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How To Clean Rain Gutters and Downspouts

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Cleaning rain gutters requires working either on a ladder or from the roof. If you are not comfortable doing this, or have a two story home, we encourage you to hire a professional.

The two methods for cleaning out rain gutters are to scoop out debris or to use a leaf blower to blow out debris. I have a nearly flat roof on a one story house and so I stand on the roof and blast out the gutters with a leaf blower. It goes quickly but makes a mess everywhere. I put a tarp on the ground to catch the debris in places where I can't easily use a leaf blower for clean up later. I also wear a breath mask and goggles because of all the flying debris. Of course this has risks, standing on the edge of a roof, with either a heavy, gas powered leaf blower or an electric model with a cord as a trip hazard both require careful attention to safety at all times.

If you choose to scoop out the gutters, I recommend buying one of those specialty plastic scoops designed to fit inside a rain gutter. It makes it much easier than using your hands or a small garden shovel that doesn't quite fit. To keep the mess down, you can scoop into a bucket suspended from your ladder. Also, wear gloves; gutters have many sharp edges and screws poking out in places.

Step ladders are preferable to extension ladders because extension ladders must lean against the house which can easily dent and damage gutters. Be sure to use a ladder that is tall enough so that you don't have to stand on either of the top two steps.

After you have finished clearing the debris, it is a good idea to wash out the dirt and small debris you can't get on the first pass. I recommend using a hose with pressure nozzle that you can turn on and off at the usage end. Wash out all the gutters and make sure the downspouts are clear as well. If a downspout is clogged, you can use the hose (with the nozzle removed to avoid it getting stuck) by slipping the hose down the spout until you push out the clog.

While running water through the gutters, keep an eye out for leaks. This is the easiest time to fix rain gutters. You don't want to wait until rainy season to make repairs.

Next, make sure that every downspout has a catch basin under it, at the very least. The basin should be positioned so that it directs water away from the building. Better yet, connect drain pipe to the bottom of the downspouts to carry the water even farther from the building.

Now that you have completed this chore, you may be looking for a way to avoid it in the future. You might be considering whether those leaf shields that install on top of gutters will help. Some of them work reasonably well, but not completely. Also, some brands fit poorly on some gutters, making them nearly worthless. If you decide to try a leaf shield, test it first to make sure that it fits well on your particular gutters. Also, even with the shields, smaller debris still needs to be cleaned out each season.

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