How to clean rain gutters, with helpful gutter maintenance tips… During a rainstorm, gutters route runoff from a very large surface—a home’s roof—to where it can drain away from the building. By doing so, they protect siding, windows, doors, and foundations from water damage and help prevent flooding in basements.
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.
Rain Gutter Cleaning & Maintenance Basics
Work from a sturdy ladder extended above the eaves, and wear gloves to protect your hands from sharp metal and sheet metal screws. 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.
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.
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.
Before you begin, rake 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.
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!
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.
Leaf-catching gutter systems 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.
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.
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.
Be sure your downspouts expel water well away from your house. If necessary, add downspout extenders to carry the water away (see How to Fix Downspouts That Pool Runoff Water). Also consider concrete or plastic splash blocks, which are slightly sloped and extend away from the house at least 4 feet.
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.
Also check downspouts for rust, flaking, or peeling paint, plus leaks, and make sure they are affixed tightly against the fascia boards. Check the fascia boards themselves for dry rot or other damage, and, if need be, replace them with lumber treated with wood preservative that is finished to match the other boards.
If your climate delivers abundant rainfall, you may want to have your downspouts run into a dry well. The well should be a hole 2 to 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep or a 55-gallon drum, with both ends removed and filled with rocks, that you’ve buried and punctured with holes. Underground drainage pipes should slope to the dry well, which will effectively keep water away from the house’s foundation. Check local building codes before installing.