How to Clean and Maintain a Sump Pump

By Elizabeth Hannigan , last updated January 16, 2012

In order to clean and maintain your sump pump, you'll want to know a little bit about it first. A sump pump is a machine that moves liquids for drainage. If you live somewhere with a high water table or frequent flooding, you are probably already all too aware of how important a sump pump is to protecting your home from mold and mildew. In order to work, a sump pump goes inside of a sump pit. A sump pit is simply a hole in your crawl space or basement designed to collect water. Once the water in the sump pit reaches a certain height, a floatation device attached to the sump pump is lifted and the pump turns on automatically, pumping water away from your house. Your sump pump requires regular maintenance. If you rarely use it, you should maintain it at least every five years. If you live somewhere that isn't friendly to sump pumps, somewhere sandy or muddy for example, you should service your sump pump yearly.

Why Clean It?

The main point of servicing your sump pump is to clean out dirt, gravel and sand. These things are carried into the sump pit by water and if you allow them to build up they could clog and break your pump. Do not wait until your house floods to discover that your sump pump is clogged. Most homeowners do not discover that their sump pumps are clogged until either the house is flooded and they can't even get to the pump or else the house begins to flood and the clog has completely burned the motor of the sump pump out.

Schedule Your Cleaning

Schedule a regular time to check your sump pump while you believe it is still working. Begin your sump pump maintenance by running the sump pump to confirm that it actually does work. Ideally, you would do this by filling the sump pit with enough water to lift the floatation device and activate the pump. Running clean, fresh water through your sump pump is safer for the pump and will help to clean out the drain pipes. If this is not a realistic possibility for you, lift the floatation device with your hand to see if the pump turns on. You should do this as quickly as possible. Running the pump for more than a few seconds without water could cause it to burn out.

Unplug Your Sump Pump

Next, unplug your pump in order to prevent electrocution. Get a small plastic garbage can ready to prevent messes. Use a screwdriver to disconnect the pipe below the check valve, then lift the sump pump out of the sump pit. Hold the plastic garbage can underneath the sump pump's check valve, and press up on the check valve with your finger or a screw driver to drain the water into the garbage can. Then, disconnect the top of the check valve and remove it. Wash this piece under warm running water, and reconnect the check valve. Remove the dirt from the bottom of the sump pump and place it in the garbage can. Clean out all of the dirt inside of the sump pit.

Reinstall Your Pump

Now that your sump pump and pit are clean, install the sump pump back into the sump pit. Reconnect all of the pipes you disconnected and confirm that the floatation device can move up and down freely so that the sump pump can turn on. Plug the sump pump back in. Test that it still works by either filling the sump pit with water from a hose or by lifting the floatation device for a few seconds.

Troubleshooting

If your sump pump refuses to turn on, you will need to check the electrical system. First, try unplugging the sump pump and plugging a different electronic device into the same outlet to confirm that the outlet is working. Next check to see if the breaker is on. If your outlet is working find, consult your sump pump owner's manual and follow the instructions to reset the switch on the motor. Check to see that the switch activated by the floatation device is operational. You may need to replace just the switch on your sump pump, as switch connectors can get dirty or burnt out. If you have been running your sump pump in a clogged state for a long time, there is a chance that you have burned your motor out and you will need to replace the entire sump pump.

Do not postpone repairing or replacing your sump pump. Aside from protecting your house from mold and mildew by draining standing water, the sump pump also protects the foundation of your house by removing excess soil moisture. Keep your sump pump in good working condition to avoid costly repairs in the future.

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