Cleaning your home’s gutters is a messy job, but someone undoubtedly should do it: stopped-up gutters can cause major problems, from wet basements to ruined siding and trim to damaged interior walls.

If you want to do this gunk-removal on your own, here are some guidelines—

  • How often you need to clean out your gutters depends on what tree cover you have in the vicinity. A common recommendation is for one cleaning in the fall and one in the spring. But if your house has no nearby trees more than roof-high, you might be fine doing an inspection and any needed cleaning just once every couple of years. At the other extreme, if you’re surrounded by large overhanging deciduous trees, you might be wise to do a cleaning three or four times in the fall, up through the time the trees have lost all their leaves, and once in mid- to late-spring to avoid problems from tree flowers, seeds, and other debris. You will learn what’s needed by observing how much debris has accumulated when you do clean.
  • You will need to inspect and clean less often if your gutters are covered with gutter guards. But these systems won’t nab everything, and the screens and guards themselves can become clogged. So you will still do well to inspect, and clean if needed, at least every couple of years.
  • The usual way to clean gutters is to climb a ladder and, using heavy work gloves to protect your hands from sharp edges and nails, scoop out as much debris as possible.
  • If your gutters are covered with screens or other guard system, clean off debris that has accumulated on top and then carefully lift the screens or other guards to remove the debris in the gutters themselves.
  • Once the gutters are clean, use a garden hose to run water down them, check that the water flows in the right direction (no sags or blockages), check for leaks, and check that all downspouts are draining properly.
  • If you find a leak at a joint, caulk the area from the inside with gutter sealant. You can patch holes in various ways. One option is to use a patch of the same material as the gutter (aluminum for an aluminum gutter, for example), glue the patch in place with epoxy, and then coat the patch with roofing cement, being sure not to create a build-up that will block the flow of water.
  • If you find that nails or screws holding the gutters in place are loose, drive them in again if possible, or maybe replace them with longer nails or screws, or replace nails with screws. You may be able to bend distorted hangers back into their original form, or you may have to replace them.
  • Unless your roof is flat, perform all work from a ladder, not by leaning over from the roof.
  • When moving your ladder and while working, make sure that you give power lines a wide berth. The power lines may not be properly insulated; touching one, particularly with a metal ladder or while standing on a metal ladder, might bring a quick and permanent end to your gutter-cleaning responsibilities. Many homeowners die this way each year.
  • Lift your ladder carefully, and position it properly. Put the bottom end against the house; from the top end walk toward the house lifting the ladder over your head until you reach the house and the ladder is upright; then move the bottom end away from the house about one-fourth of the ladder’s length. The top of the ladder should extend at least three feet above the edge of the roof. Climb the ladder by stepping onto the center of each rung and using both hands on the sides of the ladder.
  • If you can’t easily reach out laterally from your position on the ladder far enough to collect debris, reposition the ladder, rather than taking the chance of losing your balance by stretching too far.

Since gutter cleaning work is dirty, physically demanding, and potentially dangerous, you may want simply to hire someone else to do the job.

To choose a company, you can talk with friends and neighbors about experiences they’ve had. You can also check our ratings tables for fellow consumers’ reviews of companies that do gutter cleaning work.

Given that gutter-cleaning work is a relatively straightforward job, we’re surprised that so many of the reviews left for these services are negative (across all Consumers' Checkbook cities, only about 84 percent are positive), including complaints of work not done right, leaving a mess, damage to the property, missed appointments, and poor communication.

Ask each company you’re considering to quote you a price estimate over the phone, or, better yet, to inspect your home and provide a written price quote. Most companies are willing to provide a free written estimate based on a visit to the home, and you usually don’t need to be home to get it. Getting several price quotes will likely save you money: When our researchers called a sample of companies for their prices to clean the gutters on a two-story, 2,500 square-foot home with a steep roof, and gutters that measured 80 linear feet, prices ranged from a low of $60 to a high of $350.

Since gutter-cleaning work can be dangerous, you’ll want to ask any company you consider to provide you with proof of liability and worker’s compensation insurance.

If you don’t already have gutter guards installed, companies you speak with may offer to install them for you. The least expensive options are metal or vinyl screens that are designed to let water through while catching leaves and other debris that eventually fall or blow off. These screens can be installed for about $3 to $5 per linear foot.

More expensive gutter-guard options are covers, usually made of aluminum or vinyl, which are designed to allow rainwater freely to flow into gutters while leaves and other debris are caught on top or washed away over the edge of the gutter. These gutter covers typically cost between $7 and $12 per linear foot for installation; for a home with 80 feet of gutters, that’s $560 to $960.

Even if large trees surround your home, gutter guards are not necessarily a good investment. Gutter guards likely won’t prevent berries, nuts, seedpods, and roof shingle granules from entering your gutters, and will do little to prevent pine needles from clogging up the works. For this reason, when we asked dozens of area gutter installers and roofing contractors whether they install screens or covers on gutters, more than one-third told us that they never install them—that they’ve found them to be ineffective and a waste of money. Even if you invest in gutter guards, you’ll need to inspect your gutters at least every couple of years, and if there are leaves and debris to remove, doing so will be more difficult if the gutters have gutter guards on top.