Despite precipitation intensities may greatly vary during one flood event, detailed information about these intensities may not be required to accurately simulate floods with a hydrological model which rather reacts to cumulative precipitation sums. This raises two questions: to which extent is it important to preserve sub-daily precipitation intensities and how long does it effectively rain from the hydrological point of view? Both questions might seem straightforward to answer with a direct analysis of past precipitation events but require some arbitrary choices regarding the length of a precipitation event. To avoid these arbitrary decisions, here we present an alternative approach to characterize the effective length of precipitation event which is based on runoff simulations with respect to large floods. More precisely, we quantify the fraction of a day over which the daily precipitation has to be distributed to faithfully reproduce the large annual and seasonal floods which were generated by the hourly precipitation rate time series. New precipitation time series were generated by first aggregating the hourly observed data into daily totals and then evenly distributing them over sub-daily periods (n hours). These simulated time series were used as input to a hydrological bucket-type model and the resulting runoff flood peaks were compared to those obtained when using the original precipitation time series. We define then the effective daily precipitation duration as the number of hours n, for which the largest peaks are simulated best. For nine mesoscale Swiss catchments this effective daily precipitation duration was about half a day, which indicates that detailed information on precipitation intensities is not necessarily required to accurately estimate peaks of the largest annual and seasonal floods. These findings support the use of simple disaggregation approaches to make usage of past daily precipitation observations or daily precipitation simulations (e.g. from climate models) for hydrological modeling at an hourly time step.