I know from experience that it’s better to stay on top of home maintenance than to let stuff go. I keep a running list in my head of what needs to be done and spend my Saturdays attending to these various jobs. Anyone who owns a house can identify with this. It’s a perpetual job. Something is always breaking, wearing out, or needs some sort of attention, like a fresh coat of paint. Other things need cleaning, tightening, adjustment, or lubrication.
So I was shocked last weekend when I looked up and saw a bath fan grill covered with dust. I said to myself, “didn’t I just clean that?” The answer was yes and no. Time pressed, I had vacuumed the bath fan grills in the upstairs bathroom and the downstairs powder room, but I hadn’t removed the grills, cleaned and inspected the fan behind the grill–like I normally do. A laundry room renovation and building a set of stairs (five stringers wide) on the back of the house had caused me to take some maintenance short cuts.
I said to myself, “I better have a look at that.” I turned off the fan, fetched a step ladder, climbed up and popped off the grill. I was shocked at what I saw, a fan motor and housing area almost clogged with dust.
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I vacuumed the fan and surroundings clean and carefully inspected the wiring and motor for any dark-colored discoloration that could be a sign of overheating. Fortunately, everything turned out to be in good working order.
Clean It or Regret It
The bath fan experience was sobering. It’s too easy when involved in big projects (that laundry room remodel and the stair construction project) to let other smaller maintenance jobs fall by the wayside. The maintenance on the bath fan was a small job; neglecting it was a big mistake. Although in this case there were no bad lasting effects, that’s not always the case.
Items like bath fans, dryer ducts, smoke detectors all require small amounts of maintenance administered at frequent intervals. Neglecting them for the sake of larger (and more enjoyable) projects can cost you.
Below I show the full sequence of steps to the simple job of cleaning out a bath fan. The job doesn't require anything more than the simplest of tools, a step ladder, a small shop vacuum, a nylon bristle brush, some spray degreaser, and shop towels. You may need a putty knife if the bath fan cover sticks to the ceiling by a layer of accumulated moisture and dust.
This what a typical bath fan grill looks like. It's a sure thing that the fan underneath needs to be cleaned.
Start by Removing the Fan's Cover
Two Spring Clips Hold the Cover in Place
With One Spring Clip Unhooked, Pivot the Cover Down
Use a Small Shop Vacuum to Clean the Fan
Use a Small Nylon-Bristle Brush to Complete the Cleaning
Next, Clean the Fan Cover
Don't Forget to Clean the Back of the Fan Cover
Pull the Spring Clips
Attach the Cover to the Clips
Push the Cleaned Cover Into Place
Roy Berendsohn has worked for more than 25 years at Popular Mechanics, where he has written on carpentry, masonry, painting, plumbing, electrical, woodworking, blacksmithing, welding, lawn care, chainsaw use, and outdoor power equipment. When he’s not working on his own house, he volunteers with Sovereign Grace Church doing home repair for families in rural, suburban and urban locations throughout central and southern New Jersey.