Clean the Gutters by Using a Ladder and Staying Safe

Cleaning the gutters can be tedious. It often involves working from a ladder; climbing up and down; using tools; and reaching above your head. Falls from ladders are one of the top five causes of trips to the ER for homeowners performing home maintenance tasks. However, while it can be dangerous working from a ladder, it is safer than gutter cleaning from the roof. When you clean the gutters this spring or summer, stay off the roof and use a ladder safely.

Reasons it’s risky to gutter clean from the roof.

Walking on the roof to clean the gutters with a leaf blower or direct water from a pressurized garden hose into the downspouts might seem like the most effective way to get the job done. However, it can be very dangerous. If falling from a ladder when standing just on the third step up can result in significant injuries, falling off a roof might inflict even more harm. Reasons not to clean gutters from the roof include:

  • It’s easy to slip or lose your balance even if it’s a low slope roof
  • Foot traffic can damage asphalt roofing tiles
  • A metal roof tends to be slippery
  • The tiles of a ceramic or slate roof can easily cracked or stressed
  • Damage may not be immediately visible but enough to let water in (leaks) and additional weight could make things worse

Unless it’s absolutely necessary – for example you can only access a hard-to-reach section of  the gutters when standing on the roof – it’s safer to clean the gutters from a ladder.

Work no more than 30 minutes.

Restrict the amount of time you spend on the ladder cleaning the gutters. Work no more than 30 minutes before taking a break. Especially if it’s a sunny day and there’s not much shade, wear a hat or cap.

Have a helper.

Have an assistant on hand to stand at the base of the ladder, holding it in place. If there will be no one available, schedule a time to clean the gutters when a family member or a neighbour will be at home.

Keep your hands and feet safe.

Wear two pair of gloves. Before gutter cleaning, put on a pair of nitrile (a synthetic rubber resistant to chemicals) gloves underneath waterproof work gloves. It will keep your hands clean and dry – you want to avoid coming into contact with damp organic debris.

Wear the proper footwear suitable for climbing a ladder and cleaning the gutters – no open toed shoes allowed. Work boots or shoes should have non-slip and oil-resistant soles. Ensure they are fastened correctly before placing your foot on a rung.

Inspect the ladder before using it.

It is crucial for your safety to inspect the ladder before using it. Make sure it’s in good condition. Check the ladder for:

  • Stability (no wobbling)
  • Damaged hardware, rust spots, or wood rot
  • Missing rungs and broken side rails
  • Warping if made of wood or dents that prevent it from opening/closing smoothly if made of metal

Before stepping on the first rung, know the ladder’s weight limit. To ensure you won’t exceed the limit, factor in the weight of the person using the ladder, and any tools and equipment they’ll be carrying.

Set up the ladder properly.

Before using the ladder, check the ground where you will need to place the ladder. The ladder should be set up on stable and level ground or a hard surface free of clutter or obstacles that could cause it to become unstable and tip over.

When using a straight ladder or an extension ladder, position the ladder at a 75° angle. To find the correct distance to place the ladder against the wall, take the height of the ladder in feet and divide by four.

When using a stepladder, make sure the braces are locked into place before using it.

If you have aluminum gutters or seamless aluminum gutters, use a ladder stabilizer to avoid leaning it directly against the gutter trough and causing dents.

Use the ladder correctly.

Whether it’s an extension ladder, a straight ladder, or a stepladder, face the rungs when climbing up or down., keeping your body centered between the vertical rails.

Always use the three points of contact rule – keep two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand in contact with the ladder at all times.

Avoid standing on the top two rungs – they are designed for stepping and not supporting the weight of a person while they gutter clean.

For better balance, never overreach when standing on the ladder. Climb down and move the ladder into its new position – make sure it’s still on flat, even ground.

If your home is more than two storeys, tie off the ladder to secure it in place, and use the appropriate fall protection equipment such as a full body harness, lanyard, or a retractable lifeline.