Keeping gutters clean and in good condition is an important part of home ownership. When working properly, the gutter system works to channel water away from your home’s roof and foundation and keeps your home dry and structurally sound. As gutters fill up with leaves and other debris, gutters can stop working as intended, leaving your home vulnerable to significant damage.

We often hear of homeowners who decided to take on the chore of cleaning out their gutters only to end up in traction later. While this statement may be a bit “tongue in cheek,” the fact is that there are far too many accidents each year that are the result of falls from a ladder while performing basic, routine home maintenance.

Falls, By the Numbers

The entire month of March was dedicated to Ladder Safety Month, the first official campaign to bring the risk of falls from a ladder to the forefront. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 500,000 people every year are treated for injuries received in ladder-related accidents and about 300 of these incidents result in death. Of this number, 97% take place at home.

These statistics tell us that a lot of homeowners are venturing up on their roofs to inspect, clean or make repairs, only to find they really should have just left these chores to a professional. Your home’s gutters will require routine maintenance – at least two times every year – which can set up the perfect scenario for fall-related accidents or injuries.

Remove the Risk by Knowing the Proper Way to Clean Gutters

If you do feel up to the challenge of cleaning and maintaining your home’s gutters on your own, knowing the proper way to do it can really cut down the risks involved. Cleaning gutters is definitely not rocket science, but here are some recommended, proper cleaning procedures you should know.

  1. Practice ladder safety. You may think that we already covered this by sharing the alarming statistics associated with ladders and falls, but there are actually several things you should keep in mind anytime you think about climbing a ladder.

    First, let someone else know you’ll be working on that ladder or on your roof. If possible, ask them to remain on the ground and within your line of sight. They can also assist by keeping the ladder secure as you ascend or descend the roof.

    Second, make sure your ladder is sturdy and in good condition. All nuts, bolts and extension arms should be tight and securely in place before you set foot on the ladder. When you move or reposition the ladder as you perform your work, always be sure it is seated firmly and not wobbly or unbalanced. Setting a ladder on landscaping rocks, mulch, or wet soil can cause a ladder to unexpectedly shift and that is dangerous.

  2. Organize tools at hand. Before you climb up to your roof, you’ll want to be sure you have all the tools you’ll need to get the job done to minimize trips up and down the ladder (which can cause fatigue). For example, you’ll likely want to have a bucket that can hold at least 5 gallons of debris. Securing this bucket with a rope or lanyard is also a good idea so it doesn’t accidentally slide or fall from the roof and injure those below.

    Prepare a garden hose by attaching a high-pressure nozzle, ensuring you have enough hose length to reach all areas of your roof. A nozzle that can be engaged with the squeeze of one hand is ideal, leaving your other hand free to help you maintain balance or manipulate other tools to remove debris.

    One of the most effective ways to remove debris from your gutters is by using a plastic scooping tool, or a gutter scoop, available online or at most home improvement stores. Don’t be tempted to use metal tools that could potentially scrape and damage the bottom of your gutters. This can accelerate rust and deterioration or cause seams to become damaged and leak.

  3. Wear personal protective safety gear to perform gutter debris cleaning work. You’ll want to be sure to wear sturdy, water-repellent gloves as a barrier for your hands. You’ll be coming in contact with rotting leaves, potential mold and other bacteria-laden materials on your roof, including bird and animal droppings. Gloves can also prevent cuts and scrapes from gutters, which often develop sharp edges from wear and tear.Eye protection is also recommended when cleaning out your gutters. Aside from dirty, moist materials that might get in your eyes, it is also common for critters to hide in gutter debris. No one wants to come eye-to-eye with birds, reptiles or stinging insects while perched on a ladder or roof.

    If you don’t have rubber-soled shoes, now would be a good time to invest in a pair. Not only do they grip well while walking on potentially damp shingles, but they also keep your feet nice and dry while spraying water or removing the wet debris.

  4. Shocking Dangers. In this case, we are talking about power lines and the dangers they present are indeed shocking. It is common for electrical power lines to fray or become worn over time and if you see any evidence of this problem while you are inspecting your roof or gutter system, don’t try to repair it yourself. Water and electricity don’t mix. You should delay any work you had planned to clean out the gutters until professionals take care of these wiring concerns.
  5. Get to work. It is a good idea to rake, or power wash all loose debris from the roof first so that it doesn’t simply wash back into and clog your freshly cleaned gutters in the next rainstorm. Start from top and work your way toward the roof’s edges.Once the roof is cleared, take a moment to inspect all downspouts to ensure they aren’t clogged. You’ll know they are plugged if water backs up when you run a water hose into the downspout at full pressure. The recommended way to remove blockages in the downspout is to simply tap on the side, or if necessary, remove the downspout to access and remove the blockage. If you decide to try to flush the clog with water, always force water from the bottom up, rather than top down, to prevent washing the debris into any underground drains that may be in place.

    Finally, scoop or remove all debris that has landed in the gutters. Containing it in that 5-gallon bucket or allowing it to drop down onto a pre-positioned tarp or protective plastic barrier can help make ground clean up much easier. Give everything a final rinse and inspection to make sure water is flowing, and there are no leaks or other areas in need of repair.

  6. Inspect for Damage. While you are up there cleaning out those gutters, you’ll get a good perspective on their condition and may find areas in need of repair or replacement. If you see extensive rust, holes, signs of gutters sagging or tearing away from your home, you may need more than a simple cleaning. Best to address these issues now, before they become larger issues that can impact the integrity of your home’s roof or foundation.

Cleaning gutters is a dirty job, and one that can be time-consuming and dangerous if you aren’t up to the task. Taking simple precautions, making sure you have the right tools and performing the necessary cleaning procedures to keep your gutters flowing freely is something many homeowners can do on their own. If this is more than you are able or willing to take on, don’t hesitate to leave it to the pros who not only have the tools and physical ability, but also the experience, to make sure the job is done thoroughly and safely.

In Central and Northern New Jersey, call Alte Exteriors, an accredited, A+ rated Better Business Bureau company with a Google five-star rating. As one of the top 3% of GAF-certified roofing contractors in the United States, Alte Exteriors is uniquely qualified to make sure your home’s roof and gutter system is in top-notch condition, sending roofing pros who are ready to handle the messy, dangerous job of semi- annual maintenance and cleaning so you don’t have to. Contact Alte Exteriors today.