Home & Garden

How to clean your gutters in 6 easy steps

Because clogged gutters can cause major damage

Person wearing work gloves scooping out leaves and debris from gutter Credit: Getty Images / Maunger

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As the fall season commences, there’s no better time to get a head start on cleaning and refreshing your landscaping—and keeping your house’s gutters in tip-top shape is an essential step.

Throughout the year, leaves, twigs, and other debris will inevitably collect in your rain gutters, calling for a deep clean every six months or so, depending on your climate and tree coverage—once during fall and once during the spring.

Clogged gutters can end up causing many more issues than just rainwater blockage. hen water overflows from gutters, it can be pushed onto the foundation, causing some serious water damage. “The water will saturate the soil around the home and can put enormous pressure on the foundation and the walls of your basement, causing cracks that will grow over time,” says Mark Dawson, chief operating officer at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.

Overflowing water can also leak onto the fascia, or the band that keeps your roof safe from the elements. Since fascia boards are commonly made of wood, this can result in rot over time.

To avoid any costly problems caused by clogged up gutters, here’s a step-by-step guide to cleaning your gutter system and protecting your home from damage down the road.

1. Make sure you’re safe to start

Gloves
Credit: Getty Images / IndyEdge

For extra protection, use bug spray to ward off any insects that are hanging around any pools of water in the gutter.

Have safety glasses and work gloves on hand. You may also want to wear latex gloves underneath your work gloves in case you handle any wet material.

Use a sturdy, reliable extension ladder. For a single-story home, make sure your ladder extends around 12 ft. to properly reach and clean the gutters.

Since you’re cleaning from a pretty precarious height, you should double-check to make sure your ladder is stable. “Make sure it’s placed on level ground and properly locked in place,” says Dawson.

2. Have the right tools on hand

Tools
Credit: Getty Images / Arkadiusz Wargula

Having a bucket is convenient, but using a tarp for debris eliminates extra tools and distractions while working on a ladder—use both or choose whichever you're more comfortable with.

Grab an empty bucket and bring it up with you for accessible disposal. Dawson recommends hanging it from the top of the ladder to easily drop in leaves, branches, and any other debris. For easier disposal, you can also lay down a tarp below your ladder and toss down debris as you go.

If the gutter debris is manageable, you can use your hands with gloves to clear debris. However, for extra reinforcement on stuck-on leaves and branches, you can use a garden hose. Add an extendable gutter cleaner nozzle to add extra water pressure and reach the lengths of the gutter.

Gutter scoops are also simple yet effective tools that glide in the curvature of gutters, picking up loose debris with a few passes.

3. Start with the largest debris

Work by the downspout first and begin by clearing out the largest items—remove any branches, limbs, and any trash that collected in the gutters with your hands. From there, dump the debris from the gutters into the bucket or onto the ground.

4. Work on packed, harder-to-remove debris

For stuck-on, waterlogged leaves, use a gutter scoop or similarly shaped item—a trowel can also work—to wedge out the debris. Continue to dispose of the material into a bucket or tarp.

5. Wash the gutters thoroughly

To wash out any additional debris and any leftover sludge, use your garden hose with a heavy pressure nozzle to flush out the gutters and downspouts. This is where the gutter cleaner nozzle can come in handy, getting into dirty nooks and crannies that may be hard to reach. Dawson says you should ensure the water is flowing freely through the downspout—that way, you know it’s completely clear of any obstructions.

6. Protect your gutters throughout the year

Gutter guard
Credit: Getty Images / Supersmario

While installing gutter guards will reduce the frequency of gutter cleaning, you will still need to occasionally clean both inside and outside of the guards.

To completely protect your gutters from fallen debris out the year, you can install gutter guards, which will act as a protective barrier against debris to begin with. There are several types of gutter guards to choose from—mesh and screen guards, for example, let water through but prevent leaves and debris from collecting in the gutter itself.

This stainless steel micro-mesh guard sold at The Home Depot has over 5,000 5-star reviews and is loved by reviewers for how well it keeps out even the smallest debris like pine tree needles.

There are also foam gutter guards and brush guards, which essentially work similarly other materials in blocking out debris. In deciding which gutter guard is best for your home, take into consideration how noticeable the guards are from the ground, how heavy duty the material is (especially if you live in a colder climate where snow and ice collection are inevitable), and the overall price point.

You can also buy an inexpensive leaf strainer, which sits on the top of the downspout to collect leaves or twigs before it moves down and gets caught in the gutter drains. Although this won’t keep debris from the gutters themselves, it will keep them from getting stuck in the downspout.

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