How to Clean Your Gutters Safely

Close up image of gutter

It’s time to get your mind into the gutter. Gutter cleaning is a simple, often overlooked task that’s necessary to keep your home in prime condition.

After all, overflowing gutters spill onto plants under them, which can give key landscaping features an unappealing drenched look.

While there are plenty of professional gutter cleaning services out there, the DIY process is fairly easy and, if done correctly, perfectly safe. So, here are some tried-and-true methods for cleaning your gutters safely.

When to Clean Your Gutters

You should clean your gutters at least twice a year, once in spring and once in fall. If your neighborhood has pine trees, you might need to clean out pine needles as often as every three months.

You also need to stay on top of the weather. Don’t clean your gutters right after showers or storms if you can avoid it. Let a few dry days pass before beginning the unclogging process, because dry leaves are much easier to remove than wet ones.

If your local weather forecast shows an incoming storm, that’s actually a good time to clean your gutters. Make sure your gutters are clear and ready for the barrage of water that’s on the way.

Cleaning Gutters From the Ground vs. With a Ladder

For an experienced home improvement DIY-er, climbing a ladder and removing debris by hand from your gutters is no big deal. But for a beginner, the task can seem daunting.

Luckily, there are tools available that allow you to clean your gutters with your feet on the ground.

A few safety rules remain the same no matter which cleaning method you choose:

  • Stay off the roof: Don’t try to climb up on your roof to clean your gutters. Leave that to the professionals.
  • Wear protective gear: Put on safety goggles and work gloves while cleaning your gutters. If the debris clogging your gutters is wet, consider wearing rubber gloves underneath the standard ones to keep your hands from getting slippery.

How to Clean Gutters From the Ground

Rope and leaf blower in bed of leaves
An electric leaf blower is a helpful tool when cleaning gutters. Photo Credit: Tony Webster, Flickr / CC 2.0

In most cases, you likely already own the tools needed to clean your gutters from the ground. If you have a leaf blower or a wet/dry vacuum, you’re almost set. All you need is a gutter cleaning attachment, which you can find online or in most hardware stores.

Simply place the curved end of the attachment into the gutter and walk slowly around your home. If using a leaf blower, make sure you don’t blow any debris into the downspout.

How to Clean Gutters from a Ladder

Cleaning your gutters using a ladder is a much more involved process, for sure, but it also gives you a more thorough clean.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Ladder (an A-line for one-story homes or an extension ladder for two or more stories)
  • Gutter scoop or trowel
  • Garden hose
  • Spray nozzle
  • Buckets (optional)
  • Pressure washer (optional)
  • Plastic tarp (optional)

Steps to cleaning your gutters from a ladder:

1. Position ladder

The first thing you’ll want to do is set up your ladder on even ground. Familiarize yourself with ladder safety guidelines. Never step on the top few rungs or overextend your reach. If you’re using an extension ladder, make sure you use a ladder stabilizer.

2. Attach buckets

Once you’ve got your ladder in position, attach two buckets to the hooks: one to hold your tools and the other to dump debris into. If you’re unable to hook buckets to your ladder, you can lay a plastic tarp across your lawn to catch debris.

3. Start cleaning

Now that you’ve prepped your workstation, start the cleaning process by removing large debris with your hands. This is when your work gloves (and rubber gloves, if necessary) will come in handy.

Next, use your gutter scoop or trowel to remove packed-in leaves and dirt. Always begin scooping debris near the downspout and move away from it as you progress.

4. Spray away gunk

When you’ve cleared all the debris you can, use your hose and spray nozzle to flush out dirt and other fine riffraff (pine needles, for example). Spray from the end opposite the downspout so the water can flow out of the gutters. Avoid spraying under your shingles, as this can loosen them.

You can use a pressure washer or specialty hose attachments for extra power when flushing, but they aren’t necessary.

Post-Cleaning Steps

Whether you clean your gutters from the ground or from a ladder, there are a few things you should check after you’ve finished.

  1. Seal cracks: Can you see any cracks or leaks? If so, seal them.
  2. Unclog downspouts: Is your downspout blocked? If you don’t see water pouring from your downspout after you’ve flushed your gutters, there’s probably a clog. Feed your hose up from the bottom and spray at maximum pressure to remove the clog. If that doesn’t work, try using a plumber’s snake (aka a hand auger).
  3. Paint your gutters: Is the paint on your gutter or downspout chipped? Now that your gutters are clean, you can touch-up their paint job and make your gutters and downspouts look new.

Consider Gutter Guards

If you’ve just cleaned your gutters for the first time and decided you never want to go through it again, you can install gutter guards. These come in many different styles for a range of prices.


Steel gutter guard keeping leaves out of gutter
Image Credit: Pikrepo

Gutter guards keep leaves and other large debris out of your gutter while still allowing water to flow through them. While gutter guards can’t always keep out dirt and other small matter, they’ll make your next gutter cleaning attempt much easier and quicker.

When to Hire a Professional Gutter Cleaning Service

Even though the gutter cleaning process is typically safe, you might not want to risk it. If you’re uncomfortable handling the necessary tools or all this sounds like too much work, you can always call a gutter cleaning service.

Note: If there are power lines near your roof, don’t try to clean out your own gutters using any method. Let the pros handle it.

What Happens if You Never Clean Your Gutters?

If you wait too long to clean your gutters, your gutters can’t do their job. When it rains, your gutters will overflow, which can cause water to seep into your roof and fascia boards. From there, the water can leak inside your home.

Rainwater spilling over the side of your gutter also can reach your foundation or basement. If that happens, you could face serious water damage to your home’s structure.

Avoid all these problems by rolling up your sleeves and getting into the gutter twice a year. But always remember: Safety first.

Main Image Credit: Needpix

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin is a writer, editor, and classical literature student based in Colorado. When she isn't reading or writing, she enjoys goofing off with her cats and spending time in nature.