Follow safety guidelines and use the right tools when cleaning gutters.

Follow safety guidelines and use the right tools when cleaning gutters. Credit: Getty Images/TNS/fotografixx

Cleaning gutters is an essential task that helps ward off damage to your foundation, leaks and other serious issues. Although clearing debris from your gutters seems straightforward, this chore can be dangerous if it's not done properly, especially since you'll likely be working on top of a ladder. It's even riskier if your home has a tall roof or if you've never done the job before.

To avoid costly errors and unsafe situations, there are several gutter-cleaning rules homeowners should take care to follow.

Clean gutters often

One of the most common gutter maintenance mistakes homeowners make is simply not cleaning them as frequently as they should, according to Chris Counahan, president of LeafFilter Gutter Protection. At least twice a year is the typical recommendation, but depending on your landscape, more frequent cleanings could be necessary.

"For example, if your house is surrounded by trees, you'll need to tend to your gutters more than twice a year since your gutters are exposed to more debris and leaves," he says. 

Choose the right time

Timing is also important to ensure your drainage system works properly when needed. Plan to clean gutters ahead of periods when severe weather is common in your area. For many places, that means cleaning gutters every spring and fall in preparation for summer storms and harsh winter weather.

Wear protective gear

You don't want to reach into a clump of dirty, rotting leaves barehanded. Wear heavy-duty work gloves to keep hands clean and protect yourself from any sharp objects that could be hidden in the debris. Additionally, rubber-soled shoes with good traction can help ward off slips on the ladder. And don't forget protective eyewear.

Follow ladder safety

A fall from a ladder can result in serious injury or even death, so proper safety measures are crucial when cleaning gutters. Inspect the ladder carefully before use, and ensure the base has secure, even footing before climbing. If possible, have someone hold the bottom of the ladder for stability. If you don't have a helper, let  another person know that you will be using a ladder in case an accident occurs.

While you're up on the ladder, aim to keep your hips between the side rails to maintain your balance and avoid overreaching. "Always move the ladder to a new spot, instead of reaching farther down your gutters, to avoid potential falls," Counahan says.

Use the right tools

Scooping leaves and debris out of gutters with gloved hands can be effective, but certain tools can make the job much easier. For example, a shop vacuum outfitted with a gutter-cleaning attachment can help quickly clear out light gutter debris, such as leaves or pine needles. For heavier buildup, some homeowners prefer to use a pressure washer to blast grime out of their gutters. However, if you can't operate the tool safely, it's best to clean your gutters by hand or call in a professional to handle the job.

Install gutter guards

Make cleaning easier by preventing debris from clogging up your gutters in the first place. Often made of perforated metal or mesh, gutter guards catch leaves, tree droppings and other debris while allowing water to flow freely through the home's drainage system. If you live in an area with a lot of trees, or if you tend to neglect gutter cleaning, gutter guards can be a worthwhile investment.

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