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What's the Best Way to Clean Gutters?

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Gutter cleaning can be a drag. It's hard, messy work. But skipping gutter cleaning would be a big mistake. So what's the best way to clean gutters? Like many things in life, there is no single best way to clean gutters. Instead, there are several methods that professionals suggest, each with its benefits and downsides. Just make sure you don't forgo cleaning altogether because that could have terrible results.

If you don't clean your drains out at least once a season, there is a very good chance that you have at least partially-clogged drains. Even if you have some kind of leaf protector or another cover, it makes sense to check on your gutters once every few months to make sure they are clear.

Clogged gutters can lead to some significant damage to your home. When your gutters are clogged, a heavy downpour can send water cascading over your gutters and down the side of your home. Unlike regular rain, this stream of water collects the water from your entire roof, concentrating rainfall from hundreds of square feet into a small area. The pouring water can damage the siding of your home. Dirty rainwater—made even dirtier by the debris in the clogged gutters—can stain your walls. The heavy flow can also flood and damage landscaping at the base of the wall. Perhaps the most expensive damage is the damage that can be done to your foundation. When water pools at the base of your walls, it can saturate the ground and seep into your foundation, causing leaks and cracks that cost thousands of dollars to repair.

So before you let heavy rain destroy your home, try some of these tips for cleaning your gutters.

What's the Best Way to Clean Gutters [infographic]

The Old-Fashioned Method

There's nothing like rolling up your sleeves and applying a little elbow grease. The old-fashioned method, which is one of the most effective methods, is to do it by hand. You'll need some protection, of course. First of all, don't actually roll up your sleeves. Wear long sleeves and pants and thick work gloves to protect your body. The gunk in your gutters is not just messy, it could be toxic. You don't really know what's going to be in your gutters. At the very least, you will find a mix of leaves, dirt, and dead bugs, all mixed into a decaying mush. You may also find dead animals, animal droppings, mold, or other materials that are hazardous to inhale. With any gutter cleaning method, we recommend protective gloves, goggles, and a mask to avoid inhaling toxic substances.

No matter how you clean your gutters, the most essential tool you need is a good extension ladder. Make sure that you always follow ladder safety procedures. It is crucial to set the base of the ladder on firm, even ground. Soft dirt, gravel, or wobbly landscaping stones are no good. If you can rest the bottom of the ladder on a paved surface, that's best. If not, make sure that your ladder is solidly resting on grass or whatever material you have, and that it won't sink or shift as you put weight on it. It's also a great idea to enlist a helper to hold the ladder and spot you. Your helper can also bring you your tools and pick up anything you drop, reducing the number of times you have to climb up and down.

Cleaning by Hand

To clean your gutters by hand, start by suiting up in all your protective gear. Next, you will need to gather a few tools.

In addition to a ladder, get a large bucket (maybe 5 gallons, but not bigger) to collect the goop you scoop out of the gutters. If you like, you can also get a tool to help you remove the gutter clutter, though your hands will work just fine, too. Use a plastic tool to avoid damaging the gutter. A small scooper, children's sand shovel, or old plastic spatula will all do the job. If you really want to be fancy, hardware and home improvement stores sell tools made just for scooping out junk from gutters. Finally, if you have landscaping under your gutters, you should lay a tarp on top of it to protect your flowers and bushes from falling debris.

Now that you have all your tools, you can get up on your ladder and go to work scooping out the goop in your gutters. Fill a bucket until it gets too heavy to carry, then empty it and start another. This method is labor-intensive, but it's a good way to make sure you remove everything.

Using a Blower to Clean Gutters

If you look around the internet for quick and easy gutter cleaning tricks, you are bound to run across a video of someone using a blower. They make it look like a magic wand, but the blower method has its drawbacks.

To use a blower to clean your gutters, you first need a blower. Typically, blowers are made for blowing loose leaves on the ground. Using one to blow leaves out of your gutters will take one of two things: either you build or buy an attachment to direct the airflow into the gutter from the ground, or you get a long extension cord and haul the blower up onto the roof.

The attachment method can be a bit tricky, especially if you are trying to build something yourself. Getting up on the roof is simpler, but can also be a safety hazard. Standing on your roof and walking along the edge with a blower in your hands can be dangerous. If you plan to do it, make sure you have a harness and know how to use it. The number one injury from gutter cleaning is accidental falls.

If you're using a blower, you probably won't get all of the debris out. Much of the debris is wet and sticky, and a typical leaf blower just doesn't have the power to blow that out. Still, you can get a lot out this way, which is an improvement over not doing it at all. Make sure that you are blowing the debris out of the gutter and not pushing it along the gutter in a growing pile. Eventually, that pile could reach your downspout and form a nasty clog. Cleaning a clogged downspout may require intervention from a professional with a long plumbers snake.

Using a Power Washer to Clean Gutters

Cleaning your gutters with a power washer is similar to cleaning them with a blower, but much more effective. A leaf blower, even with a narrow tip, can't pack nearly as much punch as a power washer. A power washer can spray a strong jet of water that will knock the gunk in your gutters right out. But there are a few concerns to be careful with if you plan to use a power washer on your gutters.

First, power washers can be really powerful. Never go full-blast on your first try. A power washer can strip paint at high enough pressures. Obviously, that kind of force would be catastrophic for your gutters. So start slow and ramp up the pressure until it is just enough to loosen the sludge in your gutters.

Second, no matter how clean it looks in videos people post online, clearing your gutters with a power washer will make a huge mess. Even with a steady hand and a well-directed flow, there will be plenty of splashback. Be prepared for muddy water on your roof, on your walls, and on the ground. Since you've already got a power washer on hand, plan on using it to clean your roof, walls, and patio after you use it on your gutters.

Like with a blower, you can use a tall, curved attachment that sends water up into your gutters, or you can get up on the roof. You can buy special hook-shaped wands for cleaning gutters, which we recommend. If you have to get up on the roof, either plan to use a harness or don't go at all.

Gutter Cleaning Robots

It sounds weird, but it's true. There really are gutter cleaning robots. Not so much of the C3PO type—more along the lines of a gutter-specific Roomba®. These robots look like small torpedoes. They are shaped to fit into your gutter and crawl along with a rotating propeller that scoops out the junk.

Unfortunately, the opinion of most professional gutter cleaners is that gutter cleaning robots just aren't quite good enough yet to take over. They don't have the power necessary to beat tough clogs and can be quite expensive for the minimal cleaning they can do. In short, stay away from gutter cleaning robots for now.

Professional Cleaning

The safest and most effective way to clean your gutters is to hire a professional. In addition to the benefit of not having to do the work yourself, there are a few great reasons to hire a pro. 

First, your gutters won't be damaged. Any method, even cleaning by hand, runs the risk of damaging your gutters or ripping them away from your roof. Professionals know how to work with all types of gutters and will be sure not to damage yours. 

Second, professionals don't just clean, they inspect. A professional cleaner can spot damage to your gutters that you might not notice. And they can guide you to the right repairs to avoid a more costly problem. 

Third, you don't put yourself in danger. This is really, really important. Injuries while cleaning gutters are unfortunately common. And when an injury is the result of a fall from a height, the damage can be severe. If you have any doubts about climbing a ladder or getting up on your roof, spare yourself a lot of trouble. Call in a professional.

If you're looking for an excellent professional gutter cleaning service in your area, try one of TrustDALE's certified gutter cleaning companies. They offer the best service, the best value, and the best warranties in the industry. And they are backed by Dale's $10,000 Make-It-Right™ Guarantee.