Gut Check: Here's How to Clean Your Gutters
Your gutters play an essential role in preventing damage to your roof, foundation and siding. Unfortunately, gutters are prone to collecting leaves, twigs and other debris that can lead to clogs and overflowing water. To avoid such a situation, you need to clean them every spring and fall.
The good news is that cleaning your gutters is pretty easy to do — even if you don’t have a ladder.
- Scoop (optional)
- Bucket, trash bag, or tarp
- Work gloves
- Safety glasses
- Garden hose
- Screwdriver or ratchet and socket (if necessary)
- Gutter sealant (if necessary)
- Plumber’s snake (if necessary)
Working from a ladder can be dangerous, so it’s important to use the size and type of ladder that’s most appropriate for your roof. For single-story homes, you may be able to use a short step ladder if it’s tall enough for you to safely and comfortably access your gutters without having to step beyond the second to last rung. An extension ladder is required for two-story homes, but it can also be used instead of a step ladder for single-story homes.
If you’re using an extension ladder, it’s best to install a ladder stabilizer onto it. Ladder stabilizers are tubular extension arms that brace the ladder against your roof or siding instead of the gutters. This protects your gutters from damage, and it provides a more stable support base for you to work from.
Regardless of which type of ladder you choose, you’ll need to place its feet on a dry, level and solid surface. If possible, work with a helper who can support your ladder from the ground and hand up tools as you need them. If you’re uncomfortable working from a ladder, either employ a professional gutter cleaning service or explore some of the options for cleaning gutters from the ground in the next section.
Starting at the end of your gutter nearest the downspout, begin pulling out leaves and twigs with gloved hands, or use a scooping tool such as a gutter scoop, plastic spatula or garden trowel. Deposit the debris in a bucket or trash bag, or drop them onto a tarp on the ground beneath you. If your downspout is equipped with a screen housed inside the opening where it connects to the gutter, remove the screen and clear off any stuck-on material.
Once you’ve removed all the material you can comfortably reach from that section of gutter, climb down from the ladder and move it over to the next section. Continue this process of cleaning and moving until the entire length of your gutters is clean.
It’s a good idea to inspect your gutters while you’re cleaning. Look for issues such as cracks that can cause leaks, or loose hanger brackets that can cause the gutter to sag. Cracks can be repaired with sealant tape, sealant paint or a tube of gutter sealant installed in a caulking gun. Any loose hanger brackets can be tightened down with a screwdriver or ratchet and socket.
Starting from the end of your gutter that’s furthest away from the downspout, insert the end of a garden hose and turn the water on to flush away any residual dirt and debris.
As the water is running, observe the water coming out from the end of the downspout. If less water is coming out of the bottom than is entering through the top, or water is pooling inside the gutters without exiting the downspout at all, your downspout is likely clogged.
If you can’t see the flow of water because your downspout is connected to an underground drainage system, you will need to remove the section of downspout attached to the drain. In most cases, this involves unscrewing the mounting brackets or bands that hold that section downspout to your home’s siding, then lifting the downspout up and out from the drain.
Unless your downspout is clogged, flushing with clean water is your last step. If you do have a blockage, you’ll need to break it up.
Insert the end of a garden hose into the top of the downspout where it connects to the gutter, and pack a cloth or rag around the hose so that it’s fully sealed inside. Turn the water on at full pressure to blow out the clog. If the section of downspout you removed from the underground drain shows evidence of a clog (you can’t see through it, or water won’t run through it), repeat the above steps on that piece as well.
If that doesn’t work, insert the end of a drum auger (plumber’s snake) into the bottom of the downspout. Feed the cable until you feel resistance, then lock the cable collar and turn the handle clockwise to push it through the clog. Once you stop feeling resistance, rotate the handle counter-clockwise to retract the cable and pull out the debris. Repeat these steps on the section you removed from the underground drain if you suspect that it’s clogged.
Flush the downspout with water to confirm the clog has been cleared and to remove any residual debris, then reattach the section to the underground drain if necessary.
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While cleaning gutters from a ladder is the most common method, cleaning them from the ground is considerably safer. However, doing so can be more time-consuming, messy and expensive, depending on which tool and method you choose.
Use a Power Washer Attachment
Gutter-cleaning power washer attachments typically consist of a series of extension wands and a U-shaped spray nozzle that can reach and angle into gutters while you’re standing on the ground. Using it is just a matter of spraying out the gutters from one end to the other until the entire length is cleaned — just as you would if you were to clean the gutters from a ladder. Power washer attachments are particularly useful for wet and compacted material that’s difficult to dislodge using any other method, and it gives your gutters and downspouts a much more thorough cleaning. The main drawback is that it can be incredibly messy, since it blows all the material from your gutters onto the ground, roof or siding of your home, requiring fairly extensive cleanup afterward.
Use a Wet-Dry Vacuum Attachment
Much like the power washer attachments, gutter-cleaning attachments for wet-dry shop vacuums consist of extension hoses and a U-shaped end designed to access gutters from the ground. Since the vacuum sucks up the debris from the gutters, it doesn't require any follow-up cleaning like the previous method. However, you may still need to flush out your gutters with water to remove any residual dirt or material the vacuum left behind. Another possible disadvantage is that the vacuum hose may clog if you’re sucking up an excessive amount of wet or compacted debris.
To reduce the need to clean your gutters altogether — or at least reduce the frequency that you need to clean your gutters — consider installing gutter guards. Gutter guards are perforated screens that are placed over the top of the gutter to prevent leaves and debris from entering while still allowing rainwater to pass through. Gutter guards can vary widely in quality, cost and ease of installation, so shop around to find the guards that are best for your home and budget. Once installed, all that’s required to maintain them is brushing or rinsing them off with a garden hose every spring and fall.
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