The Dangers of Cleaning Your Gutters

A person cleaning gutters installed on roof of a house

When your rain gutters are overflowing, the most common reason is that there’s a clog in your gutters. Leaves, twigs, and other debris fall into the gutter pipes and get stuck. Once this happens, the only way to fix it is to clean the gutters.

A DIY gutter cleaning job may seem like a simple home maintenance task, but there are some common dangers of cleaning your gutters you should be aware of before you clear blockages out of your gutters. Or if you’d rather avoid the risks altogether, you should hire a trained roofing contractor for professional gutter cleaning services. 

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Why Your Gutters Need Cleaning

Leaves in a gutter installed on house roof
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Over time, debris stacks up in your gutter system, especially if your home is surrounded by trees. When too many leaves, sticks, and other debris get stuck in your gutters, it blocks the flow of water.

The types of debris that form blockages in the gutter pipes include:

A gutter blockage prevents your gutter system from doing its job, which is to transport water runoff safely off your roof without causing damage to your home and landscape. Clogged gutters will overflow, which causes a lot of problems such as:

  • Damaged foundation
  • Basement flooding
  • Standing water on the roof or around the home’s exterior
  • Breeding ground for insects and rodents
  • Mold and mildew growth
  • Water damage
  • Soil erosion

Cleaning your gutter system helps prevent gutter clogs, preserving and protecting your home’s foundation. 

Dangers of Cleaning Your Gutters

Ignoring blockages in your gutters poses a danger to your home, but a DIY gutter cleaning poses a danger to yourself. Anything that involves working on a ladder is dangerous by default, so always be extremely cautious when it comes to home maintenance that involves your roof or gutter system.

If you’ve determined that cleaning your gutters is too dangerous, hire a trained professional to do the job for you.

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Falling Off a Ladder

A person cleaning gutter on roof of house
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Climbing up a ladder is always risky and dangerous. A fall off a ladder can result in severe injury or even death. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year there are around 500,000 people who suffer ladder-related injuries.

Before you climb on your ladder, there are some safety precautions you should follow:

  • Inspect the ladder for damage. Cracks, loose rungs, dents, or deterioration means you need to replace your ladder. Don’t use a damaged or faulty ladder.
  • Check the screws and bolts of your ladder. Any loose screws must be tightened before you use the ladder. Damaged screws or bolts need to be replaced. 
  • Confirm the ladder is on even ground. If a ladder is positioned on uneven ground, it will wobble and it might fall over – with you on top! Make sure that the ladder is secure and on even ground. 

Dizziness Caused by Heights

If you experience symptoms of vertigo or dizziness on a ladder, you shouldn’t be up on a ladder. Dizziness might result in you losing your balance and falling off the ladder. Feeling dizzy while standing on top of the ladder might mean you have a phobia of high heights. As soon as you start feeling dizzy, get off the ladder immediately.

Cleaning During a Storm

While it’s frustrating to watch sheets of water overflow from your gutters during heavy rain, cleaning your gutters during a storm is something you should never do. 

In a storm, water rains on you and your ladder, making the surface of a ladder slick and slippery. It’s hard to find firm footing with wet shoes on a wet ladder. Your chances of slipping and falling are significantly higher if you clean your gutters during a storm. 

Don’t wait until the last minute to clean your gutters. If you know a storm is approaching, clean your gutters before to avoid water overflow that can lead to possible home damage. Otherwise, wait until the next clear, sunny day. 

Sharp Edges Inside Gutters

Sharp edges of a gutter on top of house
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When standing on a ladder high off the ground, you instinctively grab the sides of the gutter for support. Rain gutters have sharp, pointy edges, so be careful where you place your hands. The sharp metal edges can slice or scratch your hands, so relying on the gutter to stabilize yourself could result in painful injury.

When you pull debris out of the gutter system, watch out for sharp gutter edges, hidden screws and nails, or scratchy sticks. 

Power Lines

If your home is positioned underneath power lines be extremely careful to avoid hitting the lines when you climb up a ladder on the side of your home. 

Hitting power lines results in electrocution, so remember to always keep at least 10 feet away from all electrical wires. Be careful to not hit overhead power lines with long tools. Some tools are made of metal, so be careful with those near electrical wires. 

Wildlife

Gutter blockages can become havens for wildlife. A fleeing mouse or the flurry of a bird taking off nearby can startle you and cause you to lose your balance. Keep a sharp eye out for wildlife so it doesn’t catch you by surprise and cause you to lose your footing on a ladder. 

Keep an eye out for wildlife in the gutters such as:

  • Nesting birds and bird eggs
  • Mice
  • Squirrels
  • Insects

Be careful about removing bird nests. It is illegal to remove an active bird nest, depending on where you live. Wait until the nesting season is over and you are certain the nest has been abandoned before you remove the nest. 

If you don’t know what the legal restrictions are for removing a bird’s nest in your gutters, contact a local wildlife conservation office for information on bird nest removal before taking action.

