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Gutter Cleaning Tips That Can Save Your Life

Cleaning out a building's gutters is a necessary annual task, but not heeding caution can cause personal injury and property damage.

November 07, 2012
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If more building owners and facilities managers knew the proper way to clean out their roof gutters, there would be fewer injuries and deaths and far less property damage.

Fall is the season when gutters are cleaned out in preparation for the rainy or snowy season ahead.

If the rainwater doesn’t flow properly through the gutter and downspout system, costly repairs can add up from rainwater damage or freezing.

It’s time to clean out those clogged gutters, and to do it safely.

According to Robert Lenney, inventor of the Gutterglove and a gutter cleaning expert, being properly educated in the art of gutter cleaning is key to a successful and safe cleaning experience.

“Cleaning out gutters is pretty easy as long as you know what you are doing,” replies Lenney. “Every time I hear of someone getting hurt from cleaning their gutters, it makes me cringe; it could most likely have been avoided had they followed proper cleaning procedures.”

There are a variety of gutter cleaning tips that can bring sanity into this tedious task.

Some of the basics detailed by Lenney are listed below.

  • Practice Ladder Safety

Always let someone know you will be using a ladder to work on your building’s roof or gutters.

Use a safe and sturdy ladder, preferably one with a small shelf strong enough to hold a five-gallon bucket to collect gutter debris, and make sure to secure the bucket with a lanyard.

A four-legged step ladder is good for a single-story structure, and an extension ladder is ideal for a two-story or taller facility.
An orchard ladder is not recommended because there are only three legs for support and they can become unbalanced.

A wooden ladder is also not recommended because they are often wobbly and difficult to safely balance.

Fiberglass ladders seem to be the sturdiest, but are also the heaviest.

If you are cleaning gutters for hours upon hours, muscle fatigue can set in from moving the heavy ladder numerous times.

If this is the case, you should try using an aluminum ladder, which is the second-choice option for strength and support.

Inspect the ladder for defects, dents or loose parts before climbing.

If your ladder is fastened together with screws and bolts, make sure all parts are tightened.

When opening up a step ladder, make sure the extension-hinge arms are fully extended and locked in place.

  • Utilize A Garden Hose

Use a garden hose with a pistol-grip trigger spray nozzle.

This type of spray nozzle allows you to adjust the water pressure with the use of just one hand.

A pistol-grip trigger spray nozzle can be easily hung over the front edge of the gutter while moving the ladder or while using a gutter scoop.

This type of spray nozzle can be purchased at any hardware store.

  • Get A Gutter Scoop

Scooping out the leafy debris seems to be the best overall method for cleaning out gutters.

An excellent tool for this job is a plastic scooping tool, which can be purchased at most hardware stores.

Plastic scooping tools are unique because the front scooping edge is very thin and forms itself to the bottom of the gutter trough, making it easy to scoop out even the toughest debris in any size gutter system. 

Stay away from using a metal scooping tool because the bottom of the gutter and seams can be damaged and scratched.

Scraping the bottom of a steel gutter can introduce areas to rust, and if the bottom of the gutter is already rusting, the rusting process could speed up.

  • Protect Your Hands

Gloves can help protect hands against dirty, rotting leaf debris that often contains bird, pigeon and squirrel droppings that are ridden with bacteria.

Gloves can also prevent painful cuts from the torn metal shards of an old, ragged gutter.

Cotton gloves can soak up dirty water that exposes skin to bacteria.

Leather gloves are not as maneuverable and tend to shrivel up when they dry after cleaning.

Rubber gloves can get poked or torn by metal shards in the gutter.

Thick, suede glove material is recommended because it is superior to cotton, thin leather or rubber gloves.

  • Protect Your Eyes

Eye protection is a must because one never knows what might fly out of the downspout when cleaning gutters.

People have experienced rats, birds, frogs, wasps and bees leaving at high speeds once they start removing a clog, and the last thing they want to have happen is an eye injury.

  • Clean Off The Roof

Rake or power wash all debris off the roof first.

Otherwise, the next rain will wash all the debris down into the clean gutter, clogging it up again.

Also, debris left on the roof can lead to water damming up in valleys, around the chimney or near heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, which can cause erosion and roof leaks over time.

  • Consider Rubber Shoes

If walking on the roof is necessary to perform gutter cleaning, it is good to use rubber-soled shoes.

Rubber soles tend to adhere best and prevent slip-and-fall incidents.

Rooftops tend to be moist in the morning, so it is best to walk on the roof after the sun is well up in the sky and has dried up all the moisture.

Late mornings or early afternoons are the best times to walk on a roof.

  • Unclog The Downspouts

Make sure the downspouts are clear.

After all the gutters are cleaned out, run the water hose down the downspout at full pressure.

If the water backs up out of the top, a clog is present.

Normally, it can be unclogged by tapping on the side of the downspout.

But, if that doesn’t work, the downspout and back need to be removed, and it should be flushed from the bottom.

If a clog is present and the downspout is connected to an underground drain, it is best to disconnect the bottom of the downspout from the underground drain.

Otherwise, the clog may move to the underground drain.

  • Schedule Semiannual Cleanings

Make sure your gutters are cleaned at least twice a year: Once in the fall and again in the spring.

One main reason for cleaning out gutters is to eliminate the possibility of water damage from rainwater runoff due to a clogged gutter.

Another reason is to reduce the possibility of rust corrosion.

Even though it may not rain during the summer, if there is debris in the steel gutters, the rusting process can speed up.

It’s difficult for rust to speed up with clean gutters.

The faster the rusting process, the sooner new gutters will be needed.

  • Be Mindful Of Power Line Hazards

When cleaning gutters around a power line cable that drops from the power pole to the roof of a building, conduct a visual inspection of the electrical cable where it connects to the roof.

This is to ensure that the protective wire insulation hasn’t rubbed off through years of wear-and-tear by weather and nearby trees.

If the cable appears to have damage, do not attempt to repair it; instead, call a licensed professional electrical contractor to fix it.

If it’s raining and there is an electrical wire problem, do not attempt to clean out the gutters until the wires are fixed; water is a dangerous conductor of electricity.

Whether it’s raining or not, it would be a good idea to have the electrical wiring repaired before cleaning out your gutters.

  • Invest In Gutter Guards

Using a quality gutter guard can eliminate the need for cleaning out gutters.

Consider carefully the manufacturer’s claims before purchasing a gutter protection system that keeps out leaves and pine needles because many promises are made that can’t be delivered.

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