How to Clean Your Bathroom Fan: A Few DIY Tips and Shortcuts

If your bathroom smells like a locker room, it's probably because of the gross, musty air being recirculated. 

Fortunately, cleaning your bathroom fan is an easy do-it-yourself project that will have you smelling fresh and feeling clean in no time. 

Now, you may think that cleaning something as small as a bathroom exhaust fan would be pretty straightforward. After all, it's just a tiny box with blades inside...right? 

But there are a few additional steps you need to know about before getting started. 

Since these fans are almost always located in an inaccessible space with limited visibility and ventilation, they're prone to build up mold and bacteria. This is especially true if you live in a humid climate or have low indoor air quality.

What's the Big Deal About Bathroom Exhaust Fans?

Bathroom fans, particularly those installed in the '70s and '80s, are prone to dust and mold spores due to the bathrooms' humid and enclosed nature. 

The noise from these fans is usually not noticeable, but the dust build-up can be a significant problem that makes your bathroom smell musty and unclean. 

The dust can cause a mess when it's shaken loose by the rotating fan blades, and it can also be a major source of indoor air pollution. 

Mold, on the other hand, grows best in dark and humid environments, which is why bathroom exhaust fans are often plagued by mold and mildew. 

If this goes unchecked, the spores could become airborne and make you sick.

Why is My Exhaust Fan So Musty?

If your exhaust fan has been collecting dust and mold for a while and you've tried to clean it without success, you may want to replace the fan itself. This is certainly an option, but it's usually not necessary. 

The majority of bathroom exhaust fans were designed to last for decades with proper cleaning. Your fan may just be filthy inside, or it could be clogged and unable to function properly. 

You'll know for sure once you get the cover off and take a look inside.

If the blades are covered in thick layers of dust and grime, your fan may be clogged inside. If so, you can try cleaning the fan with a vacuum or a baking soda/water solution, but you may also need to remove the blades and use a hose to remove any clogs.

Step 1: Know Your Fan's Function

Before you take the fan apart, you'll need to understand how it works. 

While all fans use rotating blades to push air through the room, each type will have a specific purpose. 

  • Exhaust fans. These push air out of the room and into the outside environment. 
  • Intake fans. These pull air in from the outside and into the room. 
  • Intake/exhaust fans. These are a combination of the above two functions. 

Before you take the fan apart, you'll need to know which type you have and where it's located in your bathroom.

Step 2: Gather Your Tools

To properly clean your bathroom fan, you'll need some tools and items, including:

  • Stream of water. So you can see what you're doing inside the fan housing.
  • Screwdriver. To open the fan housing.
  • Paper towels. For cleaning the blades. 
  • Vacuum. For cleaning the shaft and the blades. 
  • Brush. For the blades and the rest of the fan housing. 
  • Bucket. For any cleaning solution you use. 
  • Safety goggles. To protect your eyes from any debris inside the fan. 
  • Dust mask. If you plan to vacuum the blades.

Step 3: Disassemble the Fan

Before you clean, you'll need to take the fan apart. 

Depending on the type of fan you have, you may have to remove just a few screws or take the fan out of the wall entirely. 

  • Exhaust fan. You may be able to see the screws holding the fan in place from the outside of the wall. If so, you can remove the screws and lift the fan out of the wall. 
  • Intake fan. You'll likely have to remove the wall covering from around the fan. You can do this with a screwdriver and a hammer. 
  • Intake/exhaust fan. This fan will have both an intake and an exhaust vent in the wall. You'll have to remove both sections to gain access to the fan blades.

Step 4: Clean the Shaft and Blades

First, vacuum the shaft and blades to remove any loose debris. 

Next, use a brush to gently clean the rest of the fan housing and any vents you're able to reach. You may also want to consider cleaning the intake and exhaust vents and replacing any old, clogged filters. 

After you finish cleaning, you may want to use a mild solution, like baking soda and water, to clean the blades. This will cut down on the cleaning time and help you see better while inside the fan housing.

If the blades appear heavily stained, you may want to replace them. While this isn't necessary, it could help your fan run more efficiently and save you money on energy bills over time.

Step 5: Give the Housing a Fresh Coat of Paint

If you removed the entire exhaust fan from the wall, you might want to spray-paint the front of the housing before putting it back in place. You might also want to consider painting the rest of the fan housing (depending on its condition). 

Painting the fan housing will help minimize future build-up and keep your bathroom looking nice and clean. It's also the perfect opportunity to spruce up the room with a fresh coat of color and a modern look. 

If you plan to paint the house, make sure you protect yourself and your clothes with a dust mask and an old pair of clothes. 

You may also want to wear eye protection, especially if you're repainting the front of the housing.


Cleaning your bathroom fan isn't just a cosmetic fix. It can have significant health benefits, including improved air quality, lower energy bills, and a nicer-looking bathroom. 

The good news is that cleaning an exhaust fan isn't very difficult.

 In most cases, you'll only need a screwdriver, a vacuum, and some mild cleaning solution to get the job done. 

So the next time your bathroom smells musty, make sure to clean the fan. 

And if you've been putting it off because it seems complicated, don't worry. With this guide, cleaning your bathroom exhaust fan is easy and won't take much time or effort.

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