What Causes Ceiling Fan Noise & How to Fix Annoying Rattling Sounds

Ceiling fan noise is a source of frustration for many people. Along with ticking clocks, it is one of the biggest pet peeves. So today, we’re going to figure out how to go about fixing the horribly annoying noise ceiling fans often make.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of trying to sleep under a malfunctioning ceiling fan, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Ceiling fans often make rattling and clicking noises, and sometimes even buzzing sounds. Now, as someone who has, from time to time, used white noise fans to fall asleep, I’ve got to say — knowing that the noise is there for a reason makes me less likely to worry about it.

However, the noise ceiling fans make is usually only a symptom of a bigger problem. And, depending on what kind of noise you’re hearing, you could be dealing with several different causes. So before I tell you how you can fix the noises, let’s talk about what’s causing them.

POSSIBLE CAUSES OF CEILING FAN NOISES

When you’re dealing with a ceiling fan, there are so many things that can go wrong. As with any moving contraption, you’ll first have to check for mechanical malfunctions.

  • If you hear a rattling or a rubbing noise, the fan blades could be bent. In fact, this is most likely the case if you can see that your ceiling fan is swinging in the air.
  • Similarly, if you can only hear the occasional ticking noise, one of the blades could be hitting the fan housing.
  • Another thing that could cause the occasional clicking or rattling sound is if one of the screws holding the fan together came loose.
  • Also, some ceiling fans have lighting fixtures as well, so the sound could be caused by loose light bulbs.
  • Grinding noises are usually indicators that things aren’t running as smoothly as we’d want them to be. Fortunately, this issue is fairly easy to solve with some oil.
  • Finally, if the fan had only started making noise after you switched out some components, you may have gotten the wrong kinds. Certain manufacturers’ blades won’t be a good match for some ceiling fans. If this is the case, you can either try to make do with a balancing kit or get entirely new blades.

Aside from the many mechanical problems your ceiling fan could have, some noise may be caused by electrical issues as well. For example, a faint buzzing noise may be a sign that something is wrong with your wiring.

Now, while some of these problems have simple solutions, others are going to take a bit more work. Fortunately, I’m sure that none of us are afraid of getting our hands dirty.

7 TIPS FOR PREVENTING AND FIXING CEILING FAN NOISE

The key to fixing the noise your ceiling fan is making is to make sure it never starts in the first place. A surefire way to keep your fan running smoothly is to perform basic maintenance regularly. So let’s talk about what that entails first.

1. Perform Basic Maintenance

Most of the time, all it takes to fix the odd squeak your ceiling fan makes is a wet rag. Honestly, after a while, these things get really nasty. You know, many people claim that ceiling fans are much healthier than, say, an air conditioning unit. Well I, for one, remain unconvinced.

In any case, I’m sure that inhaling a cloud of dust every time we want to cool down isn’t the best for our health. And, believe it or not, when a ceiling fan isn’t used, a lot of dust can settle on the blades. In fact, that amount of dust can actually weigh on the blades, which would then cause them to sag and squeak as they spin.

Fortunately, taking care of a ceiling fan is pretty easy. Still, to make it even easier, you’ll want to collect all of the things you’ll need before you get started. So get your hands on:

  • A step ladder (or a sturdy chair — we’re not too fancy here) to help you reach the fan.
  • An old rag (or a microfiber one, if you do want to get fancy).
  • A screwdriver. Depending on the screws that were used on the fan, you may need different attachments. When in doubt, go with a screwdriver with a bit set.
  • Non-detergent oil.
  • A blade balancing kit (I’ll talk about that one later).

After you get your pile of supplies close at hand, we can get started. Just make sure that the fan isn’t moving before you get on the ladder. Under no circumstances should you manually stop it as the blades are slowing down. Doing that may cause even more damage, so it’s best to turn the fan off and let it come to a stop on its own.

2. Clean the Fan

The most important thing you can do to prevent ceiling fan noises is to regularly clean the fan. But the real challenge is going to be getting the dust off without blasting it over the whole room.

Although I believe there are better ways to do it, most people clean their ceiling fans by laying down a protective sheet and swiping it with a long duster. They just put a bandana over their faces and hope for the best. Well, if you want to avoid having to clean up a huge mess after you’re done, there’s a better way to do it.

First, put your step ladder under the fan. Then, take a damp rag, or even a pillowcase to pick up the dust. Both methods will trap the dust bunnies instead of letting them fall on the floor. If you opt for the pillowcase method, you can put a fan blade inside it, then firmly drag the top layer of fabric over the blade, letting the dust collect inside. However, you should be careful not to dislodge the blades when you do this so that you can avoid causing bigger problems.

Some people also swear by microfiber rags too. Alternately, you can use paper towels and an all-purpose cleaning spray.

While you’re up there, you can also clean the fan body. It probably doesn’t matter as far as the sound is concerned, but you might as well clean the whole thing, if only to have a tidy surface to work on later. Whether you’re cleaning with a long duster, a wet rag, or a microfiber cloth, just swipe them over the rest of the fan as well.

Homeowner tightening the screws on a noisy ceiling fan.

