Maintaining gutters and downspouts is one of the most often overlooked jobs around the house. It is also one of the most important, since clogged or leaking gutters can quickly lead to rotten fascia boards, peeling paint, or worse.

Importance of Gutters

While it might be tempting to do away with your gutters all together, they serve an important function in areas that receive more than 15” to 20” of rain a year. Gutters direct water away from the house to protect your siding, foundation, and landscaping. Without them, siding can rot, basements flood, and flower beds erode.

Gutter Guards

Though gutter guards allow you to go longer between cleanings, they’re far from foolproof and need to be checked periodically. Pine straw and leaves can become lodged in them, and smaller debris can still filter through to cause big problems. Shielding gutters doesn’t prevent leaks or keep hangers from working loose either.

Using a homemade scoop from an antifreeze jug to clean gutters

Cleaning Gutters

To clean gutters, you’ll need a ladder, a garden trowel (or scoop made from an antifreeze container), bucket lined with a trash bag, a hose, and a rag. If you encounter serious clogs, you may also need a plumber’s snake.

After you have removed any gutter guards, use the trowel to scoop leaves and debris from the gutter into the bucket.

Add the collected material to a compost pile if you have one, or dispose of it with other lawn debris.

Once the gutters have been cleaned, check the downspouts for clogs by inserting a hose with a rag wrapped around it so that water will be directed through them.

Using a garden hose to clear clogs in a downspout

Have your helper turn the water on full force, and check to make sure it is flowing freely from the end of the downspout.

If a downspout has a clog that can’t be cleared with water pressure, use the plumber’s snake to break it up, then use the hose to flush out any remaining debris.

Using a plumber's snake to clear a clog in a downspout

As a last resort, disassemble the downspout and remove the clog. Once the downspout is running freely, start at the far end of the run and rinse the gutter thoroughly with the hose.

Inspection and Repair

After they are clean, inspect and repair the gutters and downspouts as necessary. Make sure all hangers are securely fastened, and use a carpenter’s level to check that the gutters have the proper slope and are not holding water. They should slant down toward the downspouts about 1/4” every 10’.

Using level to check slope on gutter

If a section sags, snap a chalk line on the fascia, and remove the hangers in the area.

Using chalk line to hang gutters

Measuring from the chalk line, lift the gutter up and reposition the hangers to hold it in place. Water is heavy, and gutters should have a hanger every 2’ as well as within 1’ of any seams.

Now that your gutters are secure and have the correct slope, check them for leaks by running water through them with a hose. Mark any leaks and allow the gutter to dry out thoroughly before patching them with gutter sealant.

Tube of gutter sealant for sealing joints in gutters

Caulking or roofing cement can also be used, and specially formulated self-sticking patches are available to cover damaged areas.

If sealing a joint in the gutter or downspout doesn’t stop the leak, disassemble the joint if possible, clean the two parts, and put them back together using sealant.

Loose joint in gutter

Now that your gutters are in tip top shape, check them from time to time while it is raining. If water is spilling over the edges or not running freely from the downspouts, make a note to clean them again as soon as possible.

Further Information

Editorial Contributors
Danny Lipford

Danny Lipford


Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio,, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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