How to Clean Gutters: 5 Effective Ways to Get the Job Done

Gutters are key to keeping water away from your house. To function properly, they need to be free of dirt and debris. Fortunately there are several effective ways for cleaning them, some of which don't even require a ladder.

By Glenda Taylor and Bob Vila | Updated Sep 29, 2021 10:06 AM

how to clean gutters


Of all the necessary evils that make up a diligent fall 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, help ensure that storm water does not find its way indoors.

Learning how to clean gutters doesn’t have to be difficult—or unsafe. Our roundup of the best methods features a variety of ways to get those leaves out of the gutters before they clog and lead to gutter damage. The best way to clean gutters is by using a method you’re comfortable with—one that’s both safe and effective.

The Importance of Clean 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 can lead to leaks around windows or in a basement or crawlspace.

Gutters typically require very little maintenance to keep them functioning well, but when a gutter is filled with leaves, it can clog the downspouts, causing water to run 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 and then freeze in the gutter, creating heavy ice blockages that can tear a gutter away from the roof.

Gutter Cleaning Safety

Teetering on a tall ladder while trying to dig leaves out of a gutter isn’t the safest way to clean gutters. Several gutter-cleaning tools are available that allow homeowners to clean away the debris while remaining safely on the ground.

If you have to climb a ladder to 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, hire a gutter-cleaning company to come out and clear the gutters. These companies have the equipment to reach high gutters safely. Don’t attempt walking on the roof to clean gutters—it’s a recipe for disaster.

How to Clean Gutters From the Ground

It may take a little more time than cleaning gutters from a ladder since you can’t see what you’re doing, so you need to proceed systematically and slowly, but cleaning gutters while standing on the ground works well and is by far the safest gutter cleaning method. The two primary methods for cleaning gutters from the ground require either a garden hose or a shop-type wet/dry vacuum, plus a couple of handy attachments. The two following techniques are useful for those who prefer to clean gutters with their feet planted firmly on the ground.

how to clean gutters


Gutter Cleaning With a Garden Hose

So long as they are not thoroughly clogged, you can clean your gutters successfully with a garden hose, as long as the hose is equipped with the proper attachment (a rigid tube with a curved end). By using an extension, such as the GutterMaster Telescopic Water Fed Pole, you can stand on the ground, not on a ladder, as you work. Start at the end nearest the downspout, spray out the entire channel length, and then work your way back to the downspout. Expect some mess—water, leaves, and small twigs are likely to spray over the sides of the gutter, so dress appropriately.

how to clean gutters


Clearing Gutters With a Wet/Dry Vacuum

As a substitute method for removing debris from your gutters, experiment with a wet/dry vacuum. Your local home improvement retail store likely carries the hoses and curved attachments you need to reach the obstructed gutters from standing on the ground. Alternatively, you can order one online, such as the Vacmaster 2.5-Inch Gutter Cleaning Kit. Once you’ve removed the bulk of the material, flush the gutters and downspout with water from a garden hose.

How to Clean Gutters 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 the risk, it’s essential to use the right ladder. Avoid using a stepladder, which can tip.

Instead, use a sturdy extension ladder that has been fitted with stabilizer arms. These arms can be purchased separately and attached to standard extension ladders. One such example is the Werner True Grip Stabilizer, which braces the ladder against the siding and keeps it from slipping to the side. In addition, it’s a good idea to have an assistant on the ground who can hold the ladder if necessary to stabilize it and hand up the tools as you need them. The following methods are well suited to cleaning gutters from a ladder.

how to clean gutters


Roof and Gutter Cleaning With a Leaf Blower

Many leaf blowers come with a nozzle attachment designed to release a powerful air stream, 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. As a final step, flush out any lingering leaves or twigs with a hose.

how to clean gutters


Cleaning Gutters With a Power Washer

Has it been a long while since you last cleaned your gutters? A layer of dirt and debris may have built up over time. Blast it away with the fine-spray nozzle of your power washer. (This type of cleaning can get messy; be prepared to rinse the roof and exterior walls 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 the water can run freely through it.

how to clean gutters


Clearing Gutters by Hand

To clean gutters by hand, you’ll need a ladder, bucket, gutter scoop (or garden trowel), and heavy-duty work gloves. Little by little, take out the leaves and debris, placing what you remove into the bucket. Finally, flush the gutters and downspout with water until you are certain both are functioning correctly. Tip: If your downspouts are clogged and you don’t have a power washer, try busting through the obstruction with a small 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 undesirable task of gutter cleaning—or prevent it altogether—consider installing a screen, such as 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 harmlessly toss leaves and debris over the edge. 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, which can lead to leaking and dripping.

how to clean gutters


FAQs About Gutter Cleaning

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.

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