How to clean gutters — with or without a ladder

A gutter filled with yellowing leaves on a house
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Knowing how to clean gutters the right way can make the task a whole lot easier. Cleaning out the gutters is no one's favorite chore — it’s gross, time-consuming and often dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions. However, this job can’t be ignored; if you fail to clean your gutters, eventually the leaves and any debris will clump and clog your gutters. This doesn’t sound so bad, but it really is; water can overflow and run down your walls, leading to floods, damp walls and even foundation damage. Add to that, any standing water will freeze once the temperature drops, which adds an excess of weight to the gutter — so much so that it can give way. So, it’s essential that you take care of this chore, one way or another. 

Whether you’re new to cleaning out the gutters or you’re well-versed, we've pulled together a guide to take you through the best methods and tips to follow. This includes how to clean the gutters without a ladder, should you dread that aspect of the process, or struggle in terms of accessibility. We will take you through the process step-by-step and answer any questions you might have along the way. Without further ado, here’s how to clean gutters.

How to clean gutters with a ladder 

What you'll need

Step ladder or extension ladder

Plastic scoop

Bucket

Gloves

Second person

Hose

1. Choose the right weather — First of all, make sure you pick the right day for this chore. You don’t want to do it if it’s recently rained, otherwise the leaves will be damp and more awkward to remove. Wait until they’ve had a chance to dry. 

2. Choose the right tools for the job — Your ladder should be solid, sturdy and sufficient, offering plenty of reach with adequate height. Depending on the height of the building, you could use a step ladder, however if you can’t access your gutters easily from this, an extension ladder will be necessary.  

A man in a red shirt and jeans up an extension ladder cleaning the gutters

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

You’re also going to need a sizable bucket to collect the debris, a pair of strong rubber gloves (check out our best gardening gloves list for guidance) and a small plastic spade which will fit into your gutters. Alternatively, you can buy dedicated tools for this job, such as the Wedge Gutter Cleaning Scoop ($11.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)). Make sure you’re wearing practical clothes for the work as well — you’re likely to get dirty.   

3. Find someone to help — While you might feel confident in this job, it’s essential that you have a second person on hand to help. They will keep the ladder grounded and can assist with emptying the bucket and passing up any tools. 

4. Place the ladder — You’re going to want to start from the downspout and work your way up to the end of the gutter for reference. When placing your ladder, make sure it is locked, stable and sitting on flat grout. You can make use of a ladder stabilizer to keep things still if necessary, such as the Louisville Ladder LP-2200-00 Stabilizer ($41.97, Amazon (opens in new tab)). 

Make sure there’s at least two steps or rungs spare at the top of the ladder — if you need to overstep this point, or you’re struggling to reach, the ladder is not a sufficient height. Whatever you do, don’t climb on the roof to clean your gutters

A gloved hand removing leaves from the gutter

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

5. Remove the leaves and debris — With the scoop in your empty bucket, climb into position and hang it on your ladder where it will be easy to reach. Then start scooping away any visible leaves and debris, filling the bucket as you go. You may have to use your hands as well for any large debris or awkward sections. Make sure you always have a hand on the ladder as you do this.  

As you climb down the ladder to move onto the next area, remember to empty out the bucket into the compost heap as you go. 

6. Flush with water — It can take a good hour or so, but once you’ve worked your way around the gutters, you’re ready for the next step, which is to flush the residual dirt away using a hose. Use the hose where you finished removing the leaves (at the end of the gutter) and flush the water into the downspout. If you want extra power for this part, you can always use a pressure washer, such as the Sun Joe SPX3000 ($167.54, Amazon (opens in new tab)). 

Watch as the water drains to check for leaks in your gutter. If you spot any, make a note as these will need repairing later.

A pressure washer rinsing the gutters

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

7. Check the downspout — While your gutter may look clean and shiny from above, don’t forget about the downspout. Spray water in from the top and check the speed at which it comes out — if the flow has slowed, something is blocking it. 

To release this blockage, you have a couple of options. First, try spraying water into the downspout from the ground using your hose. Use the highest pressure you can for the most impact. You will then need to run water through from above again to flush the debris. 

Alternatively, you can feed through a plumber’s snake to physically unblock the pipe, much like what you use for drains, such as the DrainX Drain Auger Pro ($31.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)). You can also try using a leaf blower or a wet/dry vacuum cleaner from the bottom of the downspout to force the blockage out. 

8. Make necessary repairs — Now that your gutters are squeaky clean, it’s time to make any necessary repairs. If you spotted any leaks as you flushed out the gutter, those will need patching up with sealant. You can also install gutter guards and gutter screens to prevent future issues.

A gutter which has been covered with a gutter screen

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Make sure the angle and positioning of your gutters is adequate for the water to drain — adjust this if necessary. If any sections have completely cracked or come away from the wall, these will need replacing.

9. Keep an eye on your gutters — Don’t forget to keep checking your gutters intermittently in the future to keep on top of blockages. Would you believe it, this is one of the best uses for a drone if you own one.

How to clean gutters without a ladder

If ladders are a no-go, there are still ways you can clean your gutters safely from the ground. Although, practically speaking, you don’t have as great a view of your progress. 

First, for light debris, you can simply use a hose to wash the leaves away. All you need to do is combine your hose with an extension tool, such as the Orbit 58543 Telescoping Gutter Cleaning Wand ($30, Amazon (opens in new tab)). This attaches directly to your hose and features an adjustable nozzle so you can direct it into the gutter. If you own a pressure washer, there are attachments available to extend the reach of these as well, such as the Xiny Tool Pressure Washer Extension Wand ($33.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)). 

Some leaf blowers as well as wet/dry vacuum cleaners also come with extendable gutter cleaning attachments, so be sure to check if you have what you need already. You can use any of these methods from the ground, but if the blockage remains and you can’t find it from here, a professional may be necessary.

A professional handyman wearing tools around the waist

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

You can always hire a professional to tackle this chore if you’re concerned about it. Just don’t ignore it or else your gutters can end up damaging your property.  

How often should you clean the gutters? 

All things considered, you should clean your gutters twice a year on average, ideally in the spring and fall. However, you may be required to do this more often, depending on several factors. Firstly, if your home is surrounded by the type of tree that sheds regularly, such as pine trees, you may need to clean your gutters as often as every three months. While, if you live in an area which suffers from heavy storms or high winds, you will need to check your gutters after every storm, once things calm down.


For more tips, tricks, and how-tos, check out our guides on how to overseed your lawn in fall and when to do it, how to clean a fireplace and  this is when you should stop mowing your lawn for the winter. Also check out 12 tips to get your home ready for fall and how I used four different tools to get rid of leaves — here's what worked best

Katie Mortram
Homes Editor

Katie looks after everything homes-related, from kitchen appliances to gardening tools. She also covers smart home products too, so is the best point of contact for any household advice! She has tested and reviewed appliances for over 6 years, so she knows what to look for when finding the best. Her favorite thing to test has to be air purifiers, as the information provided and the difference between performances is extensive.