How to Clean Your Fans

How to Clean Your Fans

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  1. Think about this: air conditioners are expensive to buy and costly to run; therefore, probably no more than 25% of American households have them. On the other hand, fans are cheap, they use a lot less electricity and while they won’t cool you down as efficiently as an air conditioner, it’s still better than sitting in stifling still air that feels and smells like the stagnant atmosphere of some giant’s armpit. I would wager that at least 90% of households have between one and four fans, and the majority of these people have to go out and buy new fans every year for one simple reason: they don’t follow directions when cleaning their fans.

    Printed right on the box or in the directions of every fan I’ve ever bought were these five simple words: “Do not clean with alcohol”. Yet the first thing I used to do when it came time to clean my fans was to break out the bottle of rubbing alcohol, because nothing cut through the slimy gunk accumulated on the fan blades better. A few weeks later, the fan would hesitate when I turned it on and over the next several days the blades would have more and more difficulty turning, at which point I would throw it away, drive to the hardware store while cursing incessantly and buy a new fan.

     Then I noticed those five little words, slapped myself on the forehead and changed my fan-cleaning routine. The next time my fan needed cleaning I used Windex on the blades… and had the same results. It took my dense brain far too long to instruct my eyes to examine the Windex bottle, at which point I discovered that the product’s main ingredient was alcohol.


    Alcohol is a solvent, and even the vapors can affect lubricants. When you use alcohol on fan blades, the vapors make it into the motor housing and play hell with the mechanism by partially dissolving necessary mechanical grease, which upon re-solidifying becomes much more viscous and gums up the works.

    The best way to clean your fan is with plain old soapy warm water.  First, unplug the fan! The last thing you need to experience is electrocution. Also, try not to get any water in or even near the motor in the center of the fan; wipe the blades from the attachment point on the hub outward with a damp cloth. It is also important to clean the blades with care; try not to apply enough pressure to bend them, or they can become unbalanced. If you must scrub the blades, first place a wadded cloth under the blade to keep it from flexing too much.

    When it comes to cleaning the grills, you can be more aggressive; after removing them from the fan housing, put them into a sink filled with soapy warm water and use a scrub brush on them.

    Try to remember to dry the fan blades and grills before plugging the unit back in. Not only is there a small risk of a nasty shock or short circuit if the fan is wet, but if any water remains on the blades, it won’t stay there for long, and if it’s ceiling fan it’ll paint all of the walls with possibly dirty and/or soapy water.

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