How To Clean Bathroom Exhaust Fans (*8 Step Guide*)

Do you want to learn how to clean a bathroom exhaust fan?

Bath fans get dirty with dust over the years, slowing down the fan, increasing the fire risk, and making it louder.

In this guide, I will be going over...

  • How to remove the cover and fan
  • Protecting the motor when cleaning
  • Checking the exterior vent flap
  • Verifying air flow

Let's get started with this guide!

how to clean bathroom exhaust fan

How Do You Clean A Bathroom Exhaust Fan?

During my home inspections, I frequently call out dirty 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.

When your bath fan grille is covered in dust, it can restrict air flow up to 90% (almost all of it). And it won't just reduce performance, but it can even lead to a fire if the fan motor overheats. Fortunately, most newer bath fans have overheating safety switches, but older fans likely will not have this safety feature.

very dirty bathroom exhaust fan cover (1)

A Quick Summary On Cleaning Bath Fans

Cleaning a bathroom fan is a straightforward process. You first want to clean the grille or cover of all dirt and debris. Then, it's a good idea to clean the fan blades and the housing. In addition to cleaning, it's a good idea to oil the fan motor especially if it's an old fan. 

After cleaning the actual bathroom fan, it's a good idea to take a look at the exterior bath fan vent cover or hood and make sure that there is air flow (when the fan is on) and that the flapper isn't restricted with debris.

Check out my steps below for more details...

#1. Remove The Vent Fan 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 an inch. Once there is a little space, you can squeeze the metal prongs together, and the cover will come off.

Now that you removed the cover, you can simply clean it in the sink with a sponge and dish soap.

remove bathroom fan cover

Read Also: The Best Quiet Bathroom Exhaust Fans (Review)

#2. Unplug Fan Or Flip Breaker

Now that you have removed the cover, before you doing anything else, you will want to either unplug the fan or flip the 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 kill the power to the bathroom. If you have any doubts, you can also use a non-contact voltage tester to check the voltage.

unplug the bathroom fan motor

#3. Vacuum Bathroom Fan With Brush Attachment

Now, before removing the bathroom fan, you can vacuum the bath fan and motor with a brush attachment.

If you do this properly, you may not have to even remove the bathroom fan for further cleaning --- but this doesn't clean the fan blades.

Read Also: How To Oil A Bathroom Exhaust Fan

#4. Remove The Bathroom Exhaust Fan

If you want to fully clean the bathroom fan, you will have to actually remove it in order to clean the fan blades. There just is no way to fully clean the bathroom fan blades without removing the exhaust fan.

You could spray the blades with a can of compressed air however, and call it a day, but it isn't fully cleaned unless you wipe it down.

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.

dirty bathroom exhaust fan may start a fire

#5. Disconnect Electrical Wires

Depending on your bathroom fan, there will be a few electrical wires that need to be disconnected before you can fully remove the fan. These electrical wires, probably 12 gauge, will likely be connected with wire nuts. If you are lucky, they are connected with quick connectors so that they are easily pulled out.

#6. Cover The Motor With Plastic Bag

Now that the bathroom fan is fully removed, you can clean the most important part which is the fan blades. Depending on your bathroom fan, the fan will either be a squirrel cage (centrifugal type) or it will be an axial fan (propeller type).

It is important to cover the fan motor with a few plastic bags and tie it with rubber bands.

Now that the motor is covered, you can clean the fan blades with soap and water. You will want to use a small brush like an old toothbrush to clean the fan blades. After cleaning, rinse off the fan blades with water to remove all of the soap residue.

#7. 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.

Read Also: The Best Bathroom Exhaust Fans With Humidity Sensors (Review)

#8. Check The Exterior Vent Cover

The exterior vent cover is where the bathroom fan discharges on the outside. It will have a hood to protect against rain, and it will have a damper (flap) that opens when the bathroom fan is on.

bird nest inside bathroom vent (1)

The flapper helps protect against birds from making nests in the vent hose. Sometimes the flapper is stuck open or it is missing altogether.

An easy way to check that it's working properly is to turn on the bathroom fan, and locate the vent cover on the outside. The flapper should be open when the fan is on, and it should be fully closed with the fan is off.

If the vent cover is high off the ground, it would be a good idea to have a handyman check the vent to make sure it is actually connected (there is airflow) and that it isn't impeded by a birds nest.

Read Also: The Best Bathroom Exhaust Fans With LED Lights (Review)

Do Bathroom Exhaust Fans Need To Be Cleaned?

It's important to periodically clean the bathroom exhaust fan. For one, if the bathroom fan hasn't been cleaned in years, it has probably significantly slowed down, and isn't exhausting the air adequately.

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.

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.

You don't have to go all out by disassembling the bath fan and cleaning all the parts. The most important bath fan part to clean is the cover or grill.

After cleaning the grill, you can just use a vacuum brush attachment to clean the housing, and you can also use compressed air to clean the fan blades and other components.

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

Arie is the founder of Home Inspector Secrets, an online resource dedicated to helping people understand how homes work. He is a licensed home inspector in two U.S states and owns a residential and commercial inspection company (read his full bio on the About page). To ask Arie a question, please use the comment box at the bottom of the relevant article.

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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.