How to clean and maintain guttering and downpipes

The job of cleaning and maintaining gutters is one that’s often overlooked – frequently because they’re out of sight and out of mind. High up and in those hard to reach corners, the job of cleaning gutters is onerous, but don’t let that put you off. Here’s everything you need to know.

Feeling inspired? Read our guides on:
Fixing a burst pipe
Unblocking a drain
Fixing a spluttering tap

How to clean and maintain guttering and downpipes

How to clean and maintain guttering

Ladder safety tips

  • Use the right ladder for the right job. If you’re working near an electrical source use a wooden or fibreglass ladder.
  • Wear trainers or shoes with a gripped sole that let you feel the rungs.
  • Don’t carry sharp tools in your pocket. Instead carry tools in a bag you can throw to the ground if you wobble, or a tool belt.
  • Don’t stand on the top rung of the ladder. Four steps from the top is the optimum.
  • Don’t lean to the side. Keep your centre of gravity between the ladder stiles.
  • Keep the ladder on a flat and firm surface, or secured with a stake driven into the ground.
  • If you’re working in front of a door, make sure it’s closed and locked.
  • If possible, always have someone 'footing' the ladder for you.

Time to complete job: Give yourself a day to do the job safely.
Approximate budget: If you have all the tools, it's free.

Why is it important to maintain guttering?
Without proper gutters the exterior maintenance of your home will be seriously compromised. This is because gutters:

  • Guide rainwater off the roof and away from your home.
  • Prevent damage to walls, fascia, soffits, exterior paint and woodwork.
  • Prevent water settling around the foundation of your home.
  • Prevent water ingress into interior walls and basement.

    What damage does broken guttering cause?
    Water can cause all sorts of problems once it penetrates your home. Woodwork perishes, mould grows, condensation forms, damp patches spread, brickwork erodes and health problems can become an issue.

    What are the common types of guttering?
    Plastic gutters have the benefit of being lightweight and inexpensive, plus they’re easy to attach, move and maintain. They last about 25 years and don’t need painting.

    Cast iron was the guttering of choice before plastic came along. It can last a very long time but will need regular painting to prevent corrosion. Because cast iron gutters are so heavy, you’ll need to check the fixings are solid and haven’t come loose.

    What are the common causes of problems with gutters?
  • Blockages in the gutter.
  • Blockages in the downpipe.
  • Leaks caused by damaged joints.
  • A sagging gutter caused by overloading, faulty brackets or screws.

    Ladder safety
    The Health & Safety Exec has published a seven-page guide about ladder safety.

    How do I clear a blocked gutter?
    It’s important to always work away from any down pipe to prevent debris being pushed down the pipe. Use a garden trowel or piece of wood to scrape the gutter clean and lift out any debris, then check it’s flowing well with no leaks by pouring a bucket of water into the guttering.

    Tip: Remember, if you can’t easily or safely reach your gutters, or you are unsure of what you are doing, call in the professionals.

    How do I clear a blocked downpipe?
    A ‘plumber’s snake’ or extendable drainage rods are extremely effective at removing debris. Start at the top and push the rod through the downpipe, dislodging debris as you go. Make sure you cover the drain at the bottom of the downpipe, to stop debris going down the drain.

    How do I remove a section of pipe if the blockage persists?
    If the downpipe is still blocked and you can’t hook it out, try tapping along the length of the pipe to listen for a more solid sound, to give you an idea of where the blockage is.

    Start by removing the two screws that hold the lowest pipe clip holding the blocked section to the wall. Carefully remove the loose section of downpipe then use a length of wire or bamboo to remove the blockage.

    Blockages within cast iron pipes are likely to freeze, expand and crack the downpipe so it’s particularly important to remove these, but see the next point about working with iron gutters.

    How do I fix a section of iron guttering?
    Iron guttering is very heavy, and not safe to be working at height with. If you need to replace iron guttering, we suggest you get a professional in.

    How do I fix a new section of plastic guttering?
    Removing sections is usually just a simple matter of unclipping them. If the new section of pipework is too long, cut to length and secure with new sealing gaskets, supporting brackets and end sealing clips.

    How do I fix a sagging gutter?
    The probable cause here is a broken gutter bracket, or too few brackets being fitted in the first place. So, replace the damaged bracket or fit a new one (or two) under the sagging section and, while you're at it, check other brackets for damage, and replace any rusted or broken screws.

    How do I prevent blockages recurring?
    Tight-fitting wire mesh or plastic caps are available to fit most types of downpipe. They allow water through but trap leaves and dirt. If the gutter feeds into a ‘hopper’ at the top of the downpipe this can be covered with mesh or a purpose-built protector.

    You might want to consider cutting back any over-hanging trees as well, as the autumn fall of leaves will cause a problem every year.