Gutters are essential for directing water away from your home, but they must be kept clean to function reliably. That said, gutter maintenance is tedious, and not everyone is up for the task. However, neglecting this house fixture may compromise your home’s structural integrity.
Once you have a better idea of how to clean gutters, the task becomes less daunting. Let’s take a closer look at the best ways of tackling this essential home maintenance task.
Why Gutter Cleaning and Maintenance Matters
Before learning how to clean gutters, you should understand why it’s necessary. Gutters run horizontally along your roof and are among the main components of its drainage system. Instead of rainwater falling directly to the ground or running down the exterior walls, gutters collect water from the roof and channel it away from the home’s foundation.
For gutters to function properly, they need to be cleared of leaves, sticks, and other debris obstructing proper water flow. Perform this maintenance task at least once a year or more if trees surround your home.
If you don't clean out the gutters, they will eventually overflow with rainwater, causing water damage to the roof and external walls. Water may even pool at your home base, eroding the soil and weakening the foundation.
In colder climates, clogged gutters may also lead to ice dams during winter and possibly tear away from the roof when they get heavy with ice.
How to Clean Gutters
Gutter cleaning is much easier and safer when you are prepared with the right equipment. Collect what you need and then follow the steps below.
1. Use a Sturdy Extension Ladder
Gutters are often too high to reach while standing on the ground, so you’ll need a ladder to clear them out. While this puts you at risk of falling, you may reduce accidents by using an extendable ladder instead of a stepladder, which tends to tip.
Always place the ladder on solid, level ground before climbing. Never overextend your reach, as you may lose balance. Instead, position the ladder directly next to the gutter area you want to clean.
Instead of resting the ladder against the gutters, use a stabilizer to support it against the siding or extension wall. Stabilizers also prevent your ladder from slipping, keeping you safe.
Alternately, you might have someone on the ground hold the ladder to keep it steady. They can also help by handing you tools or picking up dropped items.
2. Spread a Tarp Underneath
Expect to find lots of debris if you’ve never cleaned the gutters before or it’s been a while since the last cleaning. To make the job faster, spread out a tarp or plastic sheeting under your work area to catch all the debris. Taking this step also helps to keep the muck from the gutters out of the yard.
If you don’t have a tarp, you can also attach a bucket to the ladder to collect the debris.
3. Remove the Debris
Once you’re done prepping, you can eliminate debris buildup in the gutters. First, remove loose, large debris like sticks and leaves by hand. Leaf blowers or wet/dry hoovers are also effective in removing dry and light debris by blowing them out of the gutter.
Use a plastic gutter scoop available in most hardware stores to work through wet, compacted debris. Possible alternatives to a gutter scoop are a child’s sandbox shovel or a used plastic kitchen spatula—both won’t scrape and damage your gutters.
Start working near a downspout and work your way in to prevent debris from being pushed down, which may cause clogging later. Consider blocking the downspouts with a rag or cloth as you remove dislodged debris.
4. Flush with Water
After clearing out the bulk of the debris, flush the remaining leaves, twigs, and grime with a garden hose. Attach a spray nozzle at the end, then turn the water on full blast to break up stubborn clogs and clumps. Also, point the hose downward to avoid spraying beneath the roof.
Rinse the gutters repeatedly until the water runs freely through them. Don’t forget to remove the cloth or rag covering the downspouts; otherwise, the water will back up or overflow.
Alternatively, you can use a pressure washer to blast away leftover debris faster and more efficiently.
5. Check for Remaining Clogs
The culprit may be a clogged downspout if water doesn't drain quickly. Spray a strong stream of water from the top to dislodge the blockage. Repeat the process until the water moves through quickly.
Feed a plumber’s snake through the opening for stubborn clogs and use it as you would in your pipes to clear the blockage. Sometimes it’s best to unclog from the bottom to prevent packing the debris tighter, making it harder to remove. Afterward, run the hose through your gutters and downspouts a few more times to ensure there are no more clogs.
A Few More Maintenance Tips
Learning how to clean gutters isn’t the only thing you should know about maintaining them. With clogged, unmaintained gutters, even the best roof shingles
won’t last long from water damage.
Install Gutter Guards
Since you want your gutters to be clean and debris-free as long as possible, cover them with quality gutter guards. The most effective ones keep leaves, branches, and other debris out while allowing only water to enter.
While gutter guards trap and filter foreign materials, it’s still important to inspect and clean your gutters, albeit less frequently. This is because dirt and grime can still build up inside and prevent proper drainage.
Seal Leaks, Holes, & Gaps
Cracks, holes, and loose seams result in leaky gutters, causing water to drain improperly. Use a patching kit or sealant to plug these problem areas and keep water runoff inside the gutters. Before patching large, rusty spots, remove the rust and treat with a rust-inhibiting solution or paint. Apply the patch material according to product instructions for a tight seal.
Adjust the Slope
Ideally, gutters should slope slightly downward to let the water flow more efficiently. However, if you notice standing or pooled water, that’s a sign your gutters are incorrectly sloped. Correct it by detaching the hangers, adjusting their height, and increasing or decreasing the slope.
DIY vs. Hiring a Pro
Learning how to clean gutters can help in maintaining a functioning roofing system. However, it does require you to climb a ladder to get the job done, which poses a significant risk of falling. You can save yourself the trouble by hiring a professional for the job.
Gutter cleaning services vary in price due to several factors, including house height, gutter size, seamless versus seamed gutters, and equipment used. Before working with a particular contractor, get estimates from several companies, compare rates, and check their customer reviews.
With this ultimate guide on cleaning gutters and maintaining them, there’s no more reason to put off this essential home maintenance task.