10 Ways To Hide Your Return Vent (and Without Blocking Airflow)

Tom Gaffey
by Tom Gaffey

Your home is your sanctuary. This means that every aspect of its rooms make an impression on how the space looks and feels. When you have an HVAC system in your home there are a variety of vents located throughout rooms in your home.

These vents help supply cold clean air in the summer and warm filtered air in the winter. There are also return vents that pull air in and recycle it. Air vents are highly effective in controlling the climate in your home. They can also be somewhat unsightly and may clash with your design aesthetic.

There are several ways to go about hiding your return vent. Build a simple and inexpensive metal cover or spend a lot of money on a custom furniture piece. There are magnetic vent covers available online for a simple fix. You can use ladder shelving or a foyer table to hide the return vent. Make sure whatever you use to hide the vent does not block air flow.

There are a few thing to consider before you decide what you will use to hide your return vent. You should know what a return air vent is and what it does. Once you understand how your return vent functions you can select what method works best for you to hide it.

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What Is A Return Air Vent?

All Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems have a return air vent. These vents suck in air from your home and filter it back into the system. A return air vent is usually slightly bigger than the air vents that push out the air.

One way to know if your air vent is a return vent is that a return air vent does not ever blow out air. If the vent you want to hide or cover is blowing out air it is not the return vent.

Is It Safe To Cover Your Return Vent?

You should never block the return vent from its air supply. Sometimes your return air vent can be an eyesore. This is especially true if it is placed in a highly visible location in your room. Your immediate thought might be to cover it. There are a few things you should know before you plan a way to hide your return air vent from view.

Keep Your Air Pressure Stable. Return vents help provide a consistent air pressure. If you keep pumping new air into the home without sucking out old air then the air pressure will continue to rise.

Avoid Moisture Buildup And Mildew. When you happen to live in a humid area or it gets humid at any time throughout the year then proper air filtration is crucial. If you do not have a good air flow going into your return vent then this warm air can linger in certain stagnant areas. This can lead to dangerous mildew and mold buildup.

Don’t Waste Energy. If your air vent is blocked or partially blocked then the machine and mechanisms have to work harder to pull in air. This can cause higher electric bills and can affect the longevity of your HVAC system.

1. Magnetic Decorative Covers

Many online retailers like Etsy have caught wind of homeowners’ desire to hide return air vents. One inexpensive and very simple solution to add a bit of style to your return air vent is to purchase a magnetic decorative cover.

These magnetic covers hide the bland look of a vent by camouflaging it with a decorative magnet of the same size. Decorative magnets have ample holes in the design to allow for ample air flow. Simply order the right size magnetic cover and attach it to the existing vent and the eyesore will disappear.

Tip: Use a household magnet on the return air vent. This ensures that the return vent itself is magnetic before purchasing the cover from an online retailer.

2. Make your Own Wood Cover

If you are interested in creating a piece to fit your return vent using mild carpentry assembly work you may try a wood bordered cover with decorative metal sheeting to cover the vent itself.

First, use thin wooden pieces to form a border. Place this over the original vent border to ensure it covers anything unsightly. Next, trim decorative metal sheeting and attach it to the frame. This look will give a slightly antique but clean aesthetic to the vent for a low cost.

Tip: When you install the cover try to use a hinge or simple hook. This will save you lots of time and trouble when you need to replace the filter or access the air duct.

3. Custom Furniture Installments

If you have a larger budget for your project that involves hiding a return air vent then a custom furniture installment could be the way to go. You can create any type of lasting furniture piece that you can imagine. The only crucial part is to ensure that the furniture piece has great airflow around where the return vent is located.

Tall hutches are one type of piece. You can create shelving from waist level and above with a bottom section that has airflow openings. Inlaid bookshelves with a decorative grille design on its lower half are other options. The goal of many custom furniture pieces is to maximize the space where the return vent is located while also elevating the look.

4. Cabinetry With Air Flow

Homeowners are always looking for new and creative ways to create usable storage in their homes. You can create cabinet space with airflow where your air vent is located.

If you decide to build or install cabinets with airflow doors just be sure you do not use this area to stuff items. It should be home to specific items that fit accordingly so the vent is not blocked at any time. Metal sheeting or decorative wood designs with airflow are both common materials to use for cabinet doors. This allows you to hide the area elegantly while also providing air flow.

5. Blend It With Paint

If invisibility is all you are really trying to achieve in hiding your return vent you may just be able to blend it into the room using paint.

  • Use The Right Paint. Be sure you have the correct color and paint type to match your walls. This paint may not adhere easily to the return vent surface as it is a different material than the wall. This makes a priming coat essential.
  • Prepare the Area. Clean and dry the surface of the return vent. Make sure you tape and cover the areas around the vent to avoid paint in unwanted areas.
  • Apply A Primer. A primer coat will ensure that the paint adheres properly to the return vent. This primer coat will also create a white canvas for the paint that should help it blend with the rest of the room, as long as the rest of the room is primed as well. 
  • Paint The Vent. Apply a thin layer of paint over the primer. Allow ample drying time. Once the paint is dry, determine if the vent requires a second coat.

6. Use Faux Wainscoting Around It

Creating a wainscoting look can be a great way to blend in an air vent. This works particularly well when you have a large and vertical air vent.

Wainscoting is overplayed paneling that goes on the walls of your interior rooms. It has been used for centuries as decoration, house support, and in some cases to discourage scuff marks and wall damage.

Installing wainscoting throughout the room that your large return vent is located will help blend the return panel in with the rest of the room. One effective method is to install a chair rail just above the return vent and then install vertical wainscoting underneath at the same width of the vent.

Tip: There are now several affordable faux wainscoting types on the market. Your local hardware store will have a variety of affordable options.

7. Louvered Doors Or Shutters

Louvered doors and shutters can hide your return vent while offering a modern yet homey aesthetic. These doors have clean lines and will not inhibit air from returning to the vent. Additionally, louvered shutters and doors can be installed easily with hinges.

When you have louvered doors on hinges you can easily access the return panel when you need to. This allows for seamless repairs and painless filter changes.

Tip: If your windows have loved shudders you can try to mimic their style when installing louvered accents on your return then. This will give a sense of symmetry.

8. Use Ladder Shelving

It is not advised to put most large furniture pieces in front of a return vent. Ladder shelves, however, are one type of furniture piece that can successfully and safely block a return vent. Ladder shelves are a type of shelving that use vertical space very effectively. The way ladder shelves are designed is similar to an actual ladder in that they are designed at a slight angle to the wall.

When you put a ladder shelf in front of a return vent there should be ample space between the bottom of the shelf and the return vent. Ladder shelves make great bookshelves and decorative shelves as well, so this option hides your return vent and also supplies you with practical shelving.

9. Buy A Foyer Table

A foyer table, like a ladder shelving, can be a highly effective furniture piece when you are trying to hide your return vent. Foyer tables are often small and moveable, and are classically designed to be accent pieces in a room, or to hold things like keys or mail.

When you look to purchase a foyer table be sure you look carefully at the dimensions. Although the table can help hide the vent, it is crucial that the table itself does not block a large portion of the vent.

10. Make It The Focal Point

If your return vent is in a highly visible area of your home you may want to reconsider hiding it. When you have a budget for the project then you may want to look into a custom decorative return vent cover.

Although there are cheaper magnetic decorative covers that help hide the vent, you can certainly go the other direction and have a one of-a-kind genuine metal decorative cover installed. This will create an often-antique vibe in the room, and can help give your room a bit of character while also hiding the boring wall vent behind it.

Related Questions

Why Do I Need A Return Vent?

If you have an HVAC system, the return vent is critical to the air conditioning’s functionality. Their main purpose is to suck air in and filter it back into your home. This helps keep stable filtered air cycling through your home. Additionally, return air vents help maintain a stable air pressure within the home. If you do not have an HVAC or internal air flow system then you do not need an air return vent. When you do then a return air vent is required to make the system function properly. 

Why Is My Return Air Vent So Loud?

A return air vent’s main job is to suck up air from your home and filter it back. Over time the vent can get dusty and even clogged. Pet hair and other household debris can get caught in the system. First make sure nothing is blocking the air vent. Next check the air vent filter or the vent itself for any noticeable debris. Clean air filters and ensure there is nothing blocking the air flow. This should quiet the return vent down substantially.

Can I Move The Location Of My Return Air Vent?

It is possible to relocate a return air vent if its current place is no longer a suitable location. Before you prepare to move the vent location you should first make sure the new location is suitable for a return air vent. If your vent is restricted or blocked it may also make noise.The new location should be unobstructed and able to pull in plenty of air. The walls should also not be bearing any weight. Once the airflow is successfully redirected you can make the new location the site of the air vent. 

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Closing It Up

Your return vent may be an eyesore in the room it occupies, but it does not have to be. In fact, you can use your return vent as an opportunity to elevate and define the entire look of the room. The first decision you need to make is deciding if you want to hide the vent completely to accentuate its look.

Next, you need to choose a budget for your project. You can spend less than ten dollars or more than ten thousand dollars hiding your return vent. Regardless of your budget you have several options. If you are not looking to reinvent the room or purchase any new furniture you can always take the time to match the paint in the room to the vent itself.

Regardless of how you hide your return vent just be sure you do so safely. If you block the return vent’s air flow you can cause several damaging problems within your home. Be sure there is plenty of space between the rent and anything blocking it, or simply hide it with a breathable or partially open cover.

Tom Gaffey
Tom Gaffey

Tom Gaffey is an expert writer who currently resides in Washington D.C. Tom has a passion for real estate and home improvement writing, as well as travel and lifestyle writing. He lived the last twelve years in Hawaii where he worked closely with luxury resorts and event planners, mastering his knowledge of aesthetics and luxury products. This is where he found his passion for home improvement and a keen interest in DIY projects. Currently, Tom resides in Washington D.C, and also working on his debut fiction novel.

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