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How to Clean Gutters and Downpipes

Cleaning Gutters and Downpipes

The roof gutters that line the overhanging leaves are an essential part of your home’s roofing system, especially in climates that experience ample rainfall. If rain doesn’t flow properly through your home’s gutters and downpipes, they can overflow, and costly repairs can add up from water damage.


Along with the downpipes and extensions, the gutter system ensures the proper flow of water off the roof and away from the home’s foundation. When it rains, water runs off your roof into the gutters and flows to the downpipes to be carried away from the house. The gutter system helps protect against wood rot and failure at the roof fascia boards and siding and helps keep your basement or crawlspace dry by directing water away.


It can be easy for gutters and downpipes to become clogged with leaves and debris, so keeping them clean and flowing freely is essential. If they are in trees or bushes that hang directly over or close to your gutters, trimming these backs will prevent your gutters and downpipes from becoming too clogged with twigs and leaves. Clogging is more common at certain times of the year, such as in the spring when trees are casting seeds and in autumn when the leaves are falling.

Make the job easy will the necessary tools

Fortunately, cleaning gutters and downpipes is a relatively easy job, and cleaning them a couple of times each year should keep them flowing freely, but if you have a lot of overhanging trees nearby, you might have to clean more often.

This job does, however, involve working on a ladder. Make sure you have a sturdy extension ladder that is long enough to reach the edge of your roof and rests on safe level sturdy ground. Always follow safe practices when using a ladder and wherever possible, have someone with you, and wear thick gloves to protect your hands from the debris and sharp parts that may be hidden in the guttering.  Never over-reach while you’re on the ladder.  Moving the ladder every few minutes seems like extra work, but it’s the safest option. If your ladder is fastened together with screws and bolts, make sure all parts are tightened. When opening a step ladder, make sure the extension-hinge arms are fully extended and locked in place.

In addition to a sturdy and reliable ladder, here are some additional tools and materials that come in handy when cleaning your gutters and downpipes:


Tools and Materials:

  • Plastic bucket with wire handle
  • Leaf scooper
  • Garden hose
  • Plumber’s snake (if necessary)
  • Pair of heavy-duty work gloves

The first thing you need to decide is how you’re going to collect the leaves and other materials you remove from the gutters. The method will vary, depending on if the material in the gutters is damp and soggy, or loose and dry.


Collection Methods

If Gutter Contents Are Damp

Cleaning gutters is less messy when the contents are dry and loose, but sometimes you need to clean them while the debris is wet. When gutter contents are wet, you can either use what might be called the scoop and drop method or the gutter bucket method.

Scoop and Drop

The scoop and drop method involves scooping out the gutter and dropping the contents onto a plastic tarp or drop cloth lying on the ground below. This method is the fastest, and all you need to do is move the plastic tarp along the ground with you as you move the ladder. When the tarp gets full, just dump the leaves into your compost bin or trash bag. Your local council may also have a green waste deposit nearby or you can arrange for green waste collection.

Gutter Bucket

The gutter bucket method is very common and involves using a plastic bucket with a metal handle. Cut the handle in two at the center. Then, bend the ends of the handle halves into hook shapes that you then hook onto the edge of the gutter. Hang the bucket onto a hook and put the debris that is scooped out of the gutter You simply scoop out the debris from the gutter and empty it into the bucket. With this method, be ready to do a lot of climbing up and down the ladder to empty the bucket as you fill it.


If Gutter Contents Are Dry

When you have dry gutter contents, a better way to clean out and collect the dried leaves and sticks is the gutter bag method.

Gutter Bag Method

With the gutter bag method, take a plastic bucket and cut and bend the handle so it can be hooked over the edges of the gutters as you work. But here, you will also cut out the bottom of the bucket, creating a bottomless bucket.  Then, fasten a trash bag around the bucket just under the metal handle. You can fasten it tightly with a large rubber band, duct tape, or a large Velcro strap. As you scoop dry leaves into the bucket, they will funnel down into the trash bag. This method works well with dry leaves that are bulky but light, but it will not work with heavy, wet gutter debris.

Make sure not to overfill the bag so it is too heavy to easily carry down the ladder. Use good judgment with safety in mind whenever working on a ladder.



Cleaning Gutters

After you have chosen your bucket method to remove the leaves, and debris caught in the gutters, now it’s time to clean the gutters. You can use any number of things to scoop the contents out of a gutter and into your bucket. You can fabricate your own scooper from a plastic jug with a handle, but a trowel or garden spade works just as well. You can even use old kitchen tools, such as a spatula.  Work in short sections along the gutters, and don’t overreach. Keep your body upright and reach only as far as you can without leaning away from the ladder.

You will need to move the ladder frequently, but safety is critical here.


Note: Extension ladders are typically best when working along the edge of the roof and are the only option when working a two-story house. With a single-story house, you may be able to do this work on a tall stepladder. But whatever ladder you use, never climb above the top-level stipulated by the ladder manufacturer.


Clearing Downpipes

Once the roof gutters are cleared of debris, you need to make sure the downpipes are cleared. If your downpipes have horizontal extension pipes, remove these to clear the downpipes. Take a hose and place it into the downpipe from the top opening where the gutters feed into it. Have a helper turn on the water and check for downpipe flow. If the downpipe is clogged, clear it out. Try to use a hose with a pistol-grip trigger spray nozzle, which allows you to adjust the water pressure and can be turned off when not in use.

Here’s the steps on how to clear out your downpipes:

  1. Pack the downpipe opening around the hose with a rag, sealing the hose tight.
  2. Turn the water on wide open to create as much pressure as possible. Watch the end of the downpipe for the clog to clear.
  3. If the clog persists, remove the hose, and manually clear it using a plumbing snake. Feed the snake from the top of the downpipe until it hits the obstruction, which is usually at the point of a curve in the downpipe pipe.
  4. Once you think you have the downpipe cleared, test the flow by running water through it.
  5. If your downpipes have horizontal extension pipes, also check them for clogs and clear any obstructions you find.


Rinse and Repeat

After the gutters and downpipes have been cleaned out, rinse the system to flush it out and remove any remaining debris. Insert a hose into the gutter at the section furthest from the downpipe opening and turn on the water.

If the roof is not too high, you may be able to do this simply by spraying a stream of water up onto the roof near the end of the gutter. Let the water run for several minutes until the water flowing out of the downpipe is clear and free of debris.

Tip: A variety of screens, guards, caps, or “helmets” are available that can be installed into your gutters that will allow water to flow into the gutters while preventing leaves and other debris from entering. Some of these products are designed for DIY installation, while others must be installed by professionals. If you find it difficult to clean your gutters, consider installing gutter guards. The majority of gutter guards are extremely cost-effective, and they’ll quickly pay for themselves by preventing damage to your gutters and home, saving you a lot of work.* * *

Regular cleans mean fewer leaves and greens.

By doing regular cleans of your gutters and downpipes, you can avoid issues and further damage. Check out our cleaning checklist here, and if you need any advice on assistance, get in touch with us on 0488 097 697.


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