How to Remove Dead Animals from Air Ducts


Sharon asked: How do I get rid of a very strong, nasty odor coming from my duct work? About 3 weeks ago, I started hearing something in my duct work. Now there is a strong, musky, sickening odor. How can I get rid of both the odor and the varmit.

When animals and rodents enter our homes for their final resting place, the biggest challenge is finding exactly where they are. Most often, they crawl back into dark corners, nooks and crannies, or into the insulation to cuddle up and die. The biggest challenge is to find the deceased visitor, dispose of it properly and disinfect the area. Once the animal is gone and the area is disinfected, the smell will go away quickly. Here’s what you need to know to accomplish this on your own.

Locating the Deceased Critter

  • Follow your nose and smell all around your house to find where the smell is the strongest.
  • First, try to identify which room the smell is strongest. If there are no particular rooms that the smell is strongest, the animal may be under the house or near the location of your furnace fan or air return.
  • If you can identify a single room, smell along the walls, floors and along the ceiling – if possible (many animals choose to crawl under the floorboards and insulation in the attic) to find where the smell is strongest. Keep in mind that many times, even though the animal was running through the walls or ductwork, that may not necessarily be where they have died. Many animals crawl to spaces further back that are dark and undisturbed and pass away. You will know immediately when you find the spot where the animal is because the smell will most likely be overwhelming. The smell from a rotting carcass seeps through the sheetrock, boards, etc.

How to Clean Your Own Air Ducts

If the odor is strongest from the ducts and there is no sign of any dead animals near the fans or air returns, then you may want to try cleaning the ducts yourself. This method allows you to clean your ducts several feet into the ductwork, but it will not reach all of the way through the ducts. It’s a great start and if you’re able to find the animal, it can save you a lot of money. However, if the animal has crawled further back, beyond your reach, it will require a professional cleaning to remove it.

You Will Need:

  • Vacuum
  • Heavy duty gloves
  • Screwdriver
  • Cleaning brush (these are specially designed for air ducts)
  • Old rags and cloths

Steps to Clean the Air Ducts:

  1. Begin by cleaning the floor around the air duct entrance so no foreign objects fall into the ducts when the cover is removed.
  2. Use the screwdriver to remove the air duct covers.
  3. Get up close and use your nose to see if you can identify where the smell is coming from. Check the walls as well as the piping.
  4. Use a soft cloth or rag to clean around the walls as best you can. If there are filters in place, wipe the dirt out with the soft cloth. Avoid using the vacuum around the walls because the suctioning power is too strong and may cause damage.
  5. Use the vacuum with the attachments to clean as far as possible into the ducts. If you are fortunate enough to find the rotting carcass here, you can proceed to the next steps. Though you will not be able to get all the way back, you can get a good ways back. To get through the entire duct work, you will need to have them professionally cleaned.
  6. Once you’ve cleaned and inspected the area, replace the cover and move onto the next one.
  7. Repeat this process for all air duct entrances.

Removing the Deceased Critter and Disinfecting the Area

You Will Need:

  • Garbage bags
  • Rubber gloves
  • Disinfect spray (a mixture of bleach and water will work)
  • Paper towels

Steps to Remove the Dead Animal:

  1. Congratulations! You found the source of the odor. Now what to do with it?
  2. While some animals will be easy to pull out, others will require more maneuvering. As dead animals sit, their bodies begin to swell and can become stuck. You may need to loosen boards or other obstacles (if the animal is not in the ducts) in the way prior to removing.
  3. Once the animal is removable, turn a garbage bag inside out and stick your hand inside.
  4. Grab the animal and as much of the rotting material as possible, and pull it inside of the garbage bag.
  5. If necessary, use paper towels to wipe up any maggots, body juices, etc.
  6. When everything is removed, spray the entire area with a disinfectant spray.
  7. Replace floorboards, insulation, etc. as needed.
  8. Finally, open all the windows in the house to let fresh air in.
  9. Enjoy your fresh smelling home!

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • Can’t find the animal in the duct work? Try the attic or in the crawlspace under your home.
  • Check with your local wildlife center or town hall for proper disposal of the dead animal. While it is easy to dispose of some animals, there are strict laws against throwing animals in with normal garbage in some areas. Check with the proper authorities to find the correct disposal methods for your area.
  • Keep in mind that if the animal has been dead for awhile (and if it’s starting to smell, it probably has) there will be maggots, body juices and other clean-up factors involved during the removal.
  • Of course, if you are hesitant to tackle this job yourself, there are plenty of professionals who are experienced in both locating the deceased animal and getting rid of the odor. There are websites available to find a professional animal trapper in your area.


  1. Karen says:

    Try running it with baking soda, I would use a whole box.

  2. Dee says:

    We have had some type of dead animal smell that gets stronger every day. We live in a double-wide trailer and my husband and son have gone underneath the trailer and cannot find the dead animal. My husband says he doesn’t think it is in the air ducts. Who can I get to come and investigate and try to find it and get rid of it?

  3. Melanie says:

    Call a pest control service. Many pest control companies will locate and remove dead animals upon request.

  4. Louann says:

    I also live in a trailer. The past three or so years,maybe longer, the smell has always been more towards the back of the house and in my bedroom. I’ve always been told that running the heat will eventually make the smell go away; though unpleasant and sickening, it does go away.

  5. Sandra says:

    I was having a mouse problem (I live in the country) and managed to get rid of them. Then, something bigger began to scratch under the floor. I put out poison; it died. Problem solved; oh no, not so easy, it died in my A/C vent. I live in a double wide and I think I have narrowed down the area where it is possibly located. The problem is that I don’t know how to get to it. I’ve read your post and the information is good, but it is not working for me. Can you help? Funds are low, so cost needs to be low also. This happened about Three weeks ago and the smell is AWFUL. Help!!

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