How to Unclog a Gutter

Unclog a blocked rain gutter as quickly as possible to prevent damage to your landscaping, home exterior, gutters, and foundation.

Leaves and twigs get lodged in gutters, causing damage to the gutters and the house itself. Image: Lauren Finkel Photography

Clean your rain gutters at least twice a year. Otherwise, debris like leaves and twigs can clog up your gutter system, causing potential harm to your house and landscaping — not to mention the gutters themselves. Here’s how to identify and fix a clogged gutter.

Is My Gutter Clogged?

When it rains, here are the telltale signs of a clogged gutter:

  • Water spills over the edges of a gutter.
  • Water sprays like a fountain from gutter seams and elbow joints.
  • Water doesn’t flow out the bottom of downspout extensions.

If it’s not raining, look for these telltale signs:

  • Eroded earth directly below a gutter.
  • Peeling paint on siding and fascia.
  • Wet, moist, or dirty siding beneath the gutter.
  • Gutters pulling away from the fascia (likely caused by excessive weight).

Where's the Gutter Clogged?

The downspout cage, a wire strainer designed to trap debris while allowing water to flow through, is located where the downspout intersects the gutter. Often, this item is bent or out of place.

Gutter hangers and spikes often slip free from the fascia, landing in the gutter. These obstructions catch leaves and twigs, causing clogs.

Downspout elbows and seams are likely spots for clogs, too. Working your way down from the gutter, tap the outside of the downspout with a screwdriver and listen for a dull thud (as opposed to hollow ring). This will indicate the location of the clog.

If you still haven’t identified the location of the clog — and you have downspouts that descend below ground level — then the clog likely is in an underground pipe.

How to Unclog a Gutter

If the clog occurs at the downspout cage:

  1. Remove and clean it.
  2. Remove all the accumulated debris in the gutter. 
  3. If the cage is in good shape, firmly re-seat it into the downspout hole. 
  4. If the cage is damaged or missing, replacement screens cost just a few bucks.

If the clog is caused by loose hangers or spikes:

  1. Clean debris from clogs.
  2. Reposition or repair the gutter supports.

If the clog occurs at an elbow or seam — and you can reach it from above:

  1. Try to free the obstruction with a stick, plumbing snake, or pressure washer outfitted with a telescoping wand. 
  2. If you can’t reach it, simply disassemble the downspout and remove the clog.

If the clog is below-grade, it’s the most difficult to clear, and may require excavation. But before that: 

  1. Remove the downspout where it enters the ground and try to clear the clog using a plumbing snake.
  2. Turn on a garden hose and force it into the underground portion of the line; the water pressure may dislodge the clog.