There is no one best way to unclog gutter downspouts but there are a number of pretty easy options to try – one of which will almost certainly work to fix the obstruction! Most of them take minutes.
(In case it’s unclear, the downspout is the vertical portion of the gutter system that carries the water from the horizontal gutters that collect the water to shuttle the water down to the ground and away from your house.)
Don’t let this go! It’s an easy fix but a potentially expensive headache if you don’t take care of it.
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How do you unclog a gutter downspout from the ground without a ladder?
You don’t necessarily have to get on a ladder to fix downspout clogs, but I would recommend it if you can do it safely. The reason being that it’s likely there is debris up in your gutters that should be cleared out as well that could just create a future downspout clog.
But if going up isn’t an option, you should be able to clear your downspout using one of these options from the ground.
First, get some quality gloves (here are some great work gloves on amazon) and eye protection on and remove the downspout from any extenders or connections to underground drainage. You might need a screwdriver to do this.
Reach in to try to clear any debris with your gloved hands first.
1. A Leaf Blower inserted into the bottom of the downspout
If you have a leaf blower, stick the nozzle into the bottom of the downspout so that there is as good a seal as you can get and turn it on. If the clog isn’t too bad it should shoot the debris out the top of the downspout.
Not a perfect solution because the debris might just get caught in the gutter again (and may rain down on your head), but a super easy thing to try if you’ve got a leaf blower handy. Another concern with this: if you have a screen or strainer at the top of the downspout it might blow them out of the gutter.
2. Spray water from a hose with a nozzle or pressure washer up the downspout
Whether you’re using a hose or a pressure washer, set the stream to be as concentrated as possible and stick it up the downspout.
Give it a few sprays to try to dislodge the clog. The goal is to jar the debris loose and clear it out either at the top or allow it to run down and out the downspout.
3. Use a plumbing snake, drum auger, or vent brush for cleaning dryer vents from the ground
Grab a drum auger like this one:
Make sure not to use an electric/powered auger to avoid damaging the gutters.
(While you should first try this on the ground, if needed you can also try this method from the roof.)
Here’s how to use a drum auger on the downspout:
- Unlock the cable
- Put the end of the snake into the downspout and push it in the downspout as far as it will go. You will probably have to wiggle it around a bit.
- When you can feel that you’ve hit the clog turn the handle, lock the cable, turn the handle clockwise, and work it up and down until you can feel the clog clearing or loosening
- Unlock the cable to reel it in by pulling in the line and rotating the handle counterclockwise
- Run water down the downspout until it runs clear
4. Suck the clog out with a wet/dry or shop-vac from the ground
Shove the end of the shop vac in to create a seal and turn it on to suck out the clog.
5. Knock on the outside downspout
The goal here is to jar the clog loose. You can use this in conjunction with any of the other methods to help the clog along.
Get something wooden like a broom handle or a rubber mallet and knock the downspout all the way up and wodn – you’ll need to do it hard enough to knock the clog out but soft enough that it doesn’t dent or damage your downspout.
To see how the leaf blower and vent brush works from the ground, watch this super-short video:
How do you unclog a downspout from the roof without taking it apart?
Before you do anything at the top, be sure to disconnect the bottom of the downspout from the drain or diverter.
Get up there safely with a ladder. I wrote about using a ladder with a gutter and some safety tips in Can you lean a ladder against a gutter?
1. Scoop out leaves and debris from the gutter and around the downspout
First up while you’re up there, you should clean out your gutters to prevent future clogs. Use your gloved hands, a leaf blower, a pressure washer, a spatula, or a gutter scooper like the below to get the gutter clear.
2. Tap up and down the outside of your downspout to try to dislodge the clog
3. Use a Leaf Blower from the Top of the Downspout
Stick in the leaf blower nozzle at the top and turn it on high until the debris blows out the bottom.
To see a leaf blower in action, check out this quick video:
4. Power washer or hose with a nozzle from the top
The powerful jet of water from a pressure washer or a hose nozzle set to it’s strongest setting should be able to dislodge a clog if it isn’t too tough. B
If just running the water doesn’t clear it out, wrap a rag around the opening so that it creates a sort of seal and turn on the water all the way.
