As anyone with kids can tell you, child-proofing your home is an essential, but frustrating task. There are the foam pads for tables and chairs with sharp corners, clasps to keep little hands from opening cupboards, and gates to stop your crawling speed demon from getting too close to the stairs.
One often forgotten source of mischief are the vents along the floor. They’re unlikely to be dangerous to your child, but the temptation to pull off the cover is strong, and next thing you know Barbie, Spiderman, and any other number of toys have been fed into the dark abyss.
If your child hasn’t managed to do this yet, now is a good time to invest in magnetic vent covers, or the DIY solution of screwing your vent covers to the floor (it’s not pretty, but it gets the job done).
But in the common instance that your children’s toys do end up down a vent, potentially blocking your heating or AC system, we’ve compiled a list of methods to help rescue Barbie and Spiderman before they’re lost forever.
BBQ Or Kitchen Tongs
If a toy is just out of your reach, or in an area too awkward to grab with your hands, a pair of kitchen or longer BBQ tongs might provide the extra reach you need. If you’re using metal tongs to grab the lost toy, use caution, as they have the potential to damage your HVAC system.
The Vacuum Method
If you have a heavy duty vacuum at home — ideally a Shop-Vac — you can run a thin attachment into your vent to suck up any lost toys. If items are too large to be sucked into the holding container, you’ll hear the motor rev harder, and can try another one of our methods. For units with a bagged system, put a thin mesh item over the hose (like women’s nylons) to grab the lost toys without bringing them all the way into the bag.
Coat Hanger Trick
If you need something longer than BBQ tongs, a DIY grabbing instrument might be the way to go. Unwind a metal coat hanger so that you’re left with a long wire with a hooked end, and wrap it with duct tape to stop it from damaging your HVAC system. Using a light for extra visibility, guide your hanger down into the duct and try to pull up the lodged toys until you’re able to reach them with your hand.
Webcam Guided Grabbing
For toys that have fallen beyond your sight, technology may be able to help you see exactly where they’re lodged. Run an old webcam (or pick one up from a second-hand store) down the vent with a light source to try and spot the lost toy. In cases of uncertainty, this trick is also helpful for confirming that a toy hasn’t been dropped down the vent at all.
Call Your HVAC Team
It’s a pretty rare event for a lost toy to travel all the way down the vent to your furnace. But several items grouped together can definitely block air flow or cause unseen damage. If you’re certain a toy is lodged in your vent, and have exhausted all of your options, it’s time to call the professionals. If your system is due for a cleaning, consider this an opportunity to cross two items off your home maintenance list!