How to Maintain Your Sump Pump So It Lasts Longer

Bry'Ana Arvie
Written by Bry'Ana Arvie
Updated October 14, 2021
A basement turned into an entertainment room with a pool table
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These sump pump maintenance tips can help prevent water damage in your basement

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Rainstorms can be calming and beautiful, but if you tend to worry about your basement flooding instead of listening to the rain fall, it's time to take back control. Your sump pump acts as the silent hero who protects your home from becoming a soggy mess. But even heroes need a little TLC to stay vigilant. Without regular maintenance, your sump pump can fail to keep moisture at bay. Use this comprehensive sump pump maintenance checklist to ensure your system always runs when it's needed—so you never have to find out what happens if it doesn't.

What Is a Sump Pump?

A sump pump is a pump that removes water from the lowest part of your home—typically in a pit or well that’s dug below your basement or crawlspace floor. Though not all homes need a sump pump, they are highly recommended in areas with heavy flooding. 

When the groundwater rises to a certain level, the sump pump activates automatically and drains water out of the basin until the level is back to normal. There are two types of sump pumps—pedestal and submersible. A pedestal sump pump sits outside the pit (or well), and a submersible pump floats in the water. 

You won’t even know your sump pump exists if it’s doing its job. Nonetheless, it needs to be maintained like any other system in your house. Plus, with proper maintenance, it’s possible to make your pump last well beyond its average 10-year lifespan. 

8 Simple Sump Pump Maintenance Tips

Sump pumps can help you avoid costly water damage. So, it’s important that you take the necessary measures to ensure it’s working perfectly. Most of these preventative maintenance items are DIY-friendly, but if you’re hesitant to service the sump pump on your own, consider hiring an experienced professional to conduct a routine systems check. 

1. Test Your Pump

A heavy rainstorm is hardly the time to learn your sump pump isn’t draining properly, so test it every year to make sure. To test your pump, simply fill a bucket with water and pour it into the sump basin. If the pump activates automatically and begins removing water from the well, you’re in good shape. 

2. Check the Sump Pump’s Position

It’s normal for your sump pump’s motor to vibrate while in use. But these vibrations and the water in the unit can cause it to shift positions and stop the float arm from moving freely. A pump that runs nonstop—or a pump that never runs at all—could signify that its position has shifted. Check that your pump is sitting in an upright, level position and is free of obstructions. 

3. Clean the Inlet Screen

The inlet screen—located at the bottom of the sump pump where water enters—is a filter that stops dirt and debris from damaging your unit. If it’s blocked, water can’t get into your sump pump and floods your basement. Even a small amount of standing water on your basement floor can quickly turn into a nasty mold problem. 

Use a toothbrush and water to clean it every four months to prevent blockage. You’ll need to clean it more frequently if you also use your sump pump to get rid of discharge from your washing machine. 

4. Deep Clean Your Sump Pump

As far as annual maintenance, cleaning your sump pump is pretty straightforward. First, disconnect your pump from its power supply and discharge pipe. Then, remove it from the sump basin and rinse off dirt and debris with a hose. This is also a perfect time to clean your grate with that same hose. For caked-on, stubborn grime, use a scraping tool.   

Drain the water out of the check valve —the one-way valve located on the discharge line that helps prevent water back-flow—into a bucket, then use a wet vacuum to remove any water in the basin. If you notice dirt inside, remove it with a rag. Once everything’s clean, you can start putting it back together, reconnect the discharge pipe, and turn the power back on.

5. Inspect the Discharge Line

Your sump pump’s discharge line helps remove water from your pump outside. Like so many other machine parts, debris or small objects can block your water flow. Check it for any blockage and leakage annually.

6. Examine the Discharge Location

Next, ensure that your water is being discharged to the proper location. The excess water from your sump pump should flow: 

  • Downline

  • At least 20 feet away from your home

  • Away from the public sewer system, your septic system, and your neighbors’ properties

If discharged too close to your pump, the excess water could flow back into your pump and cause it to run nonstop. To fix, just reroute the discharge pipe or install a dry well, an underground unit that disposes of your sump water by letting it slowly soak into the soil.  

7. Invest in a Backup Sump Pump

Most sump pumps run on electricity, and in the case of a power outage due to bad weather, you could be left with a sump pump that’s not working and a basement that’s full of water. 

To avoid this, invest in a battery- or water-powered backup sump pump option that doesn’t need electricity to function. They won’t be as powerful as your main pump, but they will offer you peace of mind during power outages.

8. Check the Power Source

Most units use a GFCI outlet, which is designed to shut off during a power surge. Test your outlet once a year; just trip it by pressing the reset button. Also, unplug your float switch and the power cord to reset them. Inspect your cord for damage and replace it if needed.

Signs You Need a Professional

A hand of a plumber while repairing a sump pump
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Even though maintaining your unit can help keep it around for longer, that doesn’t mean problems won’t occur. If you experience any of these issues below, it may be time to replace your sump pump:

  • Strange noises

  • Visible rust

  • Continuously cycling on and off

  • Nonstop running

  • Motor failure, or not turning on at all

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