Have a Clogged Gutter Downspout? Here's How to Unclog a Downspout

A gutter downspout connected to a section of gutters along a roofline that is clogged with leaves.

Gutter cleaning is almost never at the top of a homeowner's priority list—and dealing with a clogged gutter downspout is an even less appealing chore. They can quickly become blocked by a huge backlog of dead leaves, dirt, pine needles, animal nests, trash, and other pieces of debris. Once that happens, your gutters are pretty much helpless to protect your home against a whole host of severe water damage problems that range from a leaky roof to a cracked foundation and everything else in between.

You may not be totally thrilled at the thought of giving up some of your free time to get up to your elbows in rotting gutter muck, and that's understandable. But getting those clogged gutter downspouts free and clear of debris is extremely important for the longevity of your property. This guide explains some steps on how to unclog a downspout, along with some information on why it's so critical to do so.

If you simply can't get up on a wobbly ladder and mess around with stuff near your roofline—or you don't want to—you can still keep your home safe and protected with a little help from your local handyman. The team of gutter and drain experts at Mr. Handyman are experienced with clogged gutter downspouts and know exactly how to get water flowing smoothly again, quickly, and efficiently. We can also take care of any necessary repairs while we're up on the ladder.

How to Unclog a Downspout: Guide for Homeowners

Ready to get started on downspout cleaning? It's one of those things that's quite simple and easy—right up until the point when it's difficult and frustrating. Usually, it can be taken care of without too much fuss, as long as it has been reasonably well-maintained over the years. If your clogged downspouts are long overdue for some TLC, they might be full of compacted debris that isn't going to loosen up so easily. Here are some steps homeowners should follow in dealing with a clogged gutter downspout.

1. Take Precautions

Before you get started, it's important to pause and make sure you've got adequate safety precautions in place. You will probably need to climb a ladder to get your clogged gutter downspout free and clear of debris, and you may need to actually get up on your roof as well. Needless to say, that can be a precarious and dangerous situation, so it's absolutely necessary to make sure you're doing it as safely as possible—making sure your house is protected from moisture damage is important, but it's certainly not as important as your personal well-being. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind throughout this process:

  • Wait for mild weather before starting this particular project—no one wants to get caught in a downpour halfway through.
  • If at all possible, work with another person who can hold your ladder steady, turn the water on and off as needed, and provide other support assistance that will make your project safer.
  • Use a sturdy, metal ladder with an extension that is high enough to reach the topmost part of your gutter system.
  • If you can't find someone else who's willing to help out with this particular chore, consider using ladder stabilizers to keep your ladder from shaking and wobbling.
  • Use protective eyewear and thick suede work gloves so you can avoid injury to your eyes or hands.
  • Try to remain on the ladder at all times and only get onto the roof if it's absolutely necessary—and if you feel safe and secure doing so.
  • If you don't feel safe at some point and you're concerned that you may fall, or you know from the start that climbing a ladder is not a good idea for you, don't do it. It's not worth injuring yourself or suffering undue stress when your local handyman can efficiently take care of it for you.

2. Clean Gutters First

It makes sense to clean out your rain gutters before you tackle a clogged gutter downspout because the muck is going to end up in there either way, and you don't want to undo all your hard work. Oftentimes, gutter cleaning can be accomplished by dragging your garden hose up to your ladder with you and directing a stream of water from the highest part of your gutter down its channel.

You may actually be able to spray water into your gutters from the ground if you have a one-story house, but you'll need to go up there anyway so you can get visual confirmation that they're clean enough, and you may hit your roof shingles at a wrong angle from down there, so it's better to do it from your ladder. Try to avoid spraying your roof at all, but it's especially important not to spray water under shingles. If your hose alone doesn't do the trick, you may need to get in there and scoop some of the muck out. Remember to wear gloves—there could be sharp bits hiding in the gunk.

3. Clean the Bottom Opening of the Downspout

Once your gutters are looking good, it's finally time to tackle that clogged gutter downspout. The first thing you need to do is disconnect the downspout extension, exposing the end of the vertical part of your downspout. That's doubly important if you have an underground drain because you don't want to push the material into that part and end up with a downspout clogged underground—buried gutter drain cleaning is a lot more complicated and may involve digging a trench to access your drain line.

When you remove the extension, muck might start coming out of your clogged gutter downspout all on its own, but if it doesn't, it's going to need some encouragement. With your gloves on, try sticking your fingers a few inches into the bottom to see if you can loosen up the material and get it to start inching its way out. If the clog is pretty bad, there's likely a big log of debris at the bottom that may come sliding out in a big chunk, and gross as that may be, it's good to get that all out of there. Be prepared, though—if a clump of blockage comes out, it'll probably be followed by a gush of dirty water.

