep reading to learn how to clean your bathroom exhaust fan with 9 steps!

Step 1: Shut Off Power

  • Shut off the power to the bathroom fan by flipping the breaker at the electrical panel box
  • Verify power is off to the bath fan by using a non-contact voltage tester
  • Alternatively flip the wall switch to the bath fan to see if it still turns on

With a non-contact voltage tester, just getting it close to a wire or switch will light up the tester (and it may beep as well).

Step 2: Remove The Bathroom Fan Cover

  • Gently pull down the bath fan cover 1-2 inches with your fingertips
  • Squeeze the metal spring clips on two sides of the cover and pull it off
  • For covers with integrated lights, unplug the light from the housing before removing

The bath fan cover is held in place with two spring clips that get inserted into two notches on the sides of the housing.

removing bath fan cover (1)

Almost all bath fan covers are held in place with spring clips. Squeeze on the metal clips to release them from the slots.

Step 3: Clean The Cover With Water

  • Vacuum off any big chunks of dust from the cover (important if you are on septic!)
  • Clean off rest of dust by washing it in the kitchen or utility sink for a thorough clean
  • Use a sponge or brush with dish soap to fully clean the cover
  • Do NOT allow a cover that has an LED light to get wet (just use a wipe, brush, and vacuum)
  • Dry it off with a rag or paper towels (or let it air dry)
remove bathroom fan cover with spring clips

Squeeze the spring clips on sides of cover to release it from the housing

clean bath fan cover with water

Step 4: Clean From The Ceiling (Optional)

If homeowners don't want to remove the bath fan motor, they can just leave it in place if desired. I recommend wearing eye protection so dust won't get in your eyes. A face mask will also help prevent breathing in any dust particles that fall down.

  • Use a vacuum brush attachment to clean the housing and blower wheel
  • A vacuum crevice attachment will help you get the tight spots
  • Use a can of compressed air to blow off any remaining dust

Step 5: Remove Motor For Deep Clean

It is sometimes difficult to clean a bathroom fan without actually removing the fan. Don't be afraid of removing the fan motor for a deep clean.

The important thing to understand is that almost all bathroom fans are screwed or clipped into a housing. This means that the fan motor itself can be removed while the housing stays attached to the joist or ceiling.

remove bath fan motor for deep clean (1)

The fan motor assembly can be removed from the housing

  • Use a screwdriver or cordless drill to remove the screws holding the motor to housing (usually 1-3 screws only)
  • A few small metal clips that have to be unclipped on the sides (more common on older bath fans)
  • Homeowners may have to unplug the bath fan from a wire connection or plug on the housing
remove bath fan motor from housing for deep clean

The bath fan motor assembly can be removed from this Panasonic WhisperFit with two screws, one plastic clip (on bottom left), and the wire connection (bottom right).

Step 6: Clean The Fan Motor Insert

  • Clean the bathroom fan motor assembly with a vacuum brush attachment to remove any big chunks of dust
  • Using a can of compressed air can be useful to remove any remaining dust on the fan blades and motor
  • A small toothbrush may also be helpful to remove dust off the fan blades
  • Make sure that the fan blades are moving freely and that it spins smoothly
  • Be careful not to get any water or cleaning fluid on the motor itself
clean bath fan motor with brush attachment (1)

Step 7: Clean The Housing

If you have removed the fan motor assembly for a deep clean, the housing has full access for you to clean as well.

  • Clean the bathroom fan housing (that is still in the ceiling) with a vacuum brush attachment
  • Wipe down the housing with a wipe or damp rag
  • Make sure that the exhaust port damper freely moves and is clean of dust
clean bath fan housing with wipe

Step 8: Reinstall Motor To Housing

  • Plug the fan back into the housing if there was an outlet or wire connection
  • Install the screws that were removed previously
  • Re-install any clips on sides if you have them

Step 9: Install Cover

  • Squeeze the metal clips together and align them with the holes in the housing.
  • If the cover has an integrated light, don't forget to plug it back into housing plug
  • Adjust the bath fan cover so it is square with rest of bathroom

Supplies And Tools Needed

The supplies that you'll need to clean a bathroom fan are pretty simple, but the most important of all is a screwdriver or cordless drill so you can remove the fan motor assembly from the housing. Here are a few of the supplies you may need:

  • Screwdriver Or Cordless Drill: To remove motor and housing for deep cleaning if desired.
  • Dish Soap, Sponge, Brush: To clean dust and debris from housing and fins.
  • Vacuum Brush And Crevice Attachment: To clean motor and housing without removing it
  • Can of Compressed Air: To remove dust from blower wheel and other narrow spots
  • Eye protection and Face Mask: To prevent dust from going into eyes or lungs if cleaning from below.
dirty bathroom exhaust fan may start a fire

FAQs

Why Clean A Bathroom Fan?

Bathroom fan ducts (similar to dryer ducts) can sometimes get caked in debris on the cover, fan motor, blower wheel, and flapper. Dust can block airflow and make a bathroom fan almost worthless.

The blocked airflow can also cause the bath fan to overheat and possibly even start a fire. Modern bath fans have thermal shutoff switches but older fans may not have this safety feature. CPSC.gov even reports a case of a bathroom fan cover that caught on fire and fell into a toilet!

How Often Should I Clean My Bath Fan?

It is recommended to clean your bathroom fans at least every 6 months by the Fort Mill Fire Marshall. 

Is There A Way To Clean The Bath Fan Without Removal?

The bath fan cover at minimum will need to be removed in order to access the blower wheel and housing. A vacuum brush attachment, can of compressed air, or a small brush (toothbrush may work) can be used to clean the motor and housing. Remember to turn off power to the bath fan at the electrical panel first!

How Do I Use Compressed Air To Clean My Bath Fan?

A can of compressed air — such as what you would use to clean a keyboard — can be used to clean the bath fan. It can be used to clean the cover, blower wheel, motor, and housing. 

Please wear eye protection and a face mask so you don't breathe in any dust or damage your eyes. Simply vacuum any debris that falls onto the floor (or place  a drop cloth onto the ground).

Final Thoughts

Cleaning a bathroom fan isn't too difficult for a handy homeowner to accomplish. Here is a recap of this article:

  • Homeowners should consider cleaning it every 6-months especially if it is used every day.
  • Turn off the power at the electrical panel box before attempting to clean
  • The easiest part to remove is the bath fan cover which is just held in place with spring clips
  • Wash the bath fan cover in the kitchen sink (but don't get it wet if there is an LED light integrated into the cover)
  • Homeowners can clean the fan motor assembly with compressed air, vacuum brush attachment, vacuum crevice attachment, brushes, or cleaning wipes
  • Remove the fan motor assembly from the housing for a deeper cleaning
  • Check the blower wheel to make sure it spins freely and smoothly
  • Check the backdraft damper to make sure it opens and closes

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