Eliminating Ceiling Fan Noise

Ceiling fan
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A noisy ceiling fan is one of the worst household annoyances. So much so that when it's really bad, we just stop using the fan. But instead of sweating it out in silent defeat, take a few minutes to poke around your fan and look for the source of the racket. Some of the most likely culprits are also the easiest to fix, and you'll check for those first. 

Clean and Inspect the Blades

Dirty blades can cause a fan to wobble and shake because they throw the blades out of balance.

Clean both sides of the blades with a dust cloth or, if necessary, a slightly damp cloth or paper towel. The top sides will much dirtier than the bottom sides. Dry any moisture from the blades right away. Many are made from wood-composite or particleboard materials that are easily damaged by water. 

While you're cleaning the blades, make sure that each blade is straight and not warped, damaged, or hanging lower than the other blades. If it's hanging lower, try tightening it (see below) to correct the problem. If this doesn't work, or if the blade is warped or damaged, replace the blade with an exact match from the fan's manufacturer. Warped, damaged, or loose blades can cause a fan to wobble and can be very hard on the motor and the fan mount. 

Tighten the Blades

Several different parts can become loose on a ceiling fan and make things noisy. The first parts to check are the blades—where they mount to their individual brackets and where the brackets mount to the rotating part of the fan's motor assembly.

Blades may be fastened to the brackets with screws or with another type of fastening system, such as keyholes that fit over pins or studs on the bracket. The brackets usually fasten to the motor unit with screws or bolts. Tighten screws or bolts with a screwdriver or wrench, as needed.

If the screws are Phillips-head, note than they may be larger than standard-size screws.

The larger screw heads are sized for a #3 Phillips screwdriver tip. The standard size is a #2. You can identify #3 screws by a squarish space at the center of the screw head's cross pattern. A #3 bit (which is commonly included in screwdriver sets) has a corresponding flat area at the tip's point. If you use a #2 screwdriver with #3 screws, you're likely to strip them. 

Tighten the Light Fixture Parts

If your fan has a light fixture, make sure all globes, shades, bulbs, and any other fixture parts are snug. Most globes and shades are secured with thumbscrews and are easy to tighten by hand. Don't use tools on these, as you're likely to overtighten the screws and possibly crack the glass.

If tightening the fixture parts with their screws doesn't get them snug, you can add a thick rubber band around the neck of the globe or shade, then reinstall it with the screws. Fan manufacturers also sell sets of rubber "silencer" bands for the same purpose. 

Tighten the Motor Cover

An intermittent noise or scraping noise may be caused by the fan's blade brackets dragging on the fan shroud or motor housing cover. Often you can remedy this by loosening the cover's screws, slightly adjusting the position of the cover, and retightening the screws.

Also make sure the blade brackets are tight (as described above) and not rubbing against the cover.

Assess a Wobbly Fan

Noisy ceiling fans are often wobbly ceiling fans, and wobbles can have a few different causes. To diagnose your wobbly fan, first make sure you've tightened everything up and have confirmed the blades are straight. Next, follow these steps to tighten the fan's mounting screws:

  1. Turn off the power to the fan's circuit by switching off the appropriate breaker in your home's service panel (breaker box). You'll be working with a metal tool around wiring, so it's not safe enough to simply turn off the wall switch.
  2. Loosen the screw(s) on the fan's canopy cover and slide the canopy down from the ceiling.
  3. Test for power in the fan's wiring, using a non-contact voltage tester, to make sure the power is off.
  1. Tighten the screws securing the fan's mounting bracket to the electrical box in the ceiling, using a screwdriver. If the screws are loose at all, this is likely the source of your wobble woes.
  2. Check the box by gripping the mounting bracket and trying to move it from side to side. The box should be rock-solid and allow no movement. If the box moves, see if there's a nut that tightens the box against its mounting brace (secured to the ceiling framing) or check for screws that fasten the box directly to the framing. If the box flexes (usually because it's plastic and the wrong type of box) or if it's not mounted to a brace or the ceiling framing, you'll have to remove the fan and install a new ceiling-fan-rated box. Chances are, an improperly installed box is not the right type of box to begin with; better to start over.
  3. Reinstall the canopy cover and restore power to the fan. Test the fan for wobble. If it still wobbles, try balancing the blades (see below).

Balance the Blades

Balancing the blades requires a simple balancing kit. These often are included with new fans, or you can buy them for a few bucks at any home center or hardware store. The kit consists of a plastic clip and an assortment of stick-on weights.

To use the kit, fit the clip onto the rear edge of one of the blades, then turn on the fan. If the wobble is gone, you've found the problem blade. Turn off the fan and move the clip to a few different positions on the same blade to determine where it's most effective at reducing wobble. Finally, stick one of the weights to the top side of the blade, along its center (front to rear) and directly across from the clip. Test the fan again, and add another weight, if necessary.

If your fan still wobbles after the initial clip test, try the clip on every blade until you find the right one, then find the ideal clip position and add weight, as described.