If no one in your household suffers from allergies or unexplained symptoms or illnesses and if, after a visual inspection of the inside of the ducts, you see no indication that your air ducts are contaminated with large deposits of dust or mold (no musty odor or visible mold growth), having your air ducts cleaned is probably unnecessary. It is normal for the return registers to get dusty as dust-laden air is pulled through the grate. This does not indicate that your air ducts are contaminated with heavy deposits of dust or debris; the registers can be easily vacuumed or removed and cleaned.
The cooling coils the air comes into contact with appear to need UV-C lights on them in humid climates. That's the biggest thing. If the ducts have never been cleaned, then getting that done goes without saying. But those coils need to be cleaned, disinfected, and then UV-C light(s) installed to prevent mold & bacteria build-up in the future on them. That appears to be chiefly responsible for the dirty laundry and/or sour milk smell coming from forced-air AC systems in humid regions.
It seems all the average costs for a complete heating and cooling system replacement I've found on websites are usually at least 1/4 less, mostly half lower, then quotes I've gotten from companies. The worst quote I got was from One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning (the company with the Mike Rowe commercials), for over $15,000! I finally settled on a Carrier dealer, for $10,700 & I'll get $950 of that back in energy co rebates eventually. The company I went with's basic system would have been around $8800 (the only one that sorta matched up with web avg cost). They did all the correct planning as far as I could see, not like One Hour, who just showed me a price guide for the same size units already in place. And they do all the rebate paperwork and submit it to the energy co, One Hour never even mentioned possible rebates! Plus Carrier gets above avg reviews. I would have greatly liked a price under 9 grand, but this company got me 0% APR financing, so at least nothing out of pocket. My advice is stay away from national chains, and shop around with local area companies. Of course, One Hour says local companies will fold before you need warranty service lol. For their cost, there should be a technician living in his work van outside my house hahaha.
The A/C System Cleaning and restoration industry has become a very lucrative bait and switch industry that many Carpet cleaning companies, Maid services, as well as plumbing or handyman service companies are adding on to there services. These add-ons are not fully certified, trained or even have any experience in the HVAC industry. These companies are the reason prices and quality of work are all over the place. If you are looking to make a smart decision for your home a professional Duct Cleaning service will protect you for 5-7 years. This info comes from NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaning Association) which is the closest thing to a license we have for duct cleaning. They have a great site that explains this process and pricing much more in depth and factual than what has been written here. This organization is working very hard to get these bad companies exposed and out of this industry. So in saying that do your research! Green Duct Decontamination is a certified company with certified technicians that take this work very seriously. We can not have these low rated unprofessional companies paste a bad name for an entire industry. Stay away from anything under 250$ for a full duct clean this is not feasible, go look at NADCA.com and you will understand why and what these companies are doing to rob you of your dollar.
First of all, I think it is great that there are many companies out there who look out for the customer and protect their interest. Secondly, I think it is also important that customers consider having their HVAC systems checked thoroughly before moving into a new home. I have heard a couple of horror stories where previous owners have not had the best housekeeping skills. Even when the appearance of the home seems it has been well kept, keep in mind that surface clean only goes so far. You can never tell what lies underneath.