How to Fix a Sprinkler Head that Won’t Rotate

Updated July 17th, 2020

Indeed, sprinklers are effective irrigation systems that come in handy in any farming undertaking. More so when it comes to watering broad areas of your garden or lawn. These automatic systems spray pressurized water on a given surface uniformly by mimicking the effect of rain to ensure that each patch of your garden or grass is sufficiently watered.

While these automatic irrigation systems are magnificent, fitting, and convenient tools for any farming endeavor, there are always those moments when they can malfunction just like any other machinery. You might begin to realize that the area around the sprinkler head is outright marshy while the rest of your garden or lawn is becoming emaciated and wasted. Or perhaps, you notice that only specific patches of your garden or grass are receiving enough water to thrive. It can be infuriating. However, you can take charge of the situation by repairing your sprinkler to optimize its performance.

What’s the Problem with Sprinklers?

Every farmer or lawn owner recognizes the distinctive back and forth motion of head sprinklers firing repetitive spurts of water as they rotate around their arc. If you realize that the rhythm of this pattern is unusual, the chances are that the sprinkler head stucks on one side of the arc, It may also has completely stopped moving altogether. If that’s the case, the malfunction could be as a result of several factors.

Lots of Moving Parts within the Sprinkler

Even though sprinklers might look like simple devices from the outside, they are a maze of gears, valves, and mechanical components. It makes them extremely susceptible to breaking down. And like in any other mechanical gizmo, moving parts are bound to fail, break, get stuck, or become misaligned.

If the product is not damaged or faulty, installation could be the problem. When a malfunction occurs, it is the nature of us human beings to assume that the problem is internal.  Getting the most out of your irrigation sprinkler is a matter of buying the appropriate model and giving it the chance to operate optimally. For that reason, let’s have a look at some of the problems that could be preventing the head of your sprinkler from turning and possible solutions before blaming it on design.

Identify, Prevent and Fix Common Problems All by Yourself

Replacing your malfunctioning sprinkler with another model you perceive to be better might not give you better performance. Manufacturing design changes, manufacturing materials get substituted, and even fluctuations in your water pressure could be the underlying problem. Therefore, be very observant. Evaluate the malfunction thoroughly, and take the right steps to fix the issue as it warrants.

Most of the problems with sprinkler heads are pretty obvious and easy to decipher, while others are mechanical or beyond your capabilities. Either way, there is always a way to get it right and get your sprinkler sprinkling the life necessary to keep your garden or lawn alive all over again. However, as we go through these potential problems and their possible fixtures, bear in mind that they vary from model to model.

Water Pressure or Water Volume

If the water pressure is low, a sprinkler will find it hard to move or not move at all. You might also notice that it moves very slowly or is not able to complete a cycle around its arc. The pressure necessary to rotate the sprinkler head varies from model to model. For instance, you might find out that one sprinkler head will turn nicely with a stream of water at 18 inches high while another one will not move even an inch unless the water flows above 40 inches. If you that the pressure of your water fluctuates frequently, it will be a wise decision to buy a sprinkler that works seamlessly with low to high pressure.

On the other hand, if the pressure is too high, it might dislodge the gears or moving parts inside the sprinkler rendering it ineffective. More often, high pressure increases friction, which in turn wears out these parts and eventually dislodging them, which could be the reason why you are observing erratic movements on the head of your sprinkler.

In other words, there is a huge difference between high volume and high pressure through the functionality is always the same. Therefore, be very vigilant when shopping for sprinklers and make sure to buy one that will rotate in tandem with the pressure of your water.

Solution

If you have determined that water pressure is the reason that your sprinkler head or turn as it should. Decrease or increase the pressure on the faucet or tap that is serving the pipe to the sprinkler then observe for changes. If the sprinkler doesn’t operate on the low-pressure level necessary for a small garden or lawn, you might want to consider replacing it with a more idealist one.

In other situations, you might find that the sprinkler head won’t turn simply because the water pressure from your faucets is too high. It is easier to solve this because it is a matter of installing a water pressure regulator to bring it down to the operational level—most water supplies for domestic purposes set at between 50-60 PSI, which should work well. However, if the readings of your water pressure are above this, get a regulator rather than replacing the sprinkler. It is cheaper that way.

