Bet you never wondered how to clean gutters when you swooned over your home’s curb appeal lovingly ensconced by mature trees. Funny how fervent love for foliage can turn into a disdain when leaves start dropping and clogging up gutters. To restore your affinity for the trees in your yard, master the art of gutter maintenance.
Start by understanding that cleaning gutters can prevent other problems. According to Andrew Prchal, owner of Gunner Roofing in Greenwich, Connecticut, “When buildup accumulates inside your gutter drainage system, water runs over, and it isn’t properly diverted. When this happens, it spills over the side of the gutter and onto your home. This can cause mold, mildew, foundation damage, interior damage, and flooding.”
Clogged gutters full of leaves and debris can compromise the foundation when water backs up to the house and rots the facia behind. Rich Beyer, a five-year owner and operations manager of The Brothers That Just Do Gutters in Jacksonville, Florida, notes that “if there is excessive standing water in your gutters, they can bow and separate from the house.” Though he’s a Florida man, Beyer shares that in colder climates, an ice ridge can form at the edge of a roof during the winter months—this is known as an ice dam—and if the gutters don’t drain, it can prevent the melting snow from leaving the roof, potentially causing a leak that can wreak havoc on walls, ceilings, insulation, and other areas that can trap moisture.
Like many things around the house, Beyer says if you maintain your gutters, they will look better and last longer. Beyer says, “Gutters last around 20 years, as long as a roof. But if you don’t clean them, they stain, streak, look ugly, and age faster.” (Learn more about the best gutters for your home here.) Once you ready yourself to take this task on, consider doing it twice a year: once in the spring and once in the fall. Prchal says homes surrounded by heavier foliage may need additional cleanings.
1. Choose a sturdy ladder
According to the World Health Organization, every year 164,000 people end up in the emergency room after falling off a ladder. Choosing a sturdy ladder, and a steady partner to hold the base, can keep you in one piece. Prchal recommends a sturdy extension ladder that goes past the gutter surface level. “A sturdy ladder will have a skid-resistant coating, as well as non-skid feet,” he says. “This will help keep your ladder in place and prevent it from slipping. Additionally, ladder stabilizers—also known as a stand-off—can help increase your ladder’s stability by gripping a house wall.” If you don’t already have one, know that an aluminum ladder is lighter and easy to move around; however, it is not as element- and electricity-resistant as a fiberglass ladder, Prchal says. Beyer recommends any heavy-duty fiberglass ladder from Home Depot, or the “really versatile” Little Giant aluminum ladder.
2. Bring a bucket of tools
Protective gloves, eye protection, and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty are useful, but what you really need is a bucket of tools like a gutter scoop, a plumbing snake, a cleaning wand garden hose attachment, and a hex screwdriver. “While you are cleaning your gutters, pay close attention to any brackets that may have come loose, and tighten them with your screwdriver,” Prchal says.
3. Scoop the right way
If you find yourself faced with compacted debris like leaves, acorns, twigs, and snow, reach for a gutter scoop. For a stubborn clog, Prchal says to use a plumbing snake and garden hose attachment, especially for impacted debris that may be difficult to reach. “Once you break up the debris with the plumbing snake, you can dislodge the rest with a garden hose,” he adds. For small gutter-cleaning jobs, placing the discarded leaves in a bucket will help minimize cleanup.
4. Optimize the power blower or high-power hose
A cordless power blower or a high-power hose with gutter-cleaning attachments can also do the trick. “Begin the cleaning process in close proximity to a downspout,” Prchal says. “Once you clear the debris from the gutters with your gloved hands, flush them with water from a hose. Rake up the debris from the ground and into a leaf bag for disposal.”
5. Install gutter guards
Beyer is a big fan of installing gutter guards, though he admits none are flawless, but they do a really good job keeping gutters free of dirt, debris, and leaves. Beyer notes that, during a downpour, some water skips over top of the gutter guard, or leaves accumulate on the roof and on top of the gutter guards, so you’ll still need a leaf blower. What you don’t want to do, Beyer says, is buy those gutter sponge inserts. He calls them “chia pets” because when the sponges get pulled out of the gutter, they can be growing weeds and plants.