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How to Properly Clean Your Gutters and Downspouts

How to Properly Clean Your Gutters and Downspouts

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The gutter system in any home plays an essential role in keeping your house dry and mold-free. Yet, it’s often one of the most tedious parts of the home maintenance routine.

Nevertheless, every homeowner needs to know how to clean their gutters and downspouts. Luckily, it’s pretty straightforward. This how-to guide will walk you through the process to ensure a seamless and quick cleaning job.

Let’s get started.

Why Gutter Cleaning Is Important

The gutter system that lines the overhanging eaves of your home is vital to any roof, especially in areas that get a lot of rainfall throughout the year. One of its most significant functions is to ensure that water flows off the roof and away from the structure of the house.

It also helps keep the crawlspace or basement dry by directing water away from the foundation. So, it plays a big part in protecting against wood rot, mold growths, and the failure of the roof fascia boards and siding.

The problem is that they sometimes get clogged with leaves and other debris, which prevents water from flowing freely. This increases during certain times of the year like in the spring when trees cast off seeds and also in the fall when leaves fall.

When water can’t flow properly through the gutters, this creates a dangerous mix of rotting leaves and debris.

Another problem is that when gutters become blocked, rainwater flows over the gutter walls and onto the structure of the house. Over time, the water will eventually find its way indoors and even reach the foundation, causing erosion and weakening of the walls.

How Often Do Gutters Need To Be Cleaned?

Ideally, you should clean your gutters twice a year: once in late spring after the trees discard their seeds and pollen. The second time should be in late fall after the leaves have fallen, but make sure you get to it before the first frost.

Yet, if you live in an area that gets plenty of rain or snowfall, you may want to do it around 3–4 times a year. This means ensuring that the gutter system is clean and ready for whatever storms or harsh weather the new season may bring.

This also depends on the kind of foliage you have near your home. Pine and maple trees tend to shed their needles and leaves more often than other types of trees.

Cleaning the Gutters: Tools and Materials

Professional gutter cleaners recommend that if you’re cleaning the gutter system yourself, you should work with professional cleaning tools rather than relying on a ladder.

They see ladders as a safety hazard that may not always offer a secure footing. Plus, it’s pretty labor-intensive.

However, if you prefer to use a ladder, always use good judgment for your safety and the safety of others. The first thing is to place the ladder on a dry, flat, stable base.

If you’re using an extension ladder, make sure the top part rests firmly on the side of the house or the gutter edge. It should also be positioned at an appropriate angle to give you full reach of the gutters.

Always keep your body upright and only reach as far as you can without leaning too far in either direction. This might mean that you’ll need to move the ladder more frequently, but it also means that you stay safe, which is critical.

If you have a one-story home, chances are the gutters will be around 11 feet from the ground. This means you’ll only need to use an 8–10 foot ladder.

Yet, if your house is two-story, this means gutters will probably be about 19 feet high. Thus, you’ll need a 28-foot ladder, which can be risky. In that case, we recommend hiring a professional gutter cleaning company.

Yet, if you do decide to do the job yourself, here’s a list of some other tools you may find useful.

  • Goggles to protect your eyes
  • Protective gloves
  • Clothes you don’t mind getting dirty
  • A gutter scoop, trowel, garden spade, or even an old kitchen spatula
  • A plumbing snake, cordless power leaf blower, or wet/dry vacuum to dislodge dry and loose stubborn clogs
  • A high-power hose or pressure washer can also help dislodge wet and soggy stubborn obstructions
  • A garden hose cleaning wand attachment to dislodge hard-to-reach debris
  • A hex screwdriver in case you find any loose brackets that need to be tightened to avoid leaks

How Long Does it Take to Clean Gutters?

How long the cleaning process takes depends largely on the size of your home and the types of foliage around it.

For example, a small home with little to no debris can take a maximum of 30 minutes. However, if this same small home has a substantial amount of leaves and debris clogging up the gutters, the cleaning process can take much longer, even up to 90 minutes in some cases.

Larger homes with a square footage of over 5,000 square feet can take as long as 2–3 hours depending on the amount of debris in the gutter system.

3 Cleaning Methods

As we’ve said, cleaning the gutters is a pretty straightforward job. All you have to do is stabilize the ladder and then remove the leaves and debris.

Well, while it may sound easy enough, you still have to figure out which method to use to collect all that debris from the gutters.

In general, these three methods vary depending on the condition of the leaves. So, the first question you have to ask yourself is: is the debris in the gutters dry and loose or damp and soggy?

Whichever cleaning method you use, remember to rinse the gutters and downspouts afterwards. This will flush out any remaining debris and help you pinpoint any potential leaks that need to be sealed.

Dry and Loose

If the contents of the gutter are dry, then there’s only one method to use:

The Gutter Bag Method

For this cleaning method, you’ll need a plastic bucket with a metal hook.

Start by cutting the handle down the middle. Next, bend each end of the handle to form hooks. Use these hooks to suspend the bucket on the edge of the gutter.

After that, you’ll need to cut off the bottom of the bucket. Then, using duct tape or a large rubber band, fasten a trash bag around the bucket right under the metal handle.

Now you’re ready to clean the gutters.

Once up the ladder, hook the bucket onto the gutter edge. Then, scoop up the dry leaves and place them in the bucket/trash bag.

As you’re working, make sure to not overfill the trash bag. For starters, you don’t want the bag to be too heavy to carry down the ladder. The other reason is that you don’t want to risk the bag getting ripped due to the excess weight of the leaves.

Wet and Soggy

When the contents of the gutter are wet, things can get messy. Yet, there are two methods you can use to help make the process less unpleasant.

Take a look.

The Gutter Bucket Method

Similar to the gutter bag method, this gutter cleaning method involves using a large plastic bucket with a metal handle. Make sure you cut the handle in half to create hooks to secure it over the edge of the gutters as you work.

Yet, with this method, you won’t need to cut out the bottom of the bucket.

Then, once the bucket is in place, all you have to do is scoop out the debris from the gutters, then empty it into the hanging bucket.

It sounds simple enough. Yet, keep in mind that you’ll have to do a lot of going up and down the ladder each time the bucket fills up.

The Scoop and Drop Method

As the name suggests, this method involves scooping out the contents then dropping them onto a cloth or plastic tarp spread out on the ground below you.

Unlike the gutter bucket method, this way is generally quick and hassle-free. The only real work you’ll have to do is pull the tarp or cloth across the ground each time you move the ladder.

Finally, when you’re done or when the tarp becomes full, simply dump the contents into a trash bag or, better yet, your compost bin.

Final Thoughts

Knowing how to clean gutters and downspouts keeps your home’s structure and foundation stay in good condition and keeps it protected against potential problems.

While it’s a pretty basic process, it’s always handy to know a few tips and tricks to help you stay safe. This guide will walk you through the different methods, tools, and materials you need to keep your gutter system flowing smoothly all year round.


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