Safety & Health

Clean rain gutters safely

by WVU Extension Service Home Safety Experts Wayne Lundstrom and Mark Fullen

gutter The colorful leaves of fall can be beautiful to look at, but can also cause problems for homeowners. Leaves and other debris can clog rain gutters and may lead to home damage. WVU Safety and Health Extension experts offer tips to safely rid gutters of debris this fall.

Rain gutter basics

Your rain gutters serve a purpose—they protect your house, windows, doors, and foundation by collecting the rain water and leading it through its downspouts to prevent water damage and flooding.

In order for this process to occur properly, the rain gutters must be clear of all debris (leaves, sticks, bugs, etc.),
Proper maintenance will prevent gutters from corroding and pulling loose from their mountings.

Before you begin cleaning

To begin the cleaning process, always wear a pair of heavy gloves to protect hands from debris and sharp metal objects, like screws or sharp pieces of the gutter which may stick out or be buried in the debris.

Safety glasses or goggles should be worn to protect eyes from flying debris.

Below the gutter should be a drop cloth to capture the excess debris being removed.

Other supplies necessary to safely clean out a rain gutter include a

  • bucket,
  • gardening shovel or drain clearing tool,
  • and a pistol-grip nozzle for the hose.
rake Perhaps the most important tool of them all is a sturdy ladder which should be placed on a level, flat surface. Crawling out onto the roof is never recommended and is considered extremely dangerous. Remember, if using a step ladder never step on the top two rungs—the warning on the ladder is there for a reason.

If using an extension ladder always extend the ladder three rungs beyond the roof edge and secure the ladder from tipping with rope either at the top or at the base. If this is not practical, it’s a good idea to have another person help stabilize the ladder by holding it for you.

Cleaning

Now that you are equipped with the right clothing, equipment, and tools, you can begin by scooping out the loose debris. Use a gardening shovel or substitute tool, and placr the loose debris into the bucket. The bucket should be properly secured on the opposite side of your step ladder.

Start at the low end of a gutter near the drain outlet and work progressively away from it. Continue to scoop out the loose and/or damp debris until it is all cleared away. If there are any remaining fragments encrusted to the gutter, go back and scrap it loose.

After removing debris

Once everything is cleared out, it is now time to use the hose, with the pistol-grip nozzle. Using a pistol-grip nozzle allows one to control the amount of water pressure being used and works as an on/off button, too.

Spray the water away from your body, using the water to push the remaining debris out of the gutter, working toward the drain outlet. Keep an eye on the drain spout during this process; if the water is not freely flowing out of the drain spout, a blockage is indicated and should be removed by spraying the hose directly down the spout at full pressure. If this does not release the obstruction, a plumber’s “snake” can be used to knock the obstruction free.

Always remember that rain gutters should be cleaned at least twice a year, if not more if your house is located in an area where it is exposed to severe storms often. Rain gutters, as well as any other work that is completed on a ladder or roof, should never be completed during any kind or storm or weather in which ice or precipitation is possible.