How to Clean Gutter Downspouts

water coming out of gutter downspouts

Your gutters aren’t the only part of your gutter system that needs regular cleaning. Your downspouts are there to manage the flow of water off your roof and away from your home and need to be maintained as well. As a homeowner, it’s important for you to know how to clean your gutter downspouts.

What Are Gutter Downspouts?

A crucial part of your gutter system, downspouts are lightweight, vertical tubes connected to your gutters. They extend toward the ground to direct rainwater away from your home. They are usually placed along the sides of your home but are also installed at any low point of the gutter system facing a suitable drainage area.

When rainwater accumulates on your roof, it travels down into your gutter system, which collects the water and directs it through the downspout.

Downspouts are designed to protect your home from water damage. Without downspouts, water would collect in your gutters until it overflowed and damaged or eroded your siding, roof, and foundation.

Signs You Have Clogged Gutter Downspouts

leaves stuck in a gutter downspout
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Here are a few telltale signs that your gutter downspouts may be clogged:

  • Increased bird and pest activity on your roof
  • Water overflowing and spilling over the sides of your gutters
  • Gutters sagging from the weight of water and debris
  • Signs of water stains on your siding
  • Plants beginning to grow along your gutters due to the accumulation of soil

If you honestly can’t even remember the last time you cleaned your gutters, then that’s a sure sign that you need to grab the ladder and get to work ASAP.

Tools Needed to Clean Your Downspouts

You need the right tools to properly clean your downspouts. These tools include:

  • Extension ladder
  • Stepladder
  • Garden trowel
  • Work gloves
  • Garden hose
  • Auger
  • Leaf blower
  • Pressure washer
  • Plumber’s snake
  • Bucket
  • Garbage bags
  • Rags

You may not need every item listed, but depending on the amount of buildup accumulated in your downspouts, it’s a good idea to have them on hand.

How to Clean Your Gutter Downspouts

Homeowners should clean their downspouts at least twice a year to prevent clogs. You should clean your gutters and downspouts once in the spring before heavy rainfall and once in the fall to prevent ice dams from forming in the winter.

Step 1. Position Your Ladder

ladder leaning against a roof
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Ladder safety needs to be your top priority! When working on a one-story house, you should safely position your step ladder on flat, stable ground and avoid wet areas that will cause it to sink.

If you’re working on a two-story house, you’ll need to use an extension ladder to reach higher gutters. The ladder should rest firmly on your gutter at an appropriate angle on dry, flat ground. If you don’t have a long enough ladder, then you can rent or borrow one.

Whatever ladder you end up using, never climb above the top level. There should be a manufacturer sticker with a warning about how high you should go.

Also, you should always have someone assist you from the ground by steadying your ladder and handing you tools. Always keep your phone on you in case you need to call for help.

Step 2. Clean the Bottom Opening

To clean the bottom opening of your downspout, you should remove the downspout extension if your system has one. If your downspout has an underground drain, you will want to avoid pushing a clog further down to somewhere where you will have difficulty removing it.

Put on your work gloves, and scrape any debris from the bottom opening with the garden trowel. Then, use a garden hose to rinse the downspout and dislodge any remaining debris.

Step 3. Clean Your Gutters

downspout extension with leaves
Photo Credit: db_beyer / Canva Pro / License

There are three methods people tend to use when they clean their gutters.

  • Scoop and drop: With this method, you scoop out and drop the contents onto a plastic tarp or drop cloth placed on the ground below.
  • Bucket: With this method, you cut the handle of the plastic bucket in half and hook them to the edge of the gutter before scooping the debris into the bucket.
  • Bag: This method is for dry debris. It involves cutting out the bottom of a plastic bucket and fastening a trash bag around it just under the handle with tape or a rubber band. The bucket is then hooked over the edges of the gutters.

Choose your method and work your way along the gutters, keeping your body upright. Remove leaves, twigs, and other debris from the gutters with your garden trowel or your gloved hands. If your downspout has a mesh strainer, remove it and clear away any gunk from the top of the downspout.

You will need to move the ladder frequently. Do not extend your reach so much that you lean away from the ladder, which can cause you to fall.

This is also a perfect opportunity to check your gutters for leaks and repair any damages with waterproof sealing tape or spray sealant.

Step 4. Push Out Debris

Using a garden hose at the top of your downspout, seal the space around your garden hose by packing the top of the downspout with a rag. Turn on the water to create plenty of water pressure. Keep an eye on the end of the downspout until you see the clog come out and water run freely through the downspout.

If the clog is especially stubborn or gets caught on the curve of the pipe, insert an auger, power washer, or plumbing snake at the top of the downspout to loosen and push out the debris.

Step 5. Rinse Your Gutters and Downspouts

water coming out of a downspout
Photo Credit: ziggy1 / Canva Pro / License

Once the clog in your downspout is cleared, it’s time to rinse your downspout. Keep the hose positioned at the top of your downspout and let the water run. Be sure to rinse all sides of the downspout to flush out any remaining debris.

Why Are Clogged Downspouts a Problem?

Clogged downspouts will cause homeowners major issues whether they have an underground or above-ground drain. These issues include:

  • Gutters not draining properly
  • Water damage to your home’s foundation
  • Ice dams forming in the winter
  • Basement flooding
  • Soil erosion
  • Roof collapse
  • Roof leaks
  • Damage to the gutter system 
  • Damage to fascia boards and soffit
  • Sagging gutters

FAQ About Cleaning Downspouts

How long does a gutter cleaning take?

The time it takes to clean your gutters depends on the size of your home and the amount of debris. A small home’s gutters can be cleaned in 20-90 minutes, depending on how much debris is in the gutters. Larger homes could take as long as two to three hours.

Can you clean out your gutters with chemicals?

No. Chemical gutter cleaners are designed to clean the outsides of the gutters and should not be flushed down the downspouts.

Do downspout strainers work?

Yes, downspout strainers prevent debris from entering the top opening of the downspout. However, they can cause debris to build up against the strainer and will need to be regularly checked. 

Downspout strainers are similar to gutter guards in the sense that they are designed to keep out leaves and debris. The difference is a gutter guard is a long flat mesh placed over the gutter, while a strainer is a cork-shaped webbed structure used to plug the hole in the gutter that connects to the downspout.

When to Hire a Pro 

Why spend your free time on a ladder with your hands in gunk when you could hire an experienced contractor for reliable and professional gutter cleaning instead? DIY gutter cleaning is a risky but necessary business, so if you’re looking for someone to take care of the hassle and hazards of gutter cleaning, MyGutterGnome can connect you to gutter cleaning pros available in your area.

Main Image Credit: Dorain Wallender / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Lydian Pine

Lydian Pine is a creative writer and studio artist whose work first debuted in a short story anthology. She graduated from the University of North Texas in 2020 and enjoys video games, theatre, and swimming. Lately, she has started to study entomology as a hobby.