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Gutters divert rainwater away from your home’s foundation, helping prevent erosion, shifting, and cracking. Unfortunately, gutters collect more than just rainwater. Leaves, pine needles, dirt, seeds, and other debris can build up in your gutter system, obstructing water flow and causing various problems.
To keep your gutters in working order, experts recommend cleaning them at least once or twice per year. In this article, we’ll walk you through how to clean your gutters with a ladder or from the ground, what to do if you have gutter guards, and when to consider hiring a professional.
Why Clean Your Gutters?
Over time, gutters can develop issues that stop them from functioning well. Rather than preventing soil erosion and water damage, clogged or leaky gutters can actually cause these issues. Water that becomes trapped in and around your gutters can rot your fascia boards and eventually make its way into your home. Leaks can develop in your roof, ceiling, walls, and basement.
Plus, all the water and wet debris sitting in your gutters will weigh them down. The gutters may begin to sag and break. If that happens, you will need to invest in gutter repair or replace the gutters entirely.
When regularly cleaning your gutters, you can do the following:
- Check seams and reapply sealant
- Clear clogs and debris buildup to prevent ice dams
- Discourage algae, mold, and mildew growth
- Find and remove insects or animal nests that might obstruct water flow
- Identify and repair problem areas to reduce the likelihood of sagging
- Maintain your roof, siding, and fascia boards
What You’ll Need
You have two basic options when cleaning your gutters: You can clean your gutters from the ground, or you can use a ladder. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, and your home’s layout and gutter system may dictate which option will work best for you.
If you plan to use a ladder, you will need the following tools and equipment:
- S-hook (to hang the bucket from the ladder)
- Gutter scoop or garden trowel
- Hose and spray nozzle
- Plumber’s snake (for clogged downspouts)
- Work gloves
- Optional: Pressure washer (to flush out dirt and wet debris)
- Optional: Leaf blower (to clear out light, dry debris)
If you want to keep both feet on the ground, you will need a hose, pressure washer, or wet/dry shop vac—plus special attachments. Gutter cleaning attachments can be found in home improvement stores, such as Lowe’s or The Home Depot, or online. Most feature a telescoping pole and a curved end. Attachments for a hose or pressure washer will spray water into the gutters to wash away debris, and attachments for a shop vac will suck debris out.
We recommend wearing safety glasses when using a pressure washer, leaf blower, or hose to clear debris. You may also want to wear a hard hat when using a ladder.
Cleaning Gutters with a Ladder
The first way to clean your gutters is with a ladder. Before committing to this method of gutter cleaning, make sure you will be able to do it safely.
Start by considering your ladder setup. For a one-story home, you may be able to use a step ladder. However, this type of ladder requires a ground that is both solid and level. If a step ladder does not work, you can lean an extension ladder against your home. Make sure the ladder does not rest directly against the gutters. To hold the ladder in place and avoid damaging the gutters, you can use a stand-off ladder stabilizer.
Regardless of which type of ladder you use, you should take a few basic precautions. Minimize the number of trips you make up and down the ladder. Have a partner nearby to pass you tools and stabilize the ladder. Avoid leaning, stretching, and standing on your tiptoes. Any position or movement that affects your balance also increases your risk of falling.
Once you have addressed any ladder safety issues, follow the steps below to clean your gutters.
1. Clear Debris From the Gutters
Because dry debris is easier to remove, avoid cleaning your gutters in wet conditions, such as the day after a storm. Instead, give your gutters a few days to dry out.
When cleaning, start above the downspout and work your way toward the end cap. This will reduce the likelihood of debris becoming lodged in the downspout. Here are a few options for removing debris:
- Use your gloved hands to manually remove clumps of debris.
- Scoop out debris with a garden trowel or a special gutter scoop.
- Blow dry debris out of the gutter using a leaf blower.
- Sweep out the gutter with a wet/dry shop vac.
- Flush out the system using a hose or pressure washer.
If you decide to use a leaf blower, shop vac, or pressure washer, look for attachments that are specifically designed for gutter cleaning.
As you remove debris, place it into a bucket or plastic bag. You can use an S-hook to hang the receptacle from your ladder, keeping it close by. Alternatively, you can lay a tarp on the ground beneath you and drop the debris onto it.
2. Check the Downspouts and Water Flow
Once you have cleared out the gutters, it’s time to test the system. Use a hose to spray water into the gutters. As the water works its way through the system, check for leaks and other issues.
If the water seems to drain slowly, the downspout may be clogged. To clear the blockage, start by spraying water directly down the downspout. If that does not work, try feeding the hose through the bottom of the downspout and spraying upward. Use a plumber’s snake for stubborn clogs.
After clearing any clogs in the downspout, flush the gutters again. Make sure all the water drains. Standing water may indicate a problem with the slope of the gutters.
3. Complete Any Necessary Repairs
Finally, repair any issues that you noticed during your inspection. For instance, you may need to adjust the slope of the gutters, reseal a leaky seam, patch a hole, touch up the paint, or replace a damaged section.
You might also consider adding gutter guards since the best time to install gutter guards is right after cleaning your gutters.
Cleaning Gutters From the Ground
Cleaning your gutters from the ground is a safer option than using a ladder. However, it will require more of an up-front investment. You may also need to work more slowly and methodically since you won’t be able to see what you’re doing.
