Extractor Fun

In my flat, there are two wall-mounted extractor fans that serve the common purpose of removing warm and damp air. You’ll find one in the bathroom and the other in the kitchen.

My bathroom fan has always worked well. But in the kitchen, the fan has often been very slow to start (if and when it decides to do that much) and, while it is spinning, it often sounds as though it’s ‘knocking’ and would simultaneously create a rhythm of its own.


During his recent visit, I raised this issue with my landlord, who suggested the first port of all should be to open it up and clean it out. I volunteered to do this in my own time and this is the short story that documents the process.

Yes, it does bother me that the brand-name is off by 90° and I do wonder whether it could’ve been fitted the right way…

Just by peering through the main protective grille, you can see an abundance of cobwebs and dust inside (even though it’s not crystal clear in my photo). By inspecting from various angles I could tell that the daylight was somewhat obstructed and that further investigation was going to be essential.


Removing the plastic cover is simple, with only two slotted screws to come out. I may be wrong, but I believe the red and black wires (in place of brown and blue) indicate that this unit has been in situ for a good number of years. Before doing anything more, I decided to isolate the power.


I’m somewhat fortunate here, in that the individual fuses are labelled… But, they’re not of the switchable type (you have to remove the actual fuse) and I didn’t want to take a gamble on ‘Sockets‘ also accounting for the extractor fans. So, I flipped the big red switch and isolated all power to the entire flat. This meant no ‘live’ Twitter updates for a while but at least I’d decided to do this in an afternoon.


You may have noticed a substantial flat-head screw in the top-right corner. That one came out with ease – all it required was a few turns of a hand screwdriver. But there’s another hidden in the bottom-left (see above) and that just would not budge. Even with my 10.8v impact driver and a freshly-charged battery; it was not coming out. Neither was there sufficient room to get my pliers in behind.


My decision was to drill several small holes around the screw head, therefore enlarging the main hole. This meant I could just about manoeuvre the casing around the screw head. My thought was that I’d then be able to grip it better with my mole-grip pliers… But, even after several soakings with WD-40, it wouldn’t budge for more than a quarter of a turn. My current mole grips are old, mishapen and worn (they were bought as part of a £10 job-lot). I may finally look to replace them and when I do (and, of course, provided that old screw is freed), I believe I should be able to add a large washer to account for the now-elongated hole.


Looking inside, it was pretty bad indeed. As with every other ventilation cavity I’ve unearthed in this property; it looks as though the cowboy builders didn’t finish the job.


After a few minutes with the vacuum cleaner (paying careful attention, considering the power was restored temporarily) and it was looking as good as, well, it should’ve been the day the job was complete.


I even managed to separate the plastic/rubber impeller from its housing and gave that a soaking in a bowl of soapy water before scrubbing off the long-standing crud. I wasn’t quite sure of how to do this initially but by holding both parts firmly, it pulled away quite simply (its a friction fit over the motor shaft).

Since cleaning and reinstalling the kitchen extractor fan, I’m pleased to say that it now reaches full speed within a matter of seconds and it runs very smoothly, with no remnants of clicking or tapping noises of before.

As I was in the mood to put things right, I decided to take my step-ladder in to the bathroom…


This fan was more awkard to gain access to. Not only did I have to straddle the toilet with my stepladder (not ideal if you’re prone to dropping things) but the unit itself is mounted very close to the left-hand wall.


Removal of the main cover was pretty much identical to the other fan. Only, this time, it appeared as though modern pozidrive screws had been used to mount it – one of which (as you’ll see above) is fastened to a rawl plug that doesn’t even fit its hole.

Above the red and just left of the blue…

While that may need attention, there’s a bigger concern in the opposite corner, where it appears as though a round wire nail has been used as a fastening!! I can only imagine they used a punch of some sort to drive it all the way home. This is a solid wall with a plastered finish (also note the erroneous blob of neglected plaster to the left). As far as removing this now stands… I can only think of attempting to make a pair of wooden drifts, using lots of care and twice as much attention. Fixing the screw-issue on the other side could be simple. But I’m reluctant to tamper too much for fear of fracturing the plastic unit.

But, as I mentioned in the beginning; this bathroom fan works well. It still starts and spins much faster than even the cleaned kitchen fan, with only the occasional knocking sound. I can see further cobwebs inside. I just don’t know if I’ll ever personally get around to removing them.

Thanks for reading and I hope this post helps someone similarly contemplating their own extractor fan maintenance.

Any questions? Please get in touch.

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