Is it Time for a Little Fall Cleaning?

by Mark Goldwich

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As the Fall season is upon us, with more and more proof descending from the trees each day, I began to wonder why no one ever says, “Time for a good Fall cleaning” like they do each Spring. According to, “Spring cleaning is the practice of thoroughly cleaning a house in the springtime. The practice of spring cleaning is especially prevalent in climates with a cold winter.”

I read on to learn “It has been suggested that the origins of spring cleaning date back to the Iranian Norouz, the Persian new year, which falls on the first day of spring. Iranians continue the practice of "khooneh tekouni" which literally means "shaking the house" just before the new year. Everything in the house is thoroughly cleaned, from the drapes to the furniture. A similar tradition is the Scottish "New Year's cleaning" on Hogmanay (December 31), a practice now also widespread in Ireland, New Zealand, and to North America.

“Another possibility of the origin of spring cleaning can be traced to the ancient Jewish practice of thoroughly cleansing the home in anticipation of the spring-time memorial feast of Passover. In remembrance of the folktale of the Jews' hasty flight from Egypt following their captivity there, during the seven-day observance of the Passover memorial or remembrance, there are strict prohibitions against eating or drinking anything which may have been leavened or fermented with yeast. Jews are not only supposed to refrain from leavened foodstuffs, they are expressly commanded to rid their homes of even small remnants of chametz for the length of the holiday. Therefore, observant Jews conducted a thorough "spring cleaning" of the house, followed by a traditional hunt for chametz crumbs by candlelight (called bedikat chametz) on the evening before the holiday begins.

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“In North America and northern Europe, the custom found an especially practical value due to those regions' continental and wet climates. During the 19th century in America, prior to the advent of the vacuum cleaner, March was often the best time for dusting because it was getting warm enough to open windows and doors (but not warm enough for insects to be a problem), and the high winds could carry the dust out of the house. For the same reason, modern rural households often use the month of March for cleaning projects involving the use of chemical products which generate fumes. The most common usage of spring cleaning refers to the yearly act of cleaning a house from top to bottom which would take place in the first warm days of the year typically in spring, hence the name.”

Now, I will admit that “Spring cleaning” typically refers to cleaning done inside the home, so perhaps “Fall cleaning” should refer to cleaning done outside the home. After all, the weather has cooled down (some, but not much yet), and there is plenty to clean up outside the home, the most obvious of which is the leaves. While Fall leaves make for great photographs, and great fun (if you like diving into a huge pile of them), for most property owners, the falling leaves represent a lot of work…work that has either got to be done yourself, or that you have to pay others to do.

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But now that we are thinking about cleaning up around the home, let’s go beyond raking leaves in the yard. Keep in mind, not all leaves that fall end up in the yard. Many land on the roof, and collect in valleys, or low spots, or gutters. I have seen roofs that have had so many leaves fall for such a long time without being cleaned up, that the leaves had decomposed into dirt, and small trees were sprouting up!

Leaves left on roofs can create a number of problems. They tend to gather, so the pile of leaves grows bigger and bigger (without any raking). When leaves gather on a roof, they invite pests of all kinds to nest and reproduce. Water flow is restricted by the leaves, which may allow water to make its way into your home, without ever “creating” an opening. The reason most roofs are sloped is so water (as well as snow) can flow quickly off the roof, fast enough so it does not find a way into the building. 

When you reduce the speed at which the water is attempting to exit the roof, you increase the opportunity for the water to find a way in. Also, decomposing piles of leaves stay wet longer, and can damage roof shingles.  The same goes for leaves that gather too long in gutters. The leaves eventually decompose, making room for more and more leaves, which also decompose, and after a while the gutters are full of a mushy organic material that supports insect life, plant growth, and weighs heavy on the gutters, as well as the pins that attach them to the roof structure.

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In other words, if you see a bunch of leaves on your roof, or in your gutters, it is best to clear them out as soon as possible. Your home will not only look better, but it will function better, and last longer. And you shouldn’t wait for “Fall cleaning” to do this, but do it anytime you see a “gathering” of leaves, twigs, or branches. This might also be a good time to trim back tree branches and shrubs from your roof or the walls of your home. There should never be tree branches close enough to scrape against your home in a breeze, and there should be a clear space of at least a foot between your home and any shrubs.

I was recently on a roof that had a flat portion in the back, under several huge trees of differing species, and it was literally covered in a 4 inch blanket of leaves in various states of decomposition, with some twigs and dead branches thrown in for good measure. I asked the owner (who was older than I am, and I am no Spring chicken) for a broom, and spent at least 30 minutes clearing off the leaves (a shovel would have done the job a lot faster, and with a lot less effort, but that could easily damage the roof, so don’t try this at home!). I was drenched with sweat, but did a good deed, and got in an extra workout for the day! Oh, Karma, where art thou!

Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.   


  1. I'm convinced that FALL stands for Furious Amounts of Leaf Litter. After reading Mark's blog, guilt forced me onto the roof to sweep the Fall foliage away. I'll probably have to do so again before the end of the year.

  2. "Fall Cleaning" is a MUST here in Florida, especially after the intense growing season of summer!

  3. I love fall and living here in Florida it's been great! One thing is a MUST clean your gutters, we have rented 2 homes here and the owners did not clean out the gutters which caused them to pull away from the home allowing water to seep in and it rotted out some of the roof! Not a good thing... Plan for clean up it matters...

  4. Time to climb the ladder and check out the roof. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. I have already cleaned our gutters and my wife has keep my honey do list full for many weeks now. I am glad to see there was actually a reason people began Fall and Spring cleaning a long time ago.