Sump Pump Maintenance Checklist : Troubleshooting

A sump pump maintenance checklist includes main steps such as visual inspection, operational testing, and testing the backup pump. Maintenance helps clear out any doubts on whether your sump pump may not work when required. Occasional inspection is the best way to maintain any appliance. Follow the procedures given here to clean and optimize it before you find your sump pump in the crawl space not working.

sump pump maintenance checklist

Visual Inspection

The first way you can check the sump pump is by visual inspection. For this, you need to access the sump pump by removing the pump cover. Sump pump covers come in three common types and have slightly different methods of removal.

One Piece Cover

Unscrew the bolts that hold the cover to remove the sump lid. Once it loosens, slide up the lid through the pipes and cords that pass through it. If you need more space for the inspection, rotate the lid around the discharge pipe to get more room.

Two Piece Cover

This sump cover has two sections that are either separate or joined with a hinge. One section usually has the discharge pipe, and the other has a white round cap. Unscrew the bolts that fix the section without the discharge pipe through it. Once the bolts loosen, remove the section or fold it open carefully as the cover allows. As this allows enough room for the inspection, you need to keep the part of the lid with the discharge pipe as it is. But if you need more space for maintenance, you can remove that part as well.

Clear Cover

This is a transparent cover usually made of plexiglass. It is normally sealed to the basement floor and not to the sump frame. This is not fixed with screws into the concrete foundation like the other types. So, once it is removed, it needs special procedures with a new sealant for re-sealing. 

  • Remove any screws on the cover and place them carefully for later use. Then lift the corner of the lid carefully until the sealant loses around the edge. 
  • Then put down the lid and lift another area of the cover that is still attached to the floor. Continue this until the lid loosens from the floor.
  • Slide the lid up along the pipes to create room for maintenance. You can also rotate the lid around the discharge pipe for more room.

Inspection Steps

Annual maintenance for sump pumps is important to ensure that the pump will run without any issue at the necessary time. So, you don’t need to worry about the risks of water damage to your house. If you do not service your sump, you are risking possible flooding that cost you thousands of dollars on repair. But it only takes a few steps to carry out the periodic maintenance of sump pumps.

Check the Power Supply

The sump pump should always have a separate circuit. Having a surge protector with a built-in fault circuit protector ensures safety against possible damage caused by voltage spikes. If there is no surge protector, you can plug it directly into a GFCI socket. A surge protector or GFCI socket will detect any grounding or fault current and immediately cut off the power to the appliance. You should also check the power cord to make sure that it is in good condition. Inspect all components related to the power supply and contact a professional if you notice any damages.

Check for the Level

As the motor runs, it vibrates the whole sump pump and even the sump basin. This makes the sump pump shift slightly out of place. Although this happens rarely, there is still a possibility that the pump could be unleveled. Examine the sump pump and check it further using a level to make sure that it is correctly leveled.

Inspect the Sump Basin

Once you confirm that the sump pump is running properly, you can inspect the basin. For this, turn off the power supply, disconnect the drainage line, and remove the sump pump from the basin. Check the bottom of the sump basin where debris often collects. It is normal to have a small amount of sand at the bottom. But an excessive amount of sediments cause problems. If you see a layer of sand around the sides of the sump or at the bottom, it is a sign that sediment enters from the footing drains. If you find any sediments accumulated, clean the bottom thoroughly. The sump basin should always be clean and free from debris, or it will block the sump pump eventually.

Inspect the Discharge Lines

The discharge pipes take the water away from the house to a suitable discharge location. It may be a distant spot in the land, a dry well, or the municipal storm drain according to the local codes of your area. Check the discharge lines for any signs of cracks and leaks. If there are any cracks midway in the pipe, the water leaked would end up adding back to the basin, which increases the workload of the sump pump. Also, check the discharge pipe vent to make sure that there is no debris blocking the water from draining out properly. If there are any, clean the discharge lines to remove the sediments.

Clean the Inlet or Screen

If you need to clean the inlet, you should first disconnect the power supply to the sump pump. If the pump is hardwired, you can turn off the designated circuit breaker to the appliance. Then remove the screen on the pump and wash it with clean water. Use a brush to scrub away and remove any dirt accumulated. If your sump pump doesn’t have a screen and has only an inlet opening, you can clean it accordingly. 

Inspect the Check Valve

The function of the check valve is to make sure that the water does not flow back to the pit once the sump pump turns off. A failed check valve in a closed position can cause water to return and flood your basement. Cycle the pump and watch the water level to see whether it rises. You can also hear gurgling noises if the water flows backward.

