The Dangers of Cleaning Your Gutters

Text: Man Cleaning Gutter | Man in blue shirt cleaning gutter

We’re coming up on the end of the rainy season, and your gutters are looking pretty grim. Your first instinct is to pull out the trusty ladder that you haven’t used since the last time you cleaned your gutters, and get the job done. But cleaning your clogged gutters without some planning is risky for your and your home. Here, we’ll look at the dangers associated with cleaning your gutters.

In this article:

Ladder-Related Injuries

ladder injuries
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Ladder-related injuries are, unfortunately, common hazards of gutter cleaning. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission claims that more than 90,000 people require medical attention from falling off ladders. The Bureau of Labor Statistics adds that more than half of these ladder-related injuries could have been prevented with proper inspection and usage of the ladder.

Not only should you inspect your ladder, but you must ensure that the ladder isn’t set on uneven ground and that it is long enough to reach the height of the rain gutters that you’re cleaning. It doesn’t matter whether you use a step ladder or an extension ladder, as long as you can safely reach the appropriate height. 

Lean your ladder against a strong upper resting point like the top of the wall, which sits beneath the gutter that is being cleaned. You could also use something called a ladder stand-off which is a curved piece that attaches to the top of your ladder and puts the weight of your ladder on the roof and not your gutter. Never rest the top of you ladder on a window or gutter. 

You’ll want to follow the angle rule to determine the correct placement of your extension ladder: 

For every four feet of height, set the ladder one foot away from the structure.You will use the height from the ground to the gutter, and the distance from the base of your ladder to the structure, to find out what size ladder is required for this job.

To prevent you from having to bust out the old Pythagorean Theorem – because math is hard and we’re just here to clean gutters – we’ve developed a table to help you figure out what size ladder you’ll need. When determining your ladder height, always round up to the nearest foot.

Height from ground to gutter  (ft.)Distance from structure (ft.)Required ladder height (ft.)

Additionally, do a quick self check before climbing the ladder. Dizziness and bouts of vertigo can present themselves when climbing to heights. Make sure that you have eaten a decent meal, prior to gutter cleaning and that you’re well hydrated to combat any vertigo symptoms.

Quick tips: 

  • Inspect the ladder for signs of deterioration or damage.
  • Place the ladder securely on solid ground.
  • Have a buddy with you to hold the ladder at its base and hand your tools to you.
  • Double check the proper ladder height for the job.
  • Assess your physical state before climbing.
  • Avoid standing on the top three rungs of the ladder.
  • Do not overreach. Keep your belt buckle in between the stiles of the ladder as you work.
  • Know your limits.

Debris and Electrical Wire-Related Injuries

The last thing you should need to worry about when working on or around a roof is hazardous electrical wires and debris. Things get jostled around in storms with heavy rains, and that includes debris and wires coming in from power lines that could cause electrocutions.

Before beginning your work, inspect the surrounding roof area and remove any debris that could cause harm. Imagine any scenario in which something could go wrong, even the most uncommon circumstances, and ensure that they don’t happen. When it comes to safety protocols, you want to make sure they’re done right the first time.

Quick tip:

  • Clean off the roof, removing any visibly loose wires and debris from the roof shingles.

Improper Tools

Photo Credit: Dylan Foley / Flikr / CC BY 2.0

You need the right tools to clean your gutters effectively and safely. Loose-fitting clothes can get caught on a shingle or part of the ladder and cause injury. Improper tools can make the job more difficult, causing stress and frustration while working at heights. 

In addition, working on gutters with limited visibility and without gloves can expose you to a number of diseases and cuts. Dark and humid spaces filled with debris foster the growth of mold and other fungi. Not to mention, small animals and rodents tend to make homes in these debris-filled spaces. 

Quick tips:

  • Use protective eyewear.
  • Use protective handwear. Suede gloves will protect your hands from sharp objects, including the sharp edges of metal gutters.
  • Wear practical shoes, or even consider rubber-soled shoes for optimal grip.
  • Utilize a garden hose to easily remove loose debris from gutters.
  • Use a gutter scoop.

Structural Damage

The positioning of your ladder is important to reduce the risk of damage to your home while cleaning gutters. You risk denting the gutters, damaging the roof or the roof shingles themselves.

Use a tall enough ladder for the job. Never stand on the top two steps of the ladder. The higher you go on a ladder, the less stable it becomes, and you also don’t have anything to grab onto or brace your body if you lose your balance. So, account for the loss in height from those two steps when determining what size ladder you will need.

Also, your ladder’s resting point is critical in preventing damage to your home. As mentioned above, use a strong upper resting point such as the tallest point of the wall beneath the gutter. Or use a tool such as a ladder stand-off to avoid damaging your fragile gutters with the weight of the ladder.

Certain tools can also cause damage by leaving a gaping hole in your gutter or causing a gap between the gutter and the home. You could damage the downspouts or soffits, resulting in costly repairs.

Quick tips:

  • Don’t forget to unclog your downspouts.
  • Thoroughly research the proper tools required for gutter cleaning.

Additional Tips for Safe Gutter Maintenance

  • Schedule semi-annual gutter cleanings to avoid excessive blockage.
  • Invest in gutter guards.
  • ALWAYS let someone know when you’re going out to clean the gutters. Preferably, have a buddy stand close-by and assist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get sick from cleaning gutters?

Bacteria and germs reside in the debris of your clogged gutters. Make sure to wear suitable gloves in order to prevent infections that could lead to more serious health issues.

How many people fall from cleaning gutters?

Falling is the most common injury associated with cleaning gutters. The Consumer Product Safety Commission claims that more than 90,000 people are critically injured, each year, from ladder-related injuries.

Is it OK to lean the ladder on the gutter?

A ladder should always be secured and have a strong upper resting point. Plastic gutters are not a sufficient resting point for a ladder. 

Homeowners deserve peace of mind when tending to the numerous tasks associated with home maintenance. Follow these tips to avoid an emergency room visit while cleaning gutters. Or simply invest in professional gutter cleaning services.

Main Image: Skorzewiak / ShutterStock

Madeline Hoppe

Madeline Hoppe

Born and raised in Tampa, Florida, Madeline Hoppe is a customer service expert with a deep respect for the written word. In her down time, she enjoys low-key nights watching movies with her family or heading to one of Tampa Bay's local beaches on a summery day.