4. Rinse Out Downspout From the Top

Whether you got some debris out from the bottom but not all of it, or you did get all the big pieces of blockage out of your clogged gutter downspout, the next step is to get up on that ladder with your garden hose and spray water from the top of the downspout opening. That may help to dislodge the last few clumps that are in there, or it may just be a matter of rinsing out dirt that is clinging to the inside and making sure it's totally clean and clear. While you've got the water running through there, take a look at the outside of the downspout to see if there are any holes or leaks that need to be dealt with. If you do notice water leaking out of a tiny hole or crack, you may be able to get it sealed back up with some basic epoxy filler.

5. Try Different Methods to Unclog a Downspout

If you've followed all the steps above to unclog a downspout and you're still struggling with stubborn debris that just refuses to be dislodged, it's time to try a few different techniques to work it loose. Try these methods in order of easiest to most difficult to solve your clogged gutter downspout problem.

  • Tap It Out: Start at the top of your ladder and go down one rung at a time, pausing on each rung to gently tap the outside of your downspout, then go back up to the top and try rinsing with your hose again to flush out the remaining clog.
  • Seal It Up: Grab a rag like an old towel and put the end of your hose into the top of your clogged gutter downspout, then plug up the rest of the space at the top with your rag, so it's sealed up at the top and turn on the water. The seal combined with the water may provide enough pressure to force the rest of the material out of the bottom.
  • Auger It Down: The next step is to try a handheld auger—not a post-hole auger, of course, but a cable auger that is essentially like a plumbing snake. Make sure you've got your gloves and protective eyewear on, then feed the auger into the top of the clogged gutter downspout and rotate the drum clockwise. Once it gets to the bottom, pull it back up (you can also start at the bottom if that makes more sense). You may need to repeat the process several times until everything is cleared out.
  • Bring In the Big Guns: If none of those techniques did the trick, you might as well try power tools. If you happen to have a leaf blower, wet and dry vac, or pressure washer lying around, give them a try by inserting the business end into the top of your clogged gutter downspout and letting 'er rip. Hopefully, the force will be strong enough to blast out the clog.

6. Get Handyman Help for a Stubborn Clogged Gutter Downspout

Maybe you tried all the steps and techniques listed above, and they didn't work. Maybe you didn't feel comfortable climbing a ladder or using power tools, so you weren't able to try everything. Regardless, if you've reached this point and you've still got a clogged gutter downspout, it's time to turn to professional downspout cleaning services from your experienced local handyman. There are some big advantages that come with leaving this chore to a qualified professional from Mr. Handyman. We are fully licensed and insured, so you can count on us to work safely and follow up-to-date best practices. Our multi-skilled team can also save you time and money by crossing multiple tasks off your to-do list in a single appointment, from dealing with a clogged gutter downspout to patching a hole in your drywall or repairing a loose railing on your deck.

Why Is it So Important to Unclog Downspouts and Gutters?

We've mentioned several times how critically important it is to keep your gutters and downspouts clean to protect your house against moisture damage. Here's how it works. Your gutters collect all the rainwater that falls on your roof and channel it into downspouts where it can be disposed of away from the house. That might not sound like a big deal, but we're talking about tens of thousands of gallons of water per year. If you have a clogged gutter downspout or the gutters themselves are blocked or damaged, all that water has nowhere to go and ends up pooling on your roof or spilling over the edge, where it can cause serious problems for pretty much every part of your home's exterior, including moisture issues such as wood rot that can cause severe structural damage. Here are a few of the consequences of not having your gutters and downspouts cleaned regularly:

  • Leaking roof
  • Rotting exterior trim
  • Deteriorated siding
  • Internal water damage such as water stains on your ceilings or walls
  • Cracked, leaking foundation
  • Damaged lawn and landscaping
  • Crumbling driveways and walkways
  • Creates the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes

Need Help With That Clogged Gutter Downspout? Rely on Your Local Handyman to Get It Done

There's a lot of work that goes into maintaining a residential or commercial property, and not everything should be a DIY project. One person can't do absolutely everything, and you shouldn't be expected to either.

If you need help with a clogged gutter downspout or dozens of other tasks and projects around your property, count on the team of professionals at your local Mr. Handyman to get the work done correctly and efficiently.

Call Mr. Handyman to learn more or schedule an appointment for service. We can help with everything from gutter cleaning to deck repair and kitchen remodeling.