Technically, yes, you can lean an extension ladder directly against a gutter, but I generally wouldn’t recommend it.
Here’s why: You risk…
- Scratching the gutter
- Denting, bending or otherwise damaging the gutter
- Having the ladder slip side to side or out from under you
If you must use the ladder directly against the gutters, the steeper the ladder is, the less pressure will be put on the gutter and hence the less chance there is of denting the gutters as you put your weight on the ladder.
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While you can mitigate the danger by tying off the ladder, it’s not safe to set up your ladder so that it doesn’t meet the 4 to 1 rule (1 foot out for every 4 feet in height). If you put the base too far out, you risk having the ladder slide out from under you, and if you put it too close in you risk falling backwards.
Those are two scenarios I’m not anxious to experience myself, so I stick with the 4 to 1 rule.
Can a Ladder Hurt Your Gutter?
Yes it can.
If you have sturdy gutters, you may be fine and you might not dent or bend the gutter, but it’s possible that it could. Further, even if they are sturdy, if the ladder is rubbing against the gutter, it could scrape the paint off of your gutter. Definitely don’t lean it against gutters that appear weak or damaged.
While you risk dents, warping, scratches and damaged gutters, it can be a judgement call. If you have newer, stronger gutters with solid brackets you could be fine.
You can find plenty of people who swear they have been leaning ladders against gutters for 87 years without ever having a problem. But again, not recommended.
Since the weight put against the gutter is a big factor, also consider how heavy you and your ladder are. The lighter — obviously — the better off you are and the less chance that you’ll hurt your gutters.
Should you try this, keep a close eye on your gutters as you get your ladder set up and as you start to put weight on the first few steps. If you see any give, weakness, or movement, I would stop.
All that said, why not get the right tool for the job so you don’t have to worry about any of that?
How Do You Use A Ladder Without Damaging Gutters?
The best way is to get up to the roof without leaning the ladder on the gutter in the first place.
You can protect your gutters by using a simple piece of hardware that will protect your gutter from ladder damage by supporting your ladder and either keeping it off of the gutter or protecting it in some manner. Here are a whole host of options for that:
- Ladder stand-off or stay or or offset or stabilizer: a curved part you attach to the top of your ladder so that the weight of the ladder is on the roof and your gutter is untouched
- Ladder mount: this generally hooks into your gutter to protect the outside of the gutter and distributes the weight of the leaning ladder onto the back part of the gutter, not the front
See a Ladder stay/standoff/offset/stabilizer in action here:
How do you safely use a ladder against gutters?
According to Occupational Health and Safety 2,000 people a DAY in the US were injured in 2014, with 100 of those per day suffering long term disabilities from the injury.
- Check the duty rating of your ladder. It should be rated to hold your weight and then some (don’t forget to include any tools or other materials you’ll be carrying up). Common lightweight ladders are:
- Type 3 (light duty), rated up to 200 pounds
- Type 2 (medium duty) rated to 225 pounds
- Type 1 (heavy duty) commercial = 250 pounds
- Type 1A (extra heavy duty) industrial = 300 pounds
- Type 1AA (extra heavy duty) = 375 pounds
- Set the ladder on even, flat ground
- The ladder should extend 3 feet above the roof that you are climbing up to
- The angle should be 75 degrees. You can estimate this by standing at the bottom facing the ladder with your towes touching the base of the ladder. Extend your arms out, your fingers should meet rung of the ladder in front of you at around shoulder height. This is also called the 4 to 1 rule, meaning the base of the ladder should be put 1 foot out for every 4 feet of height the ladder is.
- If the ground is uneven either move the ladder to find a flat spot or use a block to level a leg. There are also ladder-leveling accessories you can buy.
- Wear eye protection, gloves, long sleeve shirt and pants, and sturdy, non-slip shoes or boots.
- Be aware of your tool belt and any tools in your hand and that nothing gets caught on the ladder on the way up or down
- Climb deliberately and with intention. Always keep 3 points of contact on the ladder
- When you get to the top, wrap a bungee cord around the ladder right at the level of the gutter and hook each end to the lip of the gutter
- Don’t twist or turn too much or reach too far out to the left or the right as you clean out the debris
- Climb up in the center, move in a controlled manner up the ladder
- Avoid cleaning the gutters during inclement weather – wind, rain or ice
- If the ladder looks damaged or unstable at all, get rid of it. It’s not worth the risk.
Here’s a quick video on some ladder safety basics when cleaning a gutter:
What kind of ladder do I need to clean gutters?
It depends on HOW you’re planning on cleaning the gutters and HOW HIGH your gutters are. If they are low enough you might be able to get away with a step ladder in which case you don’t have to worry about leaning the ladder against your gutter. Most likely you’ll need an extension ladder.