Your goal is to clear out the dirt, gravel, and sand from the sump. They are carried in by the water and accumulate. This drastically shortens the life of the pump and can jam it up completely, burning it out. It can also jam up the check valve, preventing it from opening, and thus preventing water from being pumped out, which again can burn out the pump. So, a burned out pump might be really caused by a clogged check valve, a clogged pump, both, or just a very old sump pump (though these tend to be pretty long-lasting if properly maintained).
The cleanout is simple – scoop out the dirt. The following steps make this easier:
- If you have a battery backup unit: unplug the main sump pump and trigger the battery back up unit to test that it works. Re-plug in the main sump pump again.
- Run the main sump pump to make sure it works, too. Let it run until as much water is possible is out of the pit.
- Unplug the sump pump so you don’t get electrocuted.
- Have a small garbage can handy and a small plastic cup you can use as a scoop.
- With a screwdriver, disconnect the pipe below the check valve so you can lift the sump pump out of the pit, and do so.
- Hold the garbage can under the check valve and press up with your finger or a screwdriver to let the water out into the garbage can. There may be a lot. If you can’t open it, it’s installed upside down, jammed up, or broken.
- Disconnect the top of the check valve and wash it under running water. There may be some dirt in it, or maybe not.
- Reconnect the check valve so you don’t lose it.
- Lie down on your stomach on the floor, roll up a sleeve, and scoop up dirt from the bottom of the sump into the nearby garbage can. Clean all the dirt out of the sump pit. There may be quite a lot of it. If you get down more than 3 feet (1 m), it’s probably a good idea to stop, though, since that probably means there’s no bottom to your sump pit. You can also use a screwdriver to feel through the muck to find the bottom.
- Dump the dirt, sand, and gravel you get out of the sump outside somewhere, it’s just clean dirt.
- Put the pump(s) back into the clean sump, reconnect the pipes, and make sure the float has free motion to lift up so the pump can turn on.
- Plug it back in and test it by lifting the float, or by filling the sump with water from a hose.
If this seems like a big hassle – remember that sump pumps fail primarily due to dirt & rocks, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.