I just bought a home, and the sellers clearly never had the air ducts cleaned. This is, unfortunately, typical of their neglect of the home, so I am not surprised. I was cleaning around the wooden floor registers, and I took the registers off. I found nests of some sort...all kinds of really gross stuff!! I am calling now to schedule duct cleaning for my new home. Anyway, it is very easy to check to see if you really need duct cleaning. Remove the floor registers and use a flashlight if necessary to see if there is dust or debris in the ducting. If these look bad, I'd definitely have the system cleaned. I would also do it after a construction project, after installing a new furnace, etc. I have found that once I had my previous system cleaned, it seemed to remain spotless for 3 years. So it seems that if you just change your filters on time (I have an iPhone alert set for every 3 months), the system will stay clean for years. Hope this helps!
Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts or go down after cleaning. This is because much of the dirt that may accumulate inside air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space. It is important to keep in mind that dirty air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to health.
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