How to Clean Your Gutters the Right Way

Built-up debris in your gutters can cause leaks, damage to your ceilings, and mold growth.

Couple Cleaning Away Leaves
Photo: Roy Morsch / GETTY IMAGES

Although they're a small part of your home's overall foundation, gutters play a crucial role in protecting the structure of your landscape. If your gutter system stops working, water can damage your roof, which may cause leaks, damage ceilings and floors, and promote mold growth. One common reason gutters stop doing their job is because they've filled up with debris, like leaves and twigs. Luckily, you can prevent this from happening by regularly cleaning your gutter system.

Why You Should Clean Your Gutters

Gutter systems control the flow of rainwater and keep it from getting trapped, protecting your home's roof, walls, landscape, and more from damage. Without routine maintenance, the water can get clogged and soften the ground, causing potential cracks in your home's foundation. "Clogged gutters are the number one cause of water damage to a home," says David Flax, president of Window Genie, a Neighborly company. "They should be clean and free of debris to allow water to flow freely away from the home's roof, fascia, siding, and foundation."

How Often to Clean Your Gutters

Putting off routine gutter maintenance can lead to costly repairs in the future. "Gutters need to be cleaned at least twice a year—in the spring and in the fall," says Shannon Huffman, senior merchant of gutters at Home Depot. However, if you have pine trees near your home, needles will need to be removed every three months to reduce the risk of potential clogs.

It's especially important to make sure your gutters are clean going into winter. During colder months, water trapped in gutters can freeze, forcing ice back under the edge of your home's shingles. When warm air melts the ice, your roofing becomes more susceptible to leaks.

Materials Needed

You'll need a few basic supplies to clean your gutters, including a place to put built-up debris and a hose to flush out your system.

  • Ladder
  • Trowel
  • 5-gallon utility bucket
  • Garden hose
  • Spray nozzle
  • Gutter sealant

How to Clean Your Gutters

You'll need to access your roof in order to adequately clean your gutter system. If you're not comfortable using a ladder or if you have power lines near your gutters, consider contacting a professional service to clean them out for you.

1. Remove Debris From Gutters

Climb the ladder to your roof, bringing a bucket with you for waste. Remove any large debris, like leaves and twigs, from your gutter and place them into your bucket. Repeat this step on your downspout (the part of the gutter that redirects the water away from your home). A trowel is useful when it comes to cleaning packed-in and caked-on material, but your hands will also work if you don't have the gardening tool handy.

2. Flush Out Your Gutters

Attach a spray nozzle to your garden hose and use it to flush the gutter out with water. "Start flushing at the far end, moving toward the downspout and avoiding spraying under your home's shingles, as it can loosen them," says Gary McCoy, store manager at Lowe's.

3. Remove Any Clogs

If the amount of water coming out of your gutter is less than what you're spraying, you likely have a clog. "To remove a clog, lead your garden hose up the downspout and turn the water on at full pressure," says Huffman.

4. Flush Your Gutters Again

Once you've removed any clogs, flush the gutters again using the same steps outlined above. "This practice ensures a thorough look at if there is any standing water, remaining clogs, sagging, or other areas of your gutters that need further attention," McCoy says.

5. Check for Leaks

Ask a helper to stand on the ground during the second flush to tell you if any water is leaking out. To repair leaks, let the gutters dry completely and then apply a gutter sealant.

What to Do If Your Gutters Still Aren't Draining

If your gutters aren't draining properly after thoroughly cleaning them, you may have an unseen blockage in your downspout. "A hand auger or plumber's snake may be used if spraying your hose at full pressure is unsuccessful," says McCoy. To do so, feed the line up through the downspout and lock the collar of the auger when it stops. Spin the line as you feed it farther into the downspout and pull it back to release the clog.

When to Replace Your Gutters

It's possible that cleaning won't be enough to ensure your gutters work properly. At some point, you'll need to replace the system altogether. "If you notice standing water in your gutters or see them sagging, you might need new gutters to ensure your home is fully protected," says McCoy. "Other early signs of gutters in need of replacement include water pouring out of the gutters or puddles around your foundation after it rains."

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