What Happens If You Don't Clean Your Gutters?

by Michael Franco
Man clearing leaves from gutter up high on ladder

Considering just how fun it is to clean your home's gutters, it's no wonder that the question arises: "What if I just skipped it?"

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Well, unfortunately, the short answer is: "Nothing good." Here's what you need to know about gutter cleaning and why not undertaking this task is simply a bad idea.

When and Why Do I Need to Clean My Gutters?

Unless you have some kind of gutter guard or screening system in place, your gutters are wide open to the air. This means that over time, leaves and other debris can settle in the channels that are meant to funnel water to downspouts and away from your home. Once enough debris gathers, your gutters can become clogged and won't function any longer. You might think that non-functioning gutters aren't such a big deal and be tempted to skip this important home maintenance task; however, as we'll see, clogged gutters can lead to some pretty serious damage in and around your home.

Generally, you should check your gutters one to two times per year. If you live in an urban environment where there aren't a lot of trees dropping leaves onto your roof and in your gutters, a once-per-year checkup and cleanout should be fine. If you live in a more wooded setting, you'll want to look at cleaning your gutters at the end of the fall and again at the end of spring. You'll also want to inspect your gutters after any major weather event to ensure tree limbs or other debris haven’t gathered in them.

What Happens If I Don't Clean My Gutters?

Still not motivated to put gutter cleaning at the top of your annual home maintenance checklist? Knowing these effects from skipping the chore might help.

Residential roof with damage to several shingles

Roof Damage

If your gutters are clogged, they will fill with water. This standing water can come in contact with your roofing shingles and cause them to deteriorate faster than normal. The water can also penetrate to the underlying decking, causing it to rot. A rotten roof — even just along the edges that come in contact with your gutters — can lead to water inside your house which, of course, is something best avoided.

Foundation Damage

If gutters are functioning properly, they will funnel rainwater through downspouts, where it can flow away from your home. When they are clogged, the water can flow over the edges and pool all around the base of your home. This can cause the ground around your foundation to soften, which can make it shift and lead to cracks. Water can also seep through your foundation walls, leading to a wet and unsanitary basement or crawlspace.

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Landscaping and Driveway Damage

Similarly, if you have plantings around your home and your gutters dump water on them every time it rains, they can eventually become waterlogged and die. Water that doesn't properly drain away from your home can also seep under driveways and cement patios. When that water freezes, it can cause cracks and damage to these areas, not to mention creating icy slipping hazards.

exterior of a home loaded with frozen waterfalls of ice creating a dam on the roof

Ice Dams

Standing water is bad enough, but things get even worse when the temperatures drop, and that water turns to ice. As the ice melts and refreezes over days, it can lead to ice dams — heavy packs of ice that hang from your gutters. These dams can pull the gutters away from your house or even create leaks in your roof. Clean gutters won't completely stop ice dams from forming if you live in an area that gets heavy snow, but they can certainly help.


Wet decomposing leaves can provide a rich environment for many insects and other pests to thrive. It's one thing if those pests stay outside, but another thing entirely when they begin to enter your home seeking shelter or warmth. It’s best not to invite them in the first place by keeping your gutters clean.

Mold and Mildew

All that wet mass can also invite the growth of mold and mildew, which not only looks unsightly, but can cause serious health damage and be extremely costly to mitigate if it enters your home.

Get Your Mind in the Gutter!

Hopefully, you now realize that as unpleasant a task it might be, getting your gutters cleared of debris at least once a year is a critical part of keeping your home in good shape. If you're not comfortable getting up on a ladder to do the task yourself, there are plenty of companies that will take care of the chore for you.