How to Clean Gutters

A gloved hand removes leaves from a gutter.

There is no easy, simple way to clean your gutters. Most of the “cheater” methods rely on gutters that really aren’t that messy in the first place, or heavy chemicals that are not fit for human use. The best way to clean your gutters is to get down and dirty, and get the motivation to just do it. I’ve mentioned this in the article a number of times, but NEVER get up on a ladder without someone there to keep an eye on you and to hold the ladder (or call an ambulance should you fall off). Also, pick your day. If it’s overcast and rainy, or windy as all get out, don’t climb up a ladder. A colleague of mine was cleaning gutters on a windy day, reached beyond his arm’s length (also something you should never do), toppled the ladder, and broke his spine!

Okay, drama aside, it was a minor fracture, but he was bound to a wheelchair for the better part of a month. He’s up, he’s walking, he’s playing more golf than he should, he’s fine, but . . . lesson learned. This is a prime reason why you should make safety first as far as ladders. There is no good reason NOT to be careful.

Steps to Clean Gutters

  1. coiled green hoseGather your materials. Cleaning gutters is a reasonably straightforward process, though it can be dangerous because it involves a lot of ladder work. If you are squeamish about heights, I’d suggest finding someone else (a charitable neighbor, perhaps) to clean your gutters. So here’s what you’ll need: A ladder of sufficient height to get you chest high to your gutters (for most single-story homes, a 15-foot ladder will work), a spotter (someone to hold the ladder from the ground while you’re working), work gloves, a large bucket you don’t mind getting dirty, and a hose connected to a working spigot.
  2. garden glovesSet up your materials. Throw on your work gloves, and lean your ladder against the house. Put your full weight on the bottom rung to press it into the ground and make sure it’s stable. Then, once you have your spotter on hand, climb up until you are about chest high with your gutters. Leave your bucket on the ground. It will do you no good on the ladder. A word of caution: NEVER, EVER go up a ladder without someone spotting you. A spotter should hold the ladder at all times while you are up there and steady it on your ascent and descent. SAFETY FIRST!
  3. gutters on the houseStart cleaning the gutters. No reason to be shy: Dig right in. Scoop out the refuse a handful at a time and drop it on the ground (taking care to miss your spotter). Aim for the bucket if you’re up to it. Heck, make a game out of it: Two points if you get it all in the bucket; one if you get it mostly in the bucket; zero if you miss entirely. If your spotter is willing to trade off scooping duty with you, you can compete to see who can rack up the most points while you spot for them.
  4. metal step ladderMove the ladder. Once you’ve scooped out all the guck you can reasonably reach, climb down (DO NOT attempt to lean while on the ladder. The furthest out you should scoop is arm’s length. It’s no good if the ladder tips over and you have to go the hospital). Gather the refuse that missed the bucket and place it into the bucket or directly into a garbage bag. Or, if you compost, empty the bucket there. Then, pick up the ladder and move down the house, no more than an arm’s length from where you were previously and start over again. Do this until you’ve emptied all of your gutters.
  5. downspoutClean up the residual. Once you’re finished, remove the extensions from the bottom of the water drains connected to the gutters. Turn on the hose to a medium flow (high flow will do little but get you all wet). Carefully carry it up the ladder with you and run it through the gutters. You may have to move the ladder a number of times to wash all the residual gunk down the water drains, but make certain you do this. Once you’re done, climb down, turn off the hose, and collect the refuse that came out of the water drains.
  6. firefighters with sprayIf a water drain is sluggish, you can try to force it out by increasing the pressure. Put the hose directly into the water spout. If this does not loosen the clog, try increasing the water pressure, or adding a high-pressure nozzle. If this still doesn’t work, you can procure a plumber’s auger (snake) and run it through the drain. Or, perhaps a bit more economically, you can remove the water drain from the side of the house and try to physically push the clog out with a broom handle.

Cleaning Gutters In Spite of the Tedium

In spite of the tedium, cleaning the gutters is a necessary evil. Clogged gutters mean that the water has nowhere to go. If the water has nowhere to go, it gathers. And since water always takes the path of least resistance, it will find a way to leak into your house if it can. As to the frequency with which you should clean your gutters, it depends. Sometimes all you need is twice a year—once after the leaves fall and once at the beginning of the summer. If you have a lot of trees around your house, it may take more. Honestly, the best way to know when it’s time is to get up there and take a look.

Green Products for Cleaning Up After Cleaning Your Gutters

Bottle of Clean WellClean Well Hand Sanitizer. This is a natural hand sanitizer. It’s alcohol-free and promises to kill 99.99% of germs on your hands. Plus, it’s good for the environment. It’ll be useful to help you wash up after you’re done. You can find CleanWell Hand Sanitizer at Amazon.

bottle of seventh generation bleachSeventh Generation Bleach. Eco-friendly and chlorine-free (which makes it less caustic and generally better for your skin and the environment). You can rinse your hands off in a mixture of this bleach and water.

bottle of seventh generation handwashSeventh Generation Handwash. In case I haven’t mentioned that Seventh Generation is an awesome company (which I have, but I’m going to mention it again), it’s an awesome company. They have been striving to create green products to make our world a better, cleaner place, and their products are just as effective as their other-brand counterparts. The hand wash in particular is a favorite of mine. Their unscented is actually unscented, and it gives you that feeling of a good, deep down clean.

About the Author

Adam Gottfried