How to Clean Your Gutters and Leaders


The majority of homeowners will need to clean their gutters and leaders periodically, to ensure that they function properly and continue to manage the rainwater properly off the roofs of your home.

The gutters are the rainwater collection assemblies located along the eaves of the home, where the rainwater flows. The leaders are the vertical downspouts that channel the water from the gutters to the ground, or into another type of storm water collection system.

Here are a few guidelines and suggestions for the homeowner, regarding this maintenance chore.

The most important aspect of cleaning gutters and leaders is the necessity to access both the gutters and leaders with a ladder. If you have any issues regarding heights or the climbing of ladders, do not pursue this activity. It is much better in regards to safety and financially more responsible, to hire a handyman or a specialty contractor to perform this work.

When accessing the gutters and the leaders, make sure that you are using a ladder that is of the proper length. Do not use an 8 foot step ladder to access a gutter that is 12 feet high. This will require you to stand on the top of the step ladder, or too far up the ladder to be safe. The ladder should be long enough to allow you to comfortably stand on the ladder no more than 2/3’s of the way up, if a step ladder, or with at least 4 feet of ladder above your head, if a standard ladder.

The best type of ladder to use when cleaning gutters and leaders is to use a ladder with proper standoffs. A ladder standoff is an attachment to a standard ladder, which is shaped to allow the ladder to stand off from the side of a structure. The ladder standoff is mounted on the interior side of the ladder, and has two legs that hold the ladder off of the building. By projecting the ladder away from the wall surface, the access to the gutters is easy because the ladder is capable of by-passing the outside of the actual gutter. This is also safer, due to the added stability of the ladder standoffs, as opposed to the bearing of the ladder directly on the exterior surface of the gutter. The possibility of ladder slippage is further reduced.

A safety man is recommended when using a standard ladder. This safety man should stand directly at the bottom of the ladder to prevent the bottom of the ladder from slipping out. A ladder that is not properly pitched applies to much horizontal force at the bottom and will have a tendency to slip out. A properly pitched ladder is one that has the majority of the load from the ladder and the user of the ladder, directed almost vertically into the ground. However, there is a compromise to this position, due to the stability of the individual that is using the ladder. If the ladder is too steeply pitched, the user of the ladder will feel the tendency to fall backward off the ladder. The angle or pitch must be a compromise between ensuring that the majority of the loading is vertical into the ground and the user of the ladder is safe and comfortable working on the ladder.

Personal safety equipment should be worn at all times when cleaning your gutters and leaders. Gloves as well as either a face shield or goggles should be worn to prevent any particles from the gutter and leader cleaning from cutting into your hands or getting into your eyes. In addition, long sleeves are recommended to prevent cuts or bruises on your arms.

Care must be taken when accessing the gutters and leaders that are adjacent to the electrical service to the home. It is essential that the ladder and all items being used to clean the gutters and leaders do not touch the wires or any of the electrical apparatus that makes up the service into the home. This is IMPORTANT and can cause extreme damage and injury if the electrical service is compromised by touching, cutting, or interfered with, due to an overly aggressive gutter cleaner.

The use of a power or pressure washer is recommended. The washer should be positioned directly alongside the base of the ladder, and the washer hose must be long enough to easily and safely reach the gutter elevation, with room to maneuver the hose. If a power washer is used, the pressure of the water should be at a minimum and the flow at a maximum. Care must be taken to ensure that the pressure of the water does not interfere with your stability on the ladder. It is important to realize that the operation of the washer wand from a pressure washer will cause recoil that the operator must be aware of.

If a power washer is unavailable, the use of a water hose is recommended. The water hose pressure will allow you to move the material in the gutter, down the gutter into the Again, like the power washer, there is some degree of instability when using a water hose. Care should be taken to ensure the hose is of a proper and comfortable length, and the water pressure is controlled. It is best to use a pressure nozzle at the end of the water hose to properly control the flow of the water.

If there is leaf guards installed on the tops of the gutters, these leaf guards must be either lifted up or removed for proper cleaning. However, the presence of leaf guards may substantially reduce the need to clean the gutters at all. In that case, you don’t have to continue reading this webpage!