Harmful Bacteria and Diseases

Gutter debris harbors many harmful pathogens and bacteria that can cause diseases. For this reason, wear gloves to protect your skin from coming into contact with potential diseases. 

Mold growth is a big cause for concern, as you may inhale mold spores if you get too close to mold. Mold spores cause problems such as allergies, asthma, wheezing, and itchy red eyes. 

Wildlife such as squirrels, mice, and birds burrow into the gutter system and they leave behind animal feces, which also carry diseases. To avoid the diseases, wear thick, sturdy gloves for protection while you clean your gutters.

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Safety Tips

Anything that involves climbing up a ladder has risks. However, even if you are planning a DIY cleaning job, you can still effectively and safely clean your gutters. Follow these tips to stay safe as you clean your gutters:

  • Make sure your ladder is secure. Your ladder should be set on even ground and be stable so that it isn’t leaning. 
  • Do a ladder inspection. Before you start cleaning your gutters, inspect your ladder for damage and defects. 
  • Have an assistant with you at all times. Whenever you work on a ladder, you always need an assistant on hand in case of an emergency. Your assistant also can hold the ladder for increased safety. At the very least, make sure someone nearby knows you are working on your roof.
  • Wear protective gloves. Gloves protect your hands from diseases and scratches. It allows you to pick up debris without injuring yourself and without exposing yourself to harmful bacteria. Thick, suede gloves are recommended for gutter cleaning jobs. 
  • Wear rubber-soled shoes. Your footwear should be sturdy, non-slip shoes that will allow you a firm grip on the ladder. Rubber-soled shoes are the best. Avoid bare feet and flimsy footwear like sandals. 
  • Wear safety goggles. Stinging insects or debris flying up while you are working will require good eye protection. 
  • Wear good work clothes. Wearing the right kind of clothes for cleaning gutters is important. Some clothes get snagged on parts of the ladder, which can even lead to a fall if you’re not careful. Long sleeves and pants are the safest option to protect your skin from scrapes and cuts. 
  • Grab a bucket. You will want a bucket on hand as a place for you to dispose of the debris. 
  • Use a gutter scoop. A gutter scoop is a handy tool for scooping debris out of the gutter. Plus it protects your hands from scratches and reduces your exposure to diseases. Only use plastic gutter scoops; metal gutter scoops are too rough and they’ll damage the sides of the gutter. 

Make sure you have all your equipment and tools ready to go before you start cleaning your gutters.

Don’t forget to clean your downspouts too. Downspouts are prone to clogs just like the top part of the gutter system. If your downspouts are clogged, water won’t be able to flow down them and drain into the yard, and your gutter system will overflow from the top. 

How Often Should You Clean Your Gutters?

It depends on how quickly your gutters get dirty, but you should have regularly scheduled gutter cleanings, at least two or four times a year. Spring and fall are the best times of year to clean out your gutters. Regular inspections and cleanings at least twice a year prevent overflowing gutters and protect your roof and foundation from damage. 

Gutter guards have slatted holes to allow water in your gutters but prevent debris from clogging your gutters. While gutter guards reduce your cleaning frequency, you will still have to clear off debris from your roof every once in a while. 

FAQs About the Dangers of Cleaning Your Gutters

What kind of ladder do I need?

Use a four-legged ladder for single-story roofs. A four-legged ladder works best for one-story houses since its extra legs give the ladder more support and stability. Use a two-legged ladder for two-story homes. A two-legged extension ladder should be leaned against the top of the side of the house, right under the roof overhang and gutter system.

Can I walk on the roof to clean my gutters?

Walking on a roof puts you at risk of falling. Walking on your roof without appropriate footwear also can damage it. You should be able to clean your gutters entirely from a ladder or you can clean them from the ground.

How do I know if my gutters need cleaning?

You need to clean your gutters when:

• Your gutters overflow every time it rains. 
• It has been over six months since the last time you cleaned your gutters. 

Are there alternatives to gutters?

Gutters may seem like a hassle, so here are some gutter alternatives you can try to replace your gutters:

• Drip edges
Drip path
• French drain
• Grading
• Rain chains
• Rain dispersal system

Find a Pro to Clean Your Gutters

There are many dangers of DIY gutter cleaning. Ladder accidents, scratched hands, exposure to disease, or even electrocution from power lines are all potential risks of cleaning your gutters. To play it safe, you can always hire a trained professional to clean your gutters instead. Don’t wait until your gutters overflow to get them fixed. Give yourself some peace of mind and fix them now, before the next rainy day. MyGutterGnome will help you find a local pro to do a gutter cleaning job for you.

You’ve got gutter and gutter guard questions. We’ve got answers. Find a pro near you.

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Danielle Gorski

Danielle Gorski lives with her family in Texas. She has a degree in Professional Studies and a minor in marketing. Her hobbies include reading, drawing, and writing.