How to Clean and Repair Gutters

By: Jerri Farris

Using a garden trowel to clean gutters

Maintaining gutters and downspouts is one of the most often overlooked jobs around the house. It is also one of the most important, since clogged or leaking gutters can quickly lead to rotten fascia boards, peeling paint, or worse.

Importance of Gutters

While it might be tempting to do away with your gutters all together, they serve an important function in areas that receive more than 15” to 20” of rain a year. Gutters direct water away from the house to protect your siding, foundation, and landscaping. Without them, siding can rot, basements flood, and flower beds erode.

Gutter Guards

Though gutter guards allow you to go longer between cleanings, they’re far from foolproof and need to be checked periodically. Pine straw and leaves can become lodged in them, and smaller debris can still filter through to cause big problems. Shielding gutters doesn’t prevent leaks or keep hangers from working loose either.

Using a homemade scoop from an antifreeze jug to clean gutters

Cleaning Gutters

To clean gutters, you’ll need a ladder, a garden trowel (or scoop made from an antifreeze container), bucket lined with a trash bag, a hose, and a rag. If you encounter serious clogs, you may also need a plumber’s snake.

After you have removed any gutter guards, use the trowel to scoop leaves and debris from the gutter into the bucket.

Add the collected material to a compost pile if you have one, or dispose of it with other lawn debris.

Once the gutters have been cleaned, check the downspouts for clogs by inserting a hose with a rag wrapped around it so that water will be directed through them.

Using a garden hose to clear clogs in a downspout

Have your helper turn the water on full force, and check to make sure it is flowing freely from the end of the downspout.

If a downspout has a clog that can’t be cleared with water pressure, use the plumber’s snake to break it up, then use the hose to flush out any remaining debris.

Using a plumber's snake to clear a clog in a downspout

As a last resort, disassemble the downspout and remove the clog. Once the downspout is running freely, start at the far end of the run and rinse the gutter thoroughly with the hose.

Inspection and Repair

After they are clean, inspect and repair the gutters and downspouts as necessary. Make sure all hangers are securely fastened, and use a carpenter’s level to check that the gutters have the proper slope and are not holding water. They should slant down toward the downspouts about 1/4” every 10’.

Using level to check slope on gutter

If a section sags, snap a chalk line on the fascia, and remove the hangers in the area.

Using chalk line to hang gutters

Measuring from the chalk line, lift the gutter up and reposition the hangers to hold it in place. Water is heavy, and gutters should have a hanger every 2’ as well as within 1’ of any seams.

Now that your gutters are secure and have the correct slope, check them for leaks by running water through them with a hose. Mark any leaks and allow the gutter to dry out thoroughly before patching them with gutter sealant.

Tube of gutter sealant for sealing joints in gutters

Caulking or roofing cement can also be used, and specially formulated self-sticking patches are available to cover damaged areas.

If sealing a joint in the gutter or downspout doesn’t stop the leak, disassemble the joint if possible, clean the two parts, and put them back together using sealant.

Loose joint in gutter

Now that your gutters are in tip top shape, check them from time to time while it is raining. If water is spilling over the edges or not running freely from the downspouts, make a note to clean them again as soon as possible.

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16 Comments on “How to Clean and Repair Gutters”

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  • Kody Loveless Says:
    July 8th, 2016 at 11:24 am

    I think I could manage the cleaning on my own but I would have no idea how to get the angle right. I think I will need to call someone for that job. I am not the most handy person on the planet. Plus I am a little afraid of heights.



  • Christina Says:
    August 7th, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    My gutters run the length of my houme which is approximately 70 feet long. There is only 1 downspout on each gutter. The water drains great on on half of the gutters but collects on the other half. I have tried adjusting the drop and it lasts for about 2 or 3 heavy rains and then begins to start collecting again. I am a single mom on a limited budget and as much as I can on my own. What can I do to fix this with out spending a ton of money or hiring a contractor?



  • cynthia Says:
    May 28th, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    I would go to the installing company and insist that they refund your money, remove the guards and pay someone to clean them



  • helen blair Says:
    June 24th, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I had gutter guards put on. My basement has been waterproofed for years. shortly after I had them put on my basement started leaking in 2 different spots. What can I do?



  • Bob Chandler Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Mr. Lipford I have a house with a hip roof with a very steep roof. Imposable to climb up on. Can your Pvc tool be fitted with air to blow out debrie instead of water?



  • Norman Smith Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    I just climb up onto the roof with an electric leafblower…start at one end and blast those leaves out. Go up one side and down the other. Very easy and takes about 10 minutes. Moving a ladder around the house and cleaning by hand is definitely for the birds!



  • Adam Raiter Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    I use the same gutter cleaning company since they started. You are right, they are the best in the area. Very honest people. Are they cleaning gutters in Maryland now ?



  • Heather Says:
    January 12th, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    I actually installed a gutter guard system myself. It is a stainless steel mesh guard called Gutterglove Gutterguard. I was shocked with how easy it was to install. It lets nothing through it but water, so we never have to clean it. I love having it on my home because now I know there will be no damage to it from clogged overflowing guttters and my husband and i never have to take the time to clean it. I found it at http://www.gutterglove.com. Well worth the investment!


  • Official Comment:


    Julie Day Says:
    November 24th, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Thanks for the informative article, Jerri! I found that one of my garden tools works wonders with cleaning gutters. It’s an inexpensive garden cultivator, with a head like a small hoe (but narrow enough to fit in the gutter), and a handle that telescopes from about 2 feet to 4 feet. It allows me to safely reach a little farther, reducing the number of times I have to move the ladder!



  • Paul Says:
    November 21st, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    I puschased gaurds from Home Depot that have a screen over the mesh. They claim they repel pine needles. So far, they have been doing an excellent job. I ordered a few on line from H.D., they did not come with the screen, luckily I have no pine trees in the back, plus I only needed three of them.



  • Howard Prescott Says:
    November 20th, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Sang Le, I agree that some gutter guards really don’t work well. I installed Gutter Helmet a while back and haven’t had any trouble with leaves or pine needles. Anyone else have experience with gutter covers?


  • Official Comment:


    Ben Erickson Says:
    November 18th, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Sang Le,
    Traditional mesh type gutters guards work much better for leaves than pine needles, which tend to fall point down and get stuck in them. There are some solid types of gutter guard you might look into, that work better with pine needles.



  • Sang Le Says:
    November 17th, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    We have 2 VERY large pine trees, one in the front and one in the back of the house. Unfortunately, our gutters are suffering from the pine neddles from these pine trees. We were thinking about having some type of gutter guard. Do you have any suggestions?
    Thank you!



  • Ted Sullivan Says:
    November 15th, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    I have a hole in my gutter Is there a company that make a patch so that i can repair the hole without replacing the gutter thanks Ted


  • Official Comment:


    Ben Erickson Says:
    September 25th, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Donna,
    Gutters are usually installed flush against the fascia with enough roof overhang so that the water drains into them. If the gutters can’t be moved back, perhaps the roof could be extended outward by sliding a sheet metal drip strip under the roofing. This is a problem that definitely needs to be corrected before it begins to rot the fascia boards.



  • Donna Says:
    September 16th, 2007 at 10:04 am

    Hi, I recently had vinyl gutters installed and there is a space between the facia and the back of the gutter and now water is coming down the facia and not going into the gutter. Is there something that I can put under the roof line to “help” the water into the gutter or should I use some type of caulk to seal that area?
    Any help you can provide would be greatly appriciated.

    Also, I had a friend install them, so … in an effort to same some money, I’ve now got another problem.
    thanks
    Donna


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