3. Tighten the Screws

If you can still hear a rattling noise after you’ve cleaned the fan, it may have loose parts. Most ceiling fan blades get loose over time, anyway. So I’d suggest adding screw tightening into your regular fan maintenance routine. You can do your checkups once or twice a year — personally, I suggest doing it at the beginning of the summer when you start using the fan more often.

Usually, fan blades have about three screws each. If you noticed that one or more of the blades were sagging or wiggling when you cleaned them, you should tighten their screws. Get your screwdriver kit up that ladder and go to town. However, you should also check other parts of the fan for loose or even missing screws.

Loosen the canopy — the protective shell hiding the actual mounting plate on the ceiling. If your whole fan is wobbling when it’s on, the base itself may be unstable. So you’ll need to get to the mount and tighten the screws that go directly into the ceiling as well. Then, you can put the canopy back and tighten those screws.

You’ll also want to check the screws underneath the protective dome at the bottom of the downrod. Lastly, if one of the blades is lower than the others, unscrew the central plate at the bottom of the fan. Tightening the screws that connect the blades to the motor should bring the sagging blade back in line with the others.

If you come across any missing screws, make sure to put in new ones. After all, they were probably there for a good reason to begin with. Then, once again, check to see if the noise is gone.

4. Check the Lights

Lastly, if your ceiling fan also has a lighting fixture, the noise could be coming from loose light bulbs. Or, the problem could even be in the glass cover that goes over the lights.

Whatever the case, just go in and tighten everything and you’ll be all set. If the glass bowl is hanging from metal hooks, you can also pad it with a bit of rubber to make sure that’s not the thing that’s making the racket.

However, if you still hear some type of noise after all of this, you’ll need to bring out the big guns.

5. Oil the Motor

Some ceiling fan models may need some extra lubrication from time to time. Check the owner manual your fan came with to see if it’s the kind that requires oil. If it is, the manual may also tell you how to check the oil level and how often you’ll need to refill the tank.

The fan could also have a specific oil it needs. Although I’ve seen that many people are happy using 3-IN-ONE multi-purpose oil, I’ve also found some sources that say that you ought to be using non-detergent 10, 15, or 20 weight oil. So if you’d rather be safe than sorry, you can get this synthetic oil for ceiling fans.

If your ceiling fan does need oil, it will have a tiny hole somewhere on top of the motor. The hole may even have the words “oil hole” right above it, or it may not. Still, it’s safe to say, if you find something like this, it’s not a factory error.

Since the hole is that small, you’ll only be able to test the oil level with a tool of similar girth. You can use a bent pipe cleaner as a dipstick. If it comes up wet, you probably don’t need to add oil. However, if it’s dry, you can use a needle applicator to pour in an ounce or two of oil.

Some people take apart the fan to get to the motor so that they can manually roll the oil around the inside. But you’ll also be able to just turn the fan on and disperse the oil that way. After a few minutes, the fan should run completely silently, if the issue was with the lubrication.

6. Balance the Blades

The final thing you could do yourself is balance the fan blades. If your fan keeps wobbling and making noise despite you having tightened all of the screws, it could just be a balance problem. Usually, this tends to happen if one of the blades has a different weight than the others. So if you’ve switched out a broken blade with a blade from another manufacturer, you should go ahead and get a balancing kit.

Blade balancing kits consist of a clip and several 3-gram weights with adhesive backs. To balance a fan, you’ll start by turning it off. Then, you’ll put the clip on the rear edge of one of the blades and turn the fan on again. If it’s still swaying, turn it off and try with another blade.

Actually, you’re going to be turning the fan on and off throughout this process. So make sure to let it slow down to a stop on its own, rather than grabbing a blade with your hand. That would take this whole project back to square one.

Once you’ve located the defective blade, you can move the clip up and down looking for the unbalanced part. When you find it, you’ll place an adhesive weight at the center of the blade and take the clip off. Your fan should be running smoothly and quietly.

However, if it turns out that the other blades are wobbling too, you can either try to balance all of them or get new ones. And if you’re more of a visual learner, like me, you can watch this video on using balancing kits.

7. Call for Help

As much as it pains me to admit it, sometimes, our only option is to call for help. If you weren’t able to get the noise to go away by following the steps I’ve described, there’s no shame in calling a repairman. In fact, if you hear a buzzing noise, you’re going to have to call an electrician.

However, if you’ve got your heart set on dealing with the wires on your own, I have to caution you to turn the electricity off before you do anything else. Get to your breaker box and flip the switch for the room the ceiling fan is in. Make sure to try to turn it on to ensure you’ve got the right one.

Still, if you decide to call a professional, remember to ask around about prices and guarantees before you settle.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON FIXING A NOISY CEILING FAN

If your ceiling fan is still making noise despite your best efforts, it may be time for another solution. Of course, you can always buy a completely new ceiling fan. Usually, new ceiling fans don’t make any irregular sounds at all, with the exception of the fast whooshing noises they make at high speeds.

However, if you’re ready to throw in the towel on ceiling fans altogether, there are great alternatives you could try. For example, you could just buy a regular fan you know would be silent. I have an article full of recommendations on silent fans of all shapes and sizes to get you started.

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