How to Clean Gutters Safely Using a Ladder

person standing on a ladder to clean the gutters

Cleaning gutters can be dangerous, so if you’re going to tackle this job yourself, start by understanding how to clean gutters safely using a ladder. Because in addition to being gross and tedious, this job can be hazardous. 

So, as you climb up to prep and clean gutters, take heed of these basic ladder safety tips, and let the paramedics visit someone else.

Pick the Right Day

A very important consideration before planning a gutter cleanup is the weather. Don’t climb a ladder in bad weather. High winds, rain, snow, or other elements can make you slip or lose your balance. Put the ladder away and wait for the weather to calm down. 

It’s easy to lose balance on a ladder on any fine, sunny day; bad weather simply increases the chances of a fall. Plus, the leaves and debris are harder to remove when they’re wet and sloppy. 

Use the Right Ladder

a person standing on ladder to clean gutter
Main Image Credit: svetikd / Canva Pro / License

It’s also important to use a suitable ladder for gutter work. Several different types of ladders will do the trick, but the right ladder for your gutters depends on the gutter height. 

The average roofline of a one-story home is just under 11 feet high, and for a two-story home it’s about 19 feet. Ten- or 12-step ladders may work fine for single-story houses, but it’s better to invest in an extension or combination ladder. 

Extension ladders allow you to adjust the height of the ladder when you’re working on different areas of the gutter system. They are also stable and sturdy on their own, but you can choose a design with built-in stabilizers, too. A double extension ladder with an extended height of at least 13 and 26 feet is recommended for one- and two-story homes, respectively.

Other than extension ladders, telescoping ladders are convenient and safe for gutter cleaning. They are highly stable, have excellent weight-bearing capacity, and are easy to work with and store. 

Ladder Height and Working Height

Having a sturdy, stabilized ladder is important, but it’s equally important to use it correctly. Choose one that’s high enough to comfortably reach your gutters. Then, work at a safe height because a ladder can become top heavy – and thus unstable – the higher you climb. 

IMPORTANT: Don’t climb more than three quarters of the way up a ladder. Avoid standing on the top few rungs of the ladder to get higher because the ladder can tip. 

How’s the Ground Below?

Check the ground where you will place your ladder. Uneven or slippery surfaces can make you lose balance and tip over while climbing or working on the ladder. This is because if the ground is uneven, your ladder won’t be stable. 

Place the ladder on firm, level ground to make sure it has balanced support. 

Maintain 3 Points of Contact

A person standing on a ladder and cleaning gutter
Photo Credit: ronstik / Canva Pro / License

When climbing or descending a ladder, or while working on a ladder, you need to maintain three contact points at all times. The three points of contact mean two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot, should always be touching the ladder

This will keep you safe from awkward angles and reduce the chances of tipping over and injuring yourself. 

Where Will Your Tools Go?

For homeowners DIY cleaning their gutters, there are two ways to take your tools up to your rain gutters. 

  • Wear a toolbelt and pack all the necessary tools on your waist. This way, your hands are free to hold the ladder properly while climbing or working. 
  • Use a large, heavy-duty ladder that can easily bear the weight of your tools, gutter-cleaning attachments, and you. You can lay out all the tools on a ladder platform. A ladder platform hooks onto the ladder, providing a flat, stable surface for your tools while you work. If you don’t have a platform, you can use a ladder paint tray. 

CAUTION: Do not exceed the maximum load rating of your ladder. When choosing a ladder, factor in not only your weight but also the weight of the tools and equipment you will carry up the ladder.  

Designate a Helper

No matter how confident you feel about your abilities, you should have a second person around when you climb the ladder. Designate a friend or family member to help you with this Sunday project. They can hand you the gutter cleaning tools you need, keep the ladder grounded, and assist in emptying buckets of debris. 

Limit Movement

  • Never shift or move the ladder while you or your equipment are on it. 
  • Make sure the ladder is locked in place. Secure tall ladders by fastening or lashing them to restrict movement. 
  • Don’t overreach. Step down and move the ladder along the gutter for a better and safer angle. 
  • Never climb higher than the ladder manufacturer recommends. Typically, ladders have a sticker warning you to not climb past a certain point. 
  • Take regular 30-minute breaks when you re-site the ladder to prevent fatigue.
  • Avoid making sudden movements when climbing, standing on, or descending a ladder. Jerks and tugs can destabilize the ladder and lead to a fall.

Consider a Ladder Standoff

Because resting your ladder on your gutters can damage them, you’ll want to use a ladder stand-off bracket to hold the ladder away from the gutter. A ladder standoff fits over the top two rungs of your ladder with the help of quick-release, spring-loaded clips. It keeps your ladder about a foot away from the wall, making it more stable.

With the increased distance between the ladder and the working area, you will also get a better and more stable position. Plus, ladder standoffs spread the ladder load by reducing the pressure on the supporting surface. For gutter corners and downpipes, a V-shaped standoff bracket works best. 

Follow the 4-to-1 Rule

ladder leaning against a roof
Photo Credit: Willowpix / Canva Pro / License

4-to-1 is a key safety rule. For every 4 feet, you climb the ladder, you should move the base of the ladder 1 foot away from the wall. So for instance, if you climb 8 feet up a ladder, you should move it 2 feet away from the house wall. Following this rule will protect you from multiple fall-related injuries. 

The more vertical a ladder stands, the less stable it becomes. Not all ladder types require the use of the 4-to-1 rule, of course. Step ladders don’t lean against a surface, so it isn’t an issue. 

For leaning ladders, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s safety mark on the side of your ladder. It indicates the safest angle to place the ladder. You can also use the NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) app to check and set the ladder angle. All you have to do is place the phone on the ladder rung and the app tells you if your ladder needs to be more or less steep.

Use Ladder Stabilizers

Extension ladders need to be carefully placed to make them as stable as possible. They can slip out from under you or tip sideways if your weight shifts too much. And that’s easy to do when your focus is on your gutters and not your foot placement or balance.

It’s best to have additional stability accessories in place for extra grip and protection on the ground with a variety of anti-slip products. Ladder stabilizers allow you to place your ladder on pretty much all sorts of outdoor surfaces, from gravel to paving stones and wood. They are especially useful for extension and telescoping ladders and prevent tipping over. 

Not Up For The Task? Call a Pro!

If climbing a height to clean gutters is not your cup of tea, worry not. You can call in a local gutter expert to clean your gutters or help you with other home improvement projects that need a ladder. 

Main Image Credit: Tim Evanson / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Farah Nauman

Farah Nauman is a freelance writer and an accountant. She spends most of her time combating the heat and being a mom to her three fluffy cats and a dozen little Aloe Veras in her house.