How To Clean a Fan Without Taking It Apart (or Buying a New One)

by Reader Contributors

DIY Landscaping for Less photo

Maybe you don’t need to buy a new fan. Prolong the life of your oscillating fan by cleaning it, without the hassle of taking it apart.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
It’s getting warm, which means we’ve gotten our fans out. Does anyone have any ideas on cleaning all the dust and stuff from a fan? We have two or three window fans that don’t open up at all. I can’t unscrew them and get inside, and the casing is just absolutely filthy.

I tried to clean with cotton swabs and a toothbrush, and it got rid of some of it, but some of it just moved around and now it looks even worse. Thanks! I hate to spend money on new ones.

I also have an oscillating fan that I want to use this summer, but it’s gotten really dusty. What’s the best way to clean it? I’d rather not have to take it apart if possible.
Mama J.

How Do You Clean a Fan Without Taking it Apart?

We asked our frugal readers how they clean window and oscillating fans so they do not need to be replaced as often.  See if these cleaning tips can help you prolong the life of any fans you have in your home:

Blow Your Fan Clean

Provided you use this method religiously at the end of every fan season and the beginning of the next, I’ve found that standing your fan up in your garage, carport, or driveway and using your leaf blower to blow the dust out of it works very well indeed.

If you let the dust accumulate to the point where the dirt sort of solidifies on the fan, there will be definite limits to what the leaf blower can accomplish. Even then, though, it will accomplish something.

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Avoid Cleaning Fans Again Next Year

I’ve used my vacuum cleaner nozzle to clean our fans, and it works pretty well. The best bet, however, is to prevent the problem next year.

If you’ve not saved the fan box (I rarely save boxes), cover the fan with a contractor’s plastic bag when you store it during the cold months. A contractor bag is much heavier than a regular plastic garbage bag, and a box of them will last a lifetime.
Rebecca in Johnson City, TN

Two Ideas to Try for Cleaning Fans Without Taking Them Apart

  1. If you have a compressor, take the fan outside and blow it out.
  2. If not, then find a long, thin handled paintbrush (like a crafts brush) and try that. Most of the time that helps.

I have four indoor cats that love sleeping in front of the fan, and invariably, their fur gets “pulled” into the fan blades. I have found both these methods very helpful.

Clean Fans With a Degreaser

If it was manufactured, it comes apart one way or another. The trick is to be careful. Most of the plastic fans look as though they don’t come apart, but the trick is to follow the seam on the edges where it comes together. I usually use a thin knife or screwdriver tip and pry it apart. Metal may be welded and indeed be impossible to open. Look for tabs and such where it may come apart. Those who are mechanically inclined may be useful here. If you do break it, a simple repair may be to use a twist tie or wire in a similar color and tie it together.

The cleaning is fairly easy. Obviously make sure it’s unplugged. Use a degreaser (ammonia water is good here) and apply to a rag, wringing it out until it’s nearly dry in order to avoid getting moisture into the works. If you do make such a mistake, leave the fan in the sunlight for a day or two to let it dry out. Wipe the fan gently, cleaning the rag off regularly. If you use ammonia, be sure to do the rinse the same way but with clear water. Do not attempt the motor. Put the casing back on. Personally, I like to tape a cotton ball saturated with a bit of scent on the fan screen facing out.

Don’t use dish detergent, as it tends to be a bit gummy after it dries. I don’t use dish detergent on the floors for the same reason.

Clean Fans With Hot Steaming Water

One of the best cleaning investments I made was to buy a small, handheld steam cleaner. Sure, I paid about $52 for it up-front, but I’ve saved a lot.

First of all, it cleans all those nasty, grimy places (like fans, screen windows, floor duct vents, around faucets in bathrooms, in the corners of bathroom floors, and even your gas grill) with hot steaming water.

Second, I no longer buy cleaning products because all I need is my steamer and a towel to mop up the grime and water residue. It’s made cleaning kind of fun!

Cleaning Off the Loose Dust

Try laying the fan flat on a sheet (blades pointing up or down) and pouring some clean, dry sand or salt through the grills so that it brushes off the fan blades and then spills through to the sheet. It should clean off the loose dust.

An Air Compressor Cleans Fan

For cleaning fans, my husband takes them out to the garage and blows them off with the air compressor. It gets 90% of the gunk off and then I can wipe them clean.

Clean and Dry Fan Outdoors

You could try laying the fan outside on the ground and putting a dinner plate over the motor area. Then spray the fan with a cleaner like 409 or Clorox. Let it soak a few minutes to loosen up the grime. Then using the jet setting on your hose, blast it clean. Let it sit out in the sun until it is totally dry and it should be fine.

It’s a good idea to oil the center of the motor (if it’s accessible) with a lightweight household oil, like you use for old sewing machines and door hinges. The fan will last longer.
Shawna in Barberton, Ohio

Auto Cleaner for Fans

Take the fans outside on a clear sunny day. Spray well with GUNK® (found in auto section of WalMart). Let set for a few minutes then hose down well. Allow the fan to sit in the sun until dried. Make sure it’s dry. We do this each season.

Worth the Risk?

I have cleaned electric fans with soap and water. I didn’t submerge them, but sprayed soapy water on the dirty blades and the grills and reached in with a long-handled brush to scrub. I did this three years in a row. After that, the fan didn’t work, but I considered it worth the risk.

A Time-Consuming Option for Cleaning Fans That Works Well

I used to have a fan that I cleaned with a damp rag and a butter knife. It took forever, but I got it pretty clean that way. I unplugged it first of course. For only dust, a Swiffer should work okay.

Reviewed June 2023

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