Operational Check

After the visual inspection, the operational check is important to make sure that everything functions properly. You need to run the sump pump to check that it removes water efficiently. If not, you will hear the sump pump humming but not pumping water. So don’t forget to check the discharge point to confirm that it removes water. 

Check Automatic Start

First, confirm that the pump is plugged directly into the power outlet. Fill the sump basin with water to check whether the sump pump starts automatically. As the float switch or the pressure sensor detects the rise in water level, it should turn on the sump pump. This checks the function of both the motor and the float switch at the same time.

Look for Anything Unusual

As the pump is running, check for any signs of strange sounds or smells. If you notice anything unusual, contact a professional for advice. If the sump pump doesn’t start automatically, get help to troubleshoot the issue. 

Add Water to the Sump Basin

As you get along the cleaning purposes in the process above, the water inside the sump basin might have drained out. So, to avoid damaging the motor, you should pour water back into the sump basin. Then allow the sump pump to run so that it removes additional water and turns off automatically. 

Check Backup Pumps and Alarms

After inspecting the main parts of the system, the next part of the sump pump maintenance checklist is to check the backup pump and the alarm. This ensures that your basement is safe even during a power outage. You can start by physical examination to see that everything is in place.

Test the Backup Pump

Inspecting the backup pump is as important as maintaining the primary sump pump. Sometimes, the primary pump may have a battery backup. If so, check the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions and make sure the battery water is up to the required level. Unplug the backup sump pump and inspect it in the pit and remove any debris blocking the way. In this case, the float switch needs to be positioned higher than that of the primary pump. This makes sure that the backup activates only if the primary pump doesn’t start first. You can check this by unplugging the main pump and adding water to the pit to see whether the backup pump turns on. After the test, make sure to plug the primary pump back into power.

Check the Alarm System

If you have an alarm in the sump pump system, make sure to check it as well. This is the important component that notifies you in case something goes wrong. Make sure that it is mounted properly and that it is free from any obstructions. If you have a high water alarm, raise the float to check whether the alarm activates. But depending on the setup, the alarm may go off when the primary pump is unplugged or when the backup pump activates.

Check Water-powered Backup Pumps

Make sure that the water supply valve is in the On position. If it is a handle-operate ball valve, the On position is when the handle is parallel to the pipe. The Off position is when the handle is perpendicular to the pipe. Unplug the sump pump from the power and remove any debris obstructing the float switch. Get the backflow preventers inspected once every 3 years by a certified plumber. 

Pro Tips

  • An alarm system running on electricity is of no use in a power failure. So, use a battery-powered alarm that works even during a power outage.
  • Inspecting the valves and minor components is another step in the sump pump maintenance checklist. It is as important as checking the sump pump itself. 
  • The float switch is the most common issue in sump pump failures. So, if you find that your sump pump is not working, the float switch should be the first thing to check. Replace the float switch every 3 – 5 years to be on the safe side.
  • It is recommended to have an additional pump with the plumbing pipe already installed. This ensures that your property is protected even if one pump goes out of order. If not, by the time you locate the problem and install a new pump, the damage is already done.
  • Have a battery-powered or water-powered sump pump as a backup option. It keeps water from flooding the basement during a power failure. But you need to have a water supply if you want to have water powered backup pump.
  • Test the pump float whenever the weather forecast announces heavy rain or before the spring thaw. Attach a string to the float switch and pull on the string to test it in a few seconds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Sump Pumps Need Maintenance?

Sump pumps need occasional maintenance to make sure that everything runs well when it’s time to remove water. Some sump pumps need monthly cleaning depending on the location. If you inspect the pumps once every few months and clean obstructions, it makes the annual maintenance easier. Always disconnect the power supply before you attempt any inspection. 

Do Plumbers Clean Sump Pump?

Plumbers usually fix plumbing leaks and not wet basements. However, some plumbers work with sump pumps, but it may differ with their area of specialization. Usually, the waterproofing contractors work in keeping water out of basements and crawl spaces. You can get a professional sump pump installer to get advice about cleaning and maintenance.

How Do You Tell if Your Sump Pump is Clogged?

The sump pump will slow down or fail if the discharge lines are frozen or clogged. Cleaning the drain pipe by removing it from the pump will usually fix this issue. Use a plumber’s snake to clear any debris stuck inside. A wet-dry vacuum is also useful if you have to remove particles from the pipe. Pass water through the pipelines to make sure that there are no more clogs. Test the sump pump after cleaning to check whether it starts removing water.


This sump pump maintenance checklist contains general guidelines applicable to most cases in sump pump maintenance. But the details may differ from one situation to another, depending on the type and model of the sump pump. Check your user manual for better guidance in maintaining your sump pump. Contact a professional if you have any issues regarding the maintenance procedures.