Start by researching the different tools available for gutter cleaning. You can find gutter cleaning kits and attachments designed for power washers, leaf blowers, shop vacs, and garden hoses. Measure the distance from the ground to your gutters to ensure you can reach the gutters with the tool you purchase.
Once you have your tools, follow the steps below.
1. Clear the Debris
Using your tool of choice and the appropriate gutter-cleaning attachments, start near the downspout and work your way toward the closed end of the gutter. Once any large clumps have been removed, a garden hose should provide enough pressure to clear any remaining debris. Keep in mind that gunk is likely to fly out of the gutters at some point—dress accordingly.
2. Check the Downspouts
Use a hose to flush some water through the system. As it drains, watch the downspouts. Slowly draining water indicates a clog in the downspout. To clear clogged downspouts, spray water directly through the top or bottom of the downspout. You can also use a plumber’s snake.
3. Look for Leaks
Once the downspout is clear, flush more water through the system. This time, check for leaks. If your gutters leak at the seams, you should reapply gutter sealant. Depending on the type of gutters you have, you may also notice cracks or rusted-through holes. These sections should be patched or replaced.
If you are committed to not using a ladder, you may need to call a professional to complete any necessary repairs or replacements. A ladder would also be required to test the slope of your gutters, which should be one-quarter to one-half inch per 10 feet.
Cleaning Gutters with Gutter Guards
Gutter guards are designed to prevent debris from entering your gutters and obstructing the water flow. This, in turn, helps alleviate the hassle of gutter cleaning. The right gutter guards can make it easier to clean your gutters or enable you to go longer between cleanings.
No gutter guards completely eliminate the need for gutter cleaning. Brush gutter guards, for instance, sit inside the gutter and keep out large debris. However, small debris might still make its way through or get caught in the bristles. As a result, brush gutter guards may need to be removed and cleaned periodically.
Some of the best gutter guards come with a lifetime warranty and a clog-free guarantee. Professionally installed micro-mesh gutter guards or reverse-curve gutter guards are the most effective options and require minimal cleaning.
If you need to clean gutters with gutter guards, the process will be similar to those outlined above. Follow these steps:
- Remove the gutter guards.
- Clear debris from the gutters and downspouts.
- Flush the system and address any issues.
- Clean the gutter guards, if necessary.
- Replace the gutter guards.
Note that you will need a ladder to remove and reinstall the gutter guards.
DIY vs. Professional Gutter Cleaning
DIY gutter cleaning is typically less expensive than hiring a professional, and the timing may be more convenient. When you hire a professional, you will be limited by their hours and availability. Assuming your gutters are easy to access, gutter cleaning is a fairly simple task—especially if you commit to doing it regularly, rather than waiting until clogs form.
Naturally, you can expect the cost of gutter cleaning to be more if you hire a professional. However, the benefits can easily justify the cost. Not only is hiring a gutter company the safest option, especially if you live in a two-story home or have gutters that are otherwise difficult to reach, but it also saves you time.
You might also consider hiring a professional if you are uncomfortable with ladders, lack some of the required tools, or believe your gutters may require repair or replacement.
For many homeowners, gutter cleaning is a relatively simple task. In many cases, you can even clean your gutters with both feet firmly on the ground, eliminating the risk of a ladder fall. Alternatively, you can hire a professional gutter company to clean, repair, or replace your gutters.
If gutter cleaning tops the list of chores you most despise, consider purchasing gutter guards. With this upgrade, you may still need to clean your gutters, but the task will be much easier and less frequent. The most effective gutter guards require a significant up-front investment, but they can save you time, money, and hassle in the long run.
How to Clean Gutters FAQ
How often should I clean my gutters?
Experts generally recommend cleaning your rain gutters twice yearly, once in fall and once in spring. However, you may need to clean your gutters more or less often, depending on factors such as the location of your home, the type of gutters you have, and whether you have gutter guards.
What is the easiest way to clean out gutters?
The easiest way to clean out gutters is by using a ladder. This method lets you see what you are doing, making the process much quicker and simpler. However, cleaning your gutters from the ground is a safer choice. This approach can be more complicated, though, because it requires special tools, such as an extension kit for your hose.
What is the best thing to clean gutters with?
The best thing to clean gutters with is a hose, leaf blower, pressure washer, or wet/dry vacuum. Check that you’re purchasing the appropriate extensions, especially if you plan to clean from the ground. If you want to clean your gutters manually, invest in a gutter scoop and work gloves.
How We Chose the Top Gutter Guard Providers
We researched and analyzed dozens of gutter guards and gutter guard companies to create an in-depth review methodology. We formulated a rating system based on the factors homeowners find most important. We evaluated each provider’s gutter guard design and aesthetics, service offerings, customer service and communication, quote process, warranties, and financing options.
We created a separate rating system for DIY-installed gutter guards sold on retailer sites. We evaluated these guards based on their quality of materials, aesthetics, communication, warranty, customer reviews, and cost.
We evaluated each provider’s reputation using independent, third-party sites such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Google My Business pages. For products, we analyzed the customer reviews on whichever online retailer primarily hosts the product.