How to Clean Rain Gutters
To do their job, gutters and downspouts must be clear of leaves and debris. If they aren’t, drain outlets will dam up and rainwater will fill the gutters, overflow, and eventually pull the gutters loose. Water that pools in troughs will rot wood gutters and rust sheet-metal ones.
Work from a sturdy ladder and wear gloves to protect your hands from sharp metal and sheet metal screws.
Work from a sturdy ladder extended above the eaves, and wear gloves to protect your hands from sharp metal and sheet metal screws.
You can hire a service to clean your gutters, but doing it yourself can save you $100 or more. Plan to clean gutters at least twice a year—more often if the roof is directly beneath trees or you live in a region with frequent storms. But only take on this task if you can work safely from a ladder or the roof. If your roof is higher than a single story, you’re better off hiring a gutter-cleaning pro.
The conventional method for cleaning gutters is discussed below. A method sometimes used by home handymen on low-sloped roofs is to blow dry debris out of gutters with a leaf blower. If you use this method, wear goggles and a dust mask, and be extremely careful when working on top of the roof—this is dangerous!
gutter cleaning kit that connects to a leaf blower. Again, you’ll want to protect yourself from the leaves and debris that rains down on you by wearing goggles, dust mask, and the like.
Choose a sturdy ladder, and place it on a firm, level base. A tall stepladder can be easier to use than an extension ladder. If you must lean an extension ladder against a gutter, protect the gutter by placing a short piece of 2 by 4 inside it. Stand on the ladder with your hips between the rails, and don’t lean out over the sides. Never stand on the top two rungs.
If you’re comfortable working from the rooftop and your roof has a very low pitch, this can be easier than working from a ladder. But only do this under extremely safe conditions. Never work on the roof in wet, icy, or windy conditions. Wear non-slip shoes, and never lean over the edge or work near power lines.
When cleaning gutters, wear heavy work gloves to protect your hands since gutters often have sharp metal parts or screw points sticking out into their troughs. Also wear safety glasses or goggles. In some situations, it’s helpful to have a bucket for collecting debris and a dropcloth for protecting areas beneath the gutter.
Before you begin, rake or use a leaf blower to blow the leaves and debris off of the roof so the next heavy rain doesn’t wash it down into the gutters, filling them up again.
Gutter guards and leaf-catchers can be helpful, but most are not a complete solution. Debris eventually settles through them, and the screens must be removed to clean out the gutters.
Also, some systems are very expensive. If you opt to buy a leaf-catching system, be sure it can be easily removed for cleaning. For more about these, see How to Buy Gutter Guards & Leaf Catchers.
1 Scoop out loose debris. Starting at a drain outlet at the low end of a gutter, use a narrow garden trowel or a gutter scoop to scoop out loose debris, working away from the drain outlet. It’s usually easiest to do this when the debris is slightly damp and pliable, not soggy or dried and encrusted. To minimize cleanup later, you can scoop the debris into a plastic bucket.
2 Blast out the gutters with a hose. Using an on-off high-pressure hose nozzle mounted at the end of a water hose, wash out each length of gutter, working toward the drain outlet. This can be a messy job; try to avoid splattering mud all over your house. If necessary, use a stiff scrub brush to remove encrusted dirt.
3 Clear obstructions in drainpipes. If water doesn’t drain freely through the drainpipes, try flushing the debris down them with a hose. If that doesn’t work, use a plumber’s auger (snake) to free and pull out the debris from the bottom or, in some situations, to push it through from the top.
How to Maintain Rain Gutters
Inspect and clear gutters in both spring and autumn. You also may have to loosen dirt that has blown into the gutters and scrub them with a stiff brush. Flushing gutters with a stream of water from a hose will clear material that has become lodged in the eaves troughs and downspouts.
The slope of gutters may need to be adjusted from time to time to keep water moving toward downspouts. Run water through them, and, if they drain slowly, reposition them so that they slope toward the downspouts at a rate of 1/4 inch for every 10 feet.
Fine-Mesh Gutter Guards & Screens
Fine-mesh gutter guards (also called “micro-mesh” gutter filters or screens) are placed across the tops of gutters to keep gutters clear. They employ sieve-like mesh panels or screens to separate leaves and roof debris from rainwater.
These gutter guards are much more effective than the common gutter screening available at home improvement centers. Their mesh is super-fine—typically 50 microns, which is small enough to capture sand. Because of this, these systems are popular for both conventional gutter guards and rainwater recovery systems that collect rainwater for landscape watering.
Compared to other gutter-guard technologies, fine-mesh gutter screens perform very high. They reject nearly all roof debris while also capturing most of the water. Although fine-mesh gutter guards are much more expensive than standard gutter screens, gutter brush inserts, and gutter foam inserts, they are comparably or lower priced than solid-top gutter guards and have long if not lifetime guarantees. (For more about these types of gutter products, see Gutter Guards & Leaf Catchers.)
If you have a micro-mesh gutter screen installed on either a very old asphalt roof or a brand-new asphalt roof, be advised that the super-fine mesh can be clogged by roof tar that leaches out of these materials. Mossy or moldy roofs can also clog the mesh. Ask your fine-mesh gutter screen provider about what cleaning might be necessary if this happens.