5. A coat hanger or other bendable metal strip from the roof (if the clog is in the top of the downspout)
This only works if the clog is very close to the opening. (Or at least as close to you as your hanger is long.) Straighten out a coat hanger and then bend it to follow the curve of the top of your downspout. Shove it down there and move it around to try to free the debris.
If by some crazy change NONE of the above works, you’ll need to disconnect the downspout completely and clear it out on the ground.
What tools do you use to unclog gutter downspouts?
- Work Gloves
- Eye protection
- Hose or pressure washer
- Bucket, tough plastic trash bags, or yard waste bags to gather debris
- Spatula/Spade to scoop out the gutters when on the roof
- Drum auger
- Leaf blower
- Wet/Dry of Shop-Vac
Why do downspouts get clogged?
Your downspout can be clogged due to any number of things running into them and getting jammed up:
- propeller seeds
- pine needles
- shingle granules
- Bird nests
How do you know if downspouts are clogged? Most common signs
1. Gutter is overflowing
This could be happening at any point along the gutter but if you see it right near or above where the downspout should be draining, it’s a sign that your downspout is clogged up and needs to be cleaned out. If water is coming out of the bottom of the downspout then it could be partially obstructed.
2. No water coming out of the downspout
If it’s raining and nothing is coming out of the bottom of the downspout you have a clogged downspout.
3. Leaks from the downspout seams, elbows, or connection point
So if water is flowing out the bottom and isn’t overflowing above the downspout, you should also check to see if there are any leaks along the seams (where the straight parts of the downspout are sleeved together), downspout elbows (the curved parts of the downspout) or the gutter outlet (where the vertical downspout connects to the horizontal gutter).
4. Sagging gutter
When your downspout gets badly clogged it can be holding a lot of not only extra debris weight (which is probably wet) but also a column of water. All of that weight over time can pull down on the gutters.
How to clear clogs in buried downspouts
If you have a buried downspout (it might be a buried french drain or downspout extension) that is backing up and not flushing at the drain cap – as with all gutter backups – this could lead to serious damage to your basement or foundation.
Buried downspouts will drain into 1 of three possible spots:
- The storm sewer
- Further down away from your house that is down a slope
- A dry well that goes into gravel and then into the ground, again away from your house such that it’s below/away from your foundation.
If you have a problem with a buried downspout, you might be stuck calling a professional in for pressure jetting treatment which involves sending a high-pressure line down through the drainage system. This not only gets rid of any debris clogged in there like leaves and sticks but can also blast through roots that may have intruded into the system.
How often should downspouts be cleaned?
Clear them out when you clean your gutters – twice a year:
- In the fall after your trees are done shedding their leaves
- In the spring after the snow is done
Definitive Guide: Best Time to Clean Your Gutters – When? How often?
Prevent downspouts from getting clogged in the future
1. Clean your gutters twice a year
As mentioned above: once in the spring and once in the fall
2. Trim back any trees that are too close to problem areas of your gutter
3. Install a downspout drain cover, cage, or gutter screen
4. Install a downspout filter/downspout trap
This traps the debris so you can take it out manually. You have to clean these fairly regularly and unless you have an underground drainage system that you are trying to keep the debris out of, these may be more trouble than they are worth.
5. Install gutter guards
6. Increase the number of downspouts
You should have downspouts every 30 to 40 feet at least to handle all of the water coming down sufficiently. If the load on your current downspouts is too great, you might need to have a pro add more.
7. Increase the size of your downspouts
If nothing else has worked, try increasing the size of your downspouts.
The most crucial part of your gutter in relation to draining is the downspout outlet – the part that creates the opening at the top of the downspout. If the hole isn’t big enough or has a lip around the edge that can cause issues.
For example, depending on the size of your gutter you might have a 2×3 inch downspout size that could be upgraded to a 3×4 inch size.
Now for this one, you’ll need professional help to widen the hole, get new hardware, and install it, so it should be a last resort.
Did I miss any ideas for unclogging a downspout? Drop me a line with more ideas: email@example.com