Can Fans Get Clogged? (Explained for Beginners)

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Fan owners ask me about dusty fans all of the time. They usually want to know how to protect their machines.

Can fans get clogged?

All fans can get clogged. Dust, debris, and pet hair can clog a fan’s grate, blades, and motor. Even weather-proof fans with sealed motors can get dusty and clogged. Clogged fans can malfunction, short circuit, and may stop working.

Let’s take a look at how this happens and what you can do about it.

Can Fans Get Clogged? (Answers for 7 Types of Fans)

Red fan—Can Fans Get Clogged
Image by author via Canva—Can Fans Get Clogged

It’s important to keep fans cool and dry.

Fans can get clogged with dust and debris, which will hinder their effectiveness and cause them to break down quicker than they would otherwise.

But can any fan get dusty and clogged? Let’s find out.

Can Computer Fans Get Clogged?

A computer’s fans, heatsinks, and vents can all get clogged.

When dust builds up inside of your computer fan, the heat generated by the device is trapped, which causes the computer to overheat.

The CPU and other parts will become damaged when they get too hot for too long.

Computer fans with sealed motors can still sometimes gather dust from being in a very dusty environment.

Unsealed computer fans have blades that are exposed directly to debris in the air, which can cause them to become clogged more quickly.

Can Ceiling Fans Get Clogged?

Ceiling fans can get clogged just like any other fan.

When dust, debris, and pet hair build up on the fan’s blades and motor, it prevents proper functioning and airflow.

Ceiling fans in dusty and dirty locations, like in basements and garages, are even more vulnerable to clogging.

They can also get clogged with cobwebs.

If the fan’s blades aren’t spinning freely, they may wobble and make a lot of noise.

A clogged ceiling fan can overheat, which could potentially lead to a fire. It’s important to clean your ceiling fans regularly to prevent them from becoming clogged.

Can Desk Fans Get Clogged?

Yes, desk fans can get clogged. Offices (even home offices) are notoriously dusty.

Some of that dust will eventually settle on the fan, causing it to malfunction.

You can prevent this by cleaning your desk fan regularly with a vacuum or duster.

Can Floor Fans Get Clogged?

Floor fans can get clogged.

Since gravity pulls dust and debris to the ground, floor fans are constantly exposed to these elements.

Floor fans include pedestal, standing, tower, and box fans.

Can Window Fans Get Clogged?

Yes, window fans are subject to the same buildup that every other type of fan experiences.

Because window fans face both indoors and outdoors, they are constantly exposed to dust, leaves, pollen, and other debris.

Most other fans only deal with one source of debris (indoor or outdoor).

Can Bathroom Fans Get Clogged?

Bathroom fans can get clogged.

High-traffic areas such as bathrooms face more dust, human hair, and pet dander.

The real danger here is that a clogged bathroom fan won’t be able to expel moist air from the room, which can cause mold growth.

Can Neck Fans Get Clogged?

Neck fans are wearable, lightweight devices that blow cool air over your neck and face.

Neck fans can get clogged.

Some neck fans might pull or pinch long hair. Many people wear neck fans outside, increasing the likelihood of foreign elements getting into the device.

5 Ways That Fans Get Clogged

There are a few common ways that fans get clogged.

Here are the top five most likely causes of your clog:

  1. Dust
  2. Debris
  3. Pet hair
  4. Cobwebs
  5. Cigarette smoke

Most people think about the first three, so let’s focus on the last two: cobwebs and smoke.

Not only can cobwebs clog your fan, but they can also conduct electricity, making them especially dangerous (Read: Can Fans Hurt You? 17 Things You Need To Know)

Cigarette smoke can coat the fan blades and motor with a sticky film, which may hamper the fan’s ability to move air. In computer fans, cigarette smoke can slow down the fan’s cooling power.

How Do You Tell if a Fan Is Clogged?

You can tell if a fan is clogged by checking for common clogged fan symptoms.

Here are a few things to check:

  • The fan is noisy
  • The blades move slower than normal
  • The blades do not spin freely
  • The fan overheats
  • The fan stops working
  • The fan is coated with dust, film, or pet dander

Are Clogged Fans Dangerous?

Clogged fans can be dangerous.

Fans that are clogged can overheat, which can lead to a fire. They can also spread dust and pet dander, aggravating allergies.

Clogged bathroom fans can also cause moist air to remain in the room, leading to mold.

Like all other electronics, it’s vital that you keep your fans cleaned and maintained.

How Do Fans Get Clogged if They Are Always Moving?

A fan is a machine that moves air within a space.

Fans work by blowing air over the blades as they spin. The blades break up dust, pet dander, and debris that enters the fan. Then, the fan forces them out into the room as tiny particles.

This is called “splitting” or “breaking up” the debris.

The ends of fan blades also carry a small charge that attracts dust particles to them.

If there’s too much dust or debris in the environment, it will accumulate on and inside the fan—a process that eventually causes the “clogging”.

Clogging makes your fan dirty, work harder, and may interfere with how well your fan operates.

How To Stop A Fan From Getting Clogged

You can take steps to prevent your fans from getting clogged. A little prevention can make a huge difference in the performance of all of your fans.

There are three important steps that I recommend:

  • Routine cleaning
  • Fan positioning
  • Better sealing/grates

Routine Cleaning

I recommend you clean fans at least once a month, especially when they are in high-use areas like the bathroom.

The more frequently you clean your fans, the less likely they are to get clogged.

Personally, I like to clean all of my fans once per week.

Fan Positioning

Where you place your fan will either increase or decrease the risk of clogging.

Here are a few tips:

  • Do not place fans in front of vents, doors, or windows
  • Do not place fans near pets
  • Do not place fans in smoky areas

Of course, your entire purpose for getting a fan might motivate you to set up your fan in one of these “risky” places.

That’s fine. The advantages you get will likely outweigh any potential downsides.

If you do position a fan in a “high risk” area, increase your cleaning routine to every few days.

Better Sealing/Grates

Another way to prevent your fan from getting clogged is to make sure that it has a good grate or proper seal.

Some fans come with removable grates that can be cleaned more easily.

If your fan doesn’t have a removable grate, you can try to seal it with weather stripping or caulk.

Even easier, there are also companies that specialize in making grills and other sealing solutions for specific types of fans.

How Do You Unclog a Fan?

I love fans but they do require regular maintenance.

The way that you unclog a fan depends on the type of fan that is clogged. You wouldn’t necessarily unclog a bathroom exhaust fan the same way that you would a computer fan.

However, here are some basic tips for getting your fan unclogged:

To clean and unclog a fan:

  1. Turn off and unplug the fan
  2. Remove the grill, if possible
  3. Dust or vacuum the blades and housing (for PCs, I suggest you use a can of compressed air)
  4. Wipe down the grill and blades (with a damp, not wet, microfiber cloth)
  5. Reinstall the fan grill or casing (and any other parts)

With some types of fans, you can even clean off dust without removing the casing.

Here’s a short video explaining the method:

YouTube video by Elvis Junior Teo—Can fans get clogged?

Final Thoughts

When you clean and unclog a fan, it simply works much better and lasts much longer.

You protect your investment, save repair and replacement expenses, and—best of all—enjoy peace of mind.

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Sources

The Spruce
Consumer Reports