Assuming that there are no leaf guards, it is recommended that the initial operation of cleaning the gutters includes the simple hand removal of debris, which has accumulated within the gutter itself. If the gutters are filled with a lot of material, simple removal is accomplished by grasping the material with your hands and either dropping it down to the ground or filling a plastic 5 gallon pail, that you have secured to the top of your ladder. No matter how the material is removed, you must be cognizant of the ladder slipping or you falling from the ladder. Work slowly and with purpose, do not rush or over reach. This is extremely important that you do not attempt to over reach, for a spot in the gutter that you are not comfortable accessing. Remember, it is much safer to simply move the ladder, than to over reach!

Depending upon the actual situation, the use of a long handled small broom or rake is a handy tool to have, when cleaning the gutters. If you can safely maneuver a long handled rake, then the use of the rake as a pulling tool will allow you to accumulate the debris in the gutter into a pile. This will allow you to safely access a longer horizontal run of gutter, than with only the stretch of your arm. The use of a 5 gallon pail that is attached to the top of the ladder will allow you to deposit the material into this 5 gallon pail, as opposed to dropping it off the side of the ladder. The technique of dropping the material off the sides of the ladder, will add another cleaning process to the chore of cleaning the

The use of a wire brush to scrub the interior of the gutters will enable the water and the resultant future debris, to more easily slide down the gutter into the leader. The entire operation of the gutter system is to have the system properly pitched towards the leaders, and to minimize the friction within the gutter system, allowing the water and the debris to more easily slide or flow down the gutter

If the gutter system is rusted or deteriorated, once clean, an application of paint or another sealant by spraying or even brushing is recommended. There are special rubberized products, that can be purchased in spray cans or regular cans, which will coat the interior of the gutter system, improving the flow of the water and debris, as well as protecting the gutter from future deterioration.

When accessing the gutters, the supports of the gutters at all locations should be visually analyzed. In many instances the gutter systems are simply nailed into the sides of the eave trim boards, or there are straps that connect the gutter system to the top of the roof edge. These physical connections should be checked for periodic maintenance. You are already up on the ladder, it is best to ensure stability of the systems while you are in the air. In most cases another screw or nail is all that is necessary to stabilize the system. Care must be taken when using a hammer or screw gun on a ladder.

The leaders should be cleaned by moving the ladder to over the top of the intersection of the gutter system and the leader. The gutters should be pitched to the open top end of the leaders. Position the ladder, to enable you to shoot the water, from the power washer or the hose directly down into the leader. It is best if the leader can be almost pressure washed from the top. Watch the flow of the water, and determine if the leader is leaking at any joint or transfer point of the leader. If the leader is leaking, a simply application of silicon caulk or sealer, should stop the leak. With the water flowing, find out where the leader discharge is located. Once the leader discharge is identified, watch that a steady and consistent stream of water is exiting the end of the leader. The water should be flowing consistently and evenly. In addition to a constant flow of water, the water should be clean and not full of debris or dirt. The intent of cleaning the leaders is to ensure that the water entering the top of the leader is not interfered with, by obstacles or issues within the leader Continue the cleaning process until the water is flowing cleanly.

As a final step, remove the ladder from the area of the gutter, and clean the area around the gutter cleaning process. Dependent upon the surface involved, grass, asphalt, concrete, the washing of any hard surfaces, is recommended, to complete the project. Leave the entire area clean and neat. This will inspire you to return to the gutter and leader cleaning task in a better mood and state of mind, if the area is left cleaned up and neat.

Gutter and leader cleaning is totally dependent upon the environment around the home. If the home is not surrounded by trees, then the dirt and debris will be minimal entering the gutters and the leaders. However, if the home is surrounded by foliage or large trees, then the gutter and leader cleaning becomes a much larger concern.

If the gutters and leaders are not free flowing, the water can freeze in the gutters and leaders, or simply back up, causing issues in the home, or along and down the perimeter façade of the house.

The biggest challenge for homeowners cleaning their own gutters and leaders is the potential danger. Be extremely careful when reaching and cleaning the gutters and leaders, especially if you are intimidated by heights. Remember there are plenty of professional services available that can be hired on a scheduled basis, to keep the gutters and leaders of your home clean.