How To: Clean Your Gutters

After returning from a trip to Nebraska, my husband and I pulled in the driveway only to see our gutters filled with baby trees! (Sadly the above picture is really our gutters.) Our house sits snugly under 2 Silver Maples and 1 Walnut tree. Thanks to the rain that was had while away, we had the perfect mix to incubate some saplings. Click through the jump to pick up a few tips on cleaning your gutters, (which is the short end of the stick when it comes to being a homeowner) without losing your sanity or falling off the ladder.

If you check online for the best way to clean your gutters, there are many schools of thought that seem to think this is a "clean" endeavor. You don't get dirty, your gutters won't ever really be that dirty (many websites advise that s plastic grocery bag is all you will need to contain your gutter goop in) and your driveway is always level.
Personally we think that school of thought seems a bit off base. If that was all true, there wouldn't really be a need to spend a perfectly good Saturday 20 feet in the air. Either way, it's not a huge ordeal as long as you are ready for what might await you.

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To start here's what you will need:


  • Ladder certified to hold your weight. This isn't something one normally thinks about, but it's best to check prior to a broken ankle or worse.



  • A 2x4 or ladder support. This will help level the ladder in areas where it might sink or be a little on the uneven side of things.



  • Bandanna. Even if you don't think you'll need it, it's nice to keep the sweat out of your eyes before you are trying to wipe it away with disgusting gutter hands.



  • Help. A friend, a neighbor or relative. It's nice to have someone to hold your ladder and rotate equipment with, instead of hurling it all to the ground each time



  • Hose with sprayer attachment. It doesn't do you any good to expend the energy to clean your gutters if you don't rinse the extra little bits down at the end. Plus it's nice to shoot down your actual downspouts to check their clearance.



  • Garden Claw. After having tried many methods to cleaning gutters, the one most used here is a forked garden claw/trowel. It gives you the ability to reach with precision without having to lean off the ladder. It also is great at clearing out trees, ants, spiders and anything else living in your gutters so your hands don't have to touch them.



  • Your hands. Although we just mentioned a garden claw, when it comes right down to it, we just dig in with our hands. Do we use gloves? No.... should we? Not sure, but our hands are faster and more efficient usually. And a little dirt never hurt us.



  • Large Icy Beverage. We prefer a water bottle over an open top beverage since we will be flinging gutter goo about. Starting out with a drink means you don't have to track gutter glop through the house for a drink when finished.





Here's how to get the job done:


  • Steady the ladder on the ground and place it at one end of your gutter. While having a friend hold it, climb almost to the top. You will want to be able to see down inside your gutter. Many experts suggest placing a short piece of 2x4 in your gutter as to not collapse it under the weight of the ladder and your body. Personally, we've never had a problem with this, but it's a great tip if your gutters might be older or weak.



  • Next you will want to reach out and pull any debris back towards you. Climbing with the garden claw can be dangerous (although belt loops work well to hold it). If you are unsure while climbing have your friend pass it up to you once you are already up.



  • Many people prefer to carry a bag to the top of the ladder and hang it off one end. It allows them to have a place for the debris without littering it all over their yard. Personally, I believe that if you are only going to pull back one small bag of stuff from your gutters, it wasn't really worth your time to climb 20 feet in the air in the first place. I prefer the "Heads up below method." It's very scientific. It involves pulling any debris out with the garden claw, or my hand and tossing it out of the way down below. I am usually careful to try and keep it on things that might use the extra little bit of compost, however you can lay a tarp down and aim for that if you wish.



  • Have the hose passed up and spray down the downspout out, making sure there's no clogs or blockages. It's also a great time to spray any extra debris off the roof, or the neighbors dog... either way.



  • Work your way down the length of your guttering finishing with the downspout on the other end.



  • As you tackle each section you may also install gutter blockers (although we find sticks get stuck in them more often than not) to help eliminate doing this lovely household chore more than 2 times a year.






Gutters are important to your house and should be cleaned at the begining and end of Fall and Spring... at least. If there is little to no foliage in your area, you might be on the safe side to just tackle the job once a year, but I'd much rather spend 30 minutes on a ladder to eliminate the possibility of flooding later on! (It helps if you pretend it's a stairclimber!) If not taken care of, it can cause water backups in your basement, harming your foundation, as well as giving small creatures a place to live.
It's not as horrible as it sounds, and feels rather rewarding when you are done... although that's what we homeowners tell ourselves while our friends in condos/apartments are out having fun.

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Sarah Trover has lived all across the Midwest and currently calls the hot dog-laden city of Chicago home. She rides scooters and seeks out kitchens that make the best pie.