When it comes to cleaning your gutters, guards and screens won't let you completely off the hook
The joys of homeownership may include a big backyard, cozy fireplace, or a mailbox with your name on it. But scooping out dirty gutters doesn't often fall on this list. Despite the inconvenience to your weekend schedule, gutter cleaning is a seasonal maintenance task that is satisfying to complete and will keep your home looking great for decades to come.
Fortunately, gutter guards and screens make maintaining your gutters much easier—requiring less frequent cleanings. Follow this guide for how to clean your gutters in six easy steps.
Time: 1 to 2 days
Extension ladder with stabilizing arms
Screwdriver or cordless drill
Tarp or plastic sheet (optional)
Cleaning solution (optional)
Wet-dry vacuum (optional)
Leaf blower with attachments for clearing lawn debris (optional)
Power washer (optional)
Note: This is an advanced DIY project, which requires additional care. Unless you are comfortable climbing up a ladder or on a roof, consider calling in a professional gutter cleaning service.
Why Gutter Cleaning Matters
As a homeowner, with a lot on your plate and plenty of home maintenance tasks to attend to, it can be easy to forget about gutter cleaning. But you should move gutter maintenance to the top of your seasonal to-do list because regular cleaning helps maintain the visual appeal of your home’s exterior while protecting it from damage and decay.
Know What Kind of Gutter Guard You Have
Not all gutter guards and screens are created equal, which means that some types allow more debris to enter your gutters and downspouts than others.
Basic gutter guards usually look like chicken wire or a flat colander. Though they serve their purpose, they can easily let smaller particles enter your gutters, which can lead to a build-up of debris over time. In addition, because of the larger spacing between the grids, these guards allow a significant amount of rain, snow, or ice to pass through, making them more likely to overflow.
Micromesh guards, on the other hand, have a much tighter grid pattern. They’re usually made of surgical stainless steel and do a superb job withstanding even the harshest elements. These guards rarely overflow, and they’re rockstars when it comes to filtering out even small debris particles, though you can expect to pay a pretty penny for premium gutter guards. While basic guards and screens start at around $5 per square foot, higher-end micromesh can run anywhere from $18 to $20 per square foot.
The kind of gutter guards you have will strongly affect how often you need to maintain them. The more basic, chicken-wire type of gutter screen generally requires cleaning once or twice a year. With a micromesh screen, you may be able to extend the time between cleanings to every two years or so.
However, if you have trees near your roof, you’ll need to clean your gutters more frequently, especially if you have the chicken-wire or colander-type gutter guards. If you have pine trees near your roof, you may even need to clean your gutters quarterly, as pine trees love to shed and those little pine needles can get through almost anything.
How to Clean Gutters with Gutter Guards
You should only attempt to clean gutters with gutter guards if you are comfortable and experienced in working with heights. If your home has more than a single story, you may want to consider calling in a professional for the job.
If you’re comfortable with heights and want to give it a go, here’s what you’ll need to do:
1. Get an Assistant
This is a job you don’t want to tackle alone. For safety, you should have someone with you anytime you are working on a ladder or roof. They’ll need to stay close to secure the ladder, hand your tools to you, collect the gutter guards as you remove them, and empty debris from the bucket as you clean.
If you are using a ladder rather than cleaning from the ground, make sure that it is a sturdy extension ladder with stabilizing arms rather than a step ladder. This will decrease the risk of the ladder wobbling.
2. Remove the Gutter Guards
Using a screwdriver or cordless drill, remove your gutter guards per the manufacturer’s instructions. Take care in this process, as your guards may break or crack when being dislodged from the guttering.
3. Scoop Out Loose Debris
Once the guards are removed, it’s time for cleaning to commence. The first step is to clear out any loose debris from the gutter. You can probably do this part with gloved hands and a scoop. Smaller chunks and clumps can be emptied into a sturdy bucket to avoid a messy clean-up.
Larger chunks of debris can be dropped onto a piece of tarp or plastic sheeting placed on the ground beneath you. Your assistant should periodically empty your debris bucket to ensure it doesn’t become so heavy that it interferes with your balance while working on the ladder or roof.
4. Dislodge Clogged and Sticky Material
Once you’ve collected the loose debris, it’s time to get to work on clogs and other build-up that may be more difficult to dislodge. In this case, you might try a scraper or spatula to help you clear those stubborn materials.
If you need a bit of extra firepower to clear those gutters, then you have a number of options, including a garden hose, wet-dry vacuum, leaf blower with specialty nozzles for clearing lawn debris, or a power washer.
Ideally, power washers should only be used when you are cleaning the gutters from the ground rather than from a ladder. Extension handles can usually be purchased for these tools to allow you to clean first-story gutters from the ground.
When you can’t clean from the ground, it’s much safer to work by hand with a shovel, bucket, and scraper.
5. Rinse Gutters and Downspouts
Once you’ve finished cleaning, thoroughly rinse your gutters and downspouts using a garden hose. This will not only help clear any remaining debris, but will also help you find any clumps or clogs you might have missed.
6.Inspect and Replace Gutter Guards
Now that your gutters and downspouts are all clean and rinsed, you should thoroughly inspect your gutter guards. Replace any segments that show signs of cracking, splitting, warping, or breakage. Also, give your guards a good cleaning. Clear away any waste with your water hose, a scraper, or a bristle brush.
Once your guards are clean and any worn segments have been replaced, it’s time to reinstall them. A cordless drill will make the process faster and more secure but refer to your manufacturer's instructions to verify installation instructions and tool recommendations. After you’ve reinstalled your guards, check for any leaks or gaps using your water hose.
When to Call in a Pro
Some gutter systems may require a seasoned pro to handle the cleaning and guard reinstallation. It’s an especially good idea to call in a professional gutter cleaning service if:
your gutters are installed two stories or higher above the ground.
your gutter guards or guttering are in poor condition, including significant breaks, leaks, and gaps.
you have a complex guttering system with difficult-to-reach areas, steep slopes, or high peaks.
The cost to clean your gutters can vary widely, depending on the size of your home, the condition of the gutters, and the amount of time between cleanings. On average, gutter-cleaning costs range from $118 to $224. Since your gutters have guards, you will have less debris in your gutters and downspouts, which can reduce the cost of professional cleaning. However, the time needed to remove and then replace the screens may offset those potential savings.