How to Clean Gutters: The 5 Best Ways to Get the Job Done
Clogged rain gutters can damage your home's foundation and interior. Learn how to clear your gutters of dirt and debris—with or without a ladder.
Of all the necessary evils that make up a comprehensive fall yard maintenance routine, cleaning the gutters may be the most dreaded of all. Tedious though this task is, homeowners are wise not to neglect it. Properly functioning gutters, after all, ensure that storm water does not find its way indoors.
Learning how to clean gutters isn’t difficult and with proper precautions in place, is safe. There is a variety of ways to get those leaves out of the gutters before they clog and lead to gutter damage, and there’s no one best way for every homeowner. Some folks don’t like using power washers, and others don’t want their feet to leave the ground in the process. The best way to clean gutters is to use a safe, effective method you’re comfortable with.
Why It’s Important to Clean Your Home’s Gutters
Gutters serve the vital purpose of collecting the rain that falls on the roof and diverting it through downspouts away from the home’s foundation. Without gutters, water that falls near the foundation could leaks through windows, or seep into a basement or crawlspace.
Rain gutters typically require very little upkeep to function well, other than keeping them free of debris. Gutters that are filled with leaves can lead to clogged downspouts, which cause water to spill out over the top of the gutter channel and fall to the ground below. Worse, winter’s melt and freeze cycles can cause snow on the roof to melt into the gutter and freeze there. These ice-filled gutters are sometimes so heavy that they detach from the roof.
RELATED: How to Prevent and Remove Ice Dams
Gutter Cleaning Safety
Teetering on a telescoping ladder while trying to scoop leaves out of a gutter isn’t the safest way to get the job done. The good news is that there are several gutter-cleaning tools that allow homeowners to clean the debris while keeping both feet on the ground.
If you have to climb a ladder clean the gutters, don’t use a stepladder, which is prone to tipping if you get off balance. Instead, use a sturdy extension ladder and have a helper stand at the base to stabilize the ladder.
For all homes over a single story in height, it’s best to hire a gutter-cleaning service to do the work for you. These companies have the proper equipment to access high gutters safely. Don’t attempt climbing on your roof to clean gutters—it’s not worth the risk.
RELATED: What NOT to Do When Cleaning Your Home’s Rain Gutters
How to Clean Gutters From the Ground
Cleaning gutters from the ground is effective and is by far the safest gutter cleaning method. You will need to proceed slowly and systematically because you can’t really see what you’re doing, and yes, it will probably take you a little longer than it would if you were standing on a ladder. The most common ways to clean gutters from the ground require either a garden hose or a shop-type wet/dry vacuum, plus a couple of handy attachments. Here are the two best gutter-cleaning techniques for those who prefer to work with their feet planted firmly on the ground.
Gutter Cleaning With a Garden Hose
As long as they are not thoroughly clogged, it’s relatively easy to clean your gutters from the ground using a garden hose equipped with an attachment such as the GutterMaster Telescopic Water Fed Pole, or another such water-fed tube with a curved end that can be aimed inside the gutter. Start at the end nearest the downspout, spray out the entire channel length, and then work your way back to the downspout. Water, leaves, and small twigs are likely to spray over the sides of the gutter, so dress appropriately.
RELATED: Are Gutters Actually Necessary?
Clearing Gutters With a Wet/Dry Vacuum
Another way to remove debris from your gutters is to use a wet/dry vacuum equipped with the hoses and curved attachments you need to reach the obstructed gutters from ground level. Home improvement stores and online retailers carry these gutter-cleaning kits (one to consider is the Craftsman Gutter Cleaning Kit for Shop Vacuums). Once you’ve removed most of the debris from the gutters, flush the gutters and downspout with water from a garden hose.
How to Clean Gutters While Standing on a Ladder
Climbing on a ladder to clean the gutters isn’t as safe as cleaning them from the ground since there’s always a risk of falling. To reduce this risk, it’s essential to use the right ladder. Avoid using a step ladder, which can tip over.
A safer bet is to use a sturdy extension ladder that has been fitted with stabilizer arms. These arms, such as the Werner True Grip Stabilizer, brace the ladder against the siding and keep it from slipping to the side. It’s also always a good idea to have an assistant on the ground who can hold the ladder, and hand up the tools as you need them. Before you climb up high and get ready to clean, decide which of the following methods best suits your situation.
RELATED: Never Make These 13 Mistakes With a Ladder
Roof and Gutter Cleaning With a Leaf Blower
Many leaf blowers come with a nozzle attachment designed to release a powerful air stream, and it’s perfect for blasting leaves and twigs out of the gutter. Position your ladder so that you can work from one end of the channel to the other, blowing out obstructions as you go. Block the downspout first with a rag or old towel to keep from blowing leaves into it. When you’re done with the blower, flush out any lingering leaves or twigs with a hose.
Cleaning Gutters With a Power Washer
Has it been a while since you last cleaned your gutters? If it has, be ready for a layer of dirt and debris that has probably built up in the meanwhile. Blast it away with the fine-spray nozzle of your power washer. (This type of cleaning can get messy: You may have to rinse the roof and siding afterward.) For clogged gutters and downspouts, in particular, there’s no better recourse than a pressure washer. Simply point the nozzle down the hole and rinse the shaft until water can run freely through it.
RELATED: How to Pressure Wash a House
Clearing Gutters by Hand
To clean gutters manually, you’ll need a ladder, bucket, gutter scoop (or garden trowel), and heavy-duty work gloves. Remove leaves and debris by the handful, depositing what you remove into the bucket. When you’re done, flush the gutters and downspout with water until you are certain both are clear and functioning correctly. Tip: If your downspouts are clogged and you don’t have a power washer, try busting through the obstruction with a plumber’s snake, then rinse with a hose.
Preventing Clogged Gutters
An ounce of gutter-clogging prevention saves a lot of time and goes a long way toward keeping gutters clean and free from debris. To reduce the frequency of cleaning gutters—or keep from having to do it altogether—consider installing a screen like the Raptor Stainless Steel Micro-Mesh Gutter Guard. It allows water to drain through the screen while blocking leaves and twigs.
Other types of gutter guards, such as the LeafGuard gutter system, direct running water into the gutter but keep leaves and debris out. This type of system requires professional installation and is extruded on-site to fit the length of the roof edge so there are no splices in the guttering. A seamless run of gutter means little to no leaking and dripping.
Though we’ve outlined various methods for cleaning gutters, you may still have some questions about the process. The following frequently asked questions may clarify certain points about this outdoor chore.
Q. How often should you clean your gutters?
Once per year is usually sufficient, after leaves fall in autumn. This is when gutters are full of leaves that should be removed before winter.
Q. What is the best thing to clean gutters with?
The best gutter cleaner depends on the amount of leaves that accumulate and how easy it is to access the gutter. If you’re cleaning from a ladder, a scoop is handy. If you prefer to clean the gutter while remaining firmly on the ground, a telescoping wand is a better choice.
Q. Is it OK to walk on the roof to clean gutters?
It isn’t safe. While some professional gutter cleaners may walk on the roof, the average homeowner shouldn’t try it. Follow some of the methods listed above for safer gutter cleaning.