Tips on Water Pressure and Volume

Ensure that there are no leakages on the sprinkler or the hosepipe serving it since this can potentially have a significant impact on the water pressure.

  • If there is a leakage on the sprinkler, check to see if there is a water gasket, and if there is none, consider adding one. If worn-out or old, consider replacing it.
  • In case the hosepipe has leakages that could be compromising water volume and pressure, use hand tights to stop the leakages.

Obstructions

Any object that comes in contact with the head’s cylinder, rotating bar, or adjusting mechanism can result in friction, which in turn can impair the heads movement and operation. If that’s the case, the moving parts and gears will not function as they should. There will be extra load due to rubbing on each other.

Depending on the quality of the head, the movement might be slowed or stopped altogether as the gears attempt to force their way around the arc. It will result in extra damages, such as breakages and dislocations.
This kind of interference is more common in low profile sprinklers such as oscillating one which sits low on the ground. New designs of this model come with wide cylinders that are prone to rubbing against thick mulch and tall grass.

You might notice that when the sprinkler is an uneven surface with tall plants, it will succumb to these interferences and fail to rate or rotate sluggishly. Fortunately, the solution to this is outrightly simple, and anyone can do it.

Solution

Elevate the sprinkler using sticks or place it on an even and stable surface to avoid interaction with any possible obstructions. It is also essential to ensure that the location is free from grass or any other tall plants. If not elevated from such obstructions, you might end up damaging the entire sprinkler in the long run.

Forcing the Gears

We have all done it! Grabbed the nozzle bar and violently spanned it to set it where we want so that the adjustment ring can seamlessly fall into place. Well, don’t do it ever again. And if you haven’t done it yet, avoid it since it could result in catastrophic ramifications. Every time you ignore this advice, bear in mind that this shortcut will be costly and very costly at the end. In other words, don’t be a bully! Let the gears give up themselves if there is some resistance, investigate instead of being brutal.

Solution

Don’t be in a hurry. Gently move only the gears designed for adjustment and never force the nozzle bar of any sprinkler when changing the pattern or speed of the rotation. Instead, let water pressure move the sprinkler bar to the right position without you having to rotate the bar or cylinder to get it there.

Tips when Fine-Tuning the Settings

  • While still connected to the water supply, hold the sprinkler on upside-down position and make the necessary adjustment as the head rotates around its arc.
  • Use a bucket or a board to deflect water spurts beings sprayed. The spurts should indicate the direction of the water, and from then, you can adjust it and let the head rotate 2 or 3 times as you fine-tune the oscillator.
  • When the sprinkler is not connected to a water supply, wait for the head to reach a near-vertical position. You can then make general adjustments safely as you would like for the next patch of your garden or lawn. By so doing, you will know, which could potentially destroy it and prevent it from turning.

Try a Sandpaper

If the sprinkler head is not moving at all or the movements are erratic, you can try a quick fix by using grit sandpaper. Gently rub on all of its components. The paper generates friction and reduces any conflict that could hamper the smooth movement of the sprinkler head. However, don’t spray the moving parts with lubricants. Though it might work in the short run, the lubricant might end clogging nozzles in futures, further escalating your problems.

Clean the Sprinkler Parts of Any Debris

It is general knowledge that if any part of the sprinkler is clogged, the head is not going to turn since water will be restricted from reaching it. Sometimes, clogging might will reduce the range the sprinkler can spray water. You might notice this if the area around the head is marshy while the other parts are dry.

Solution

Carefully remove the sprinkler head and thoroughly check for any debris build-up on the swivel, bearing, or inlet. If you can’t see anything, insert a small needle or pin into the nozzle so that any debris on the inside can loosen up and come out. However, be gentle. If you brutally drill through the nozzle, you could end up damaging it permanently, which can be very costly. After this, clean the entire head to get rid of any grease and dirt. A solution of water and vinegar will come in handy in this cleanup.

You should clean the solenoid valve thoroughly. To reach it, unscrew the valve box using a screwdriver and remove the component. If there is any debris or dirt inside, clean it up and bolt it back.

Check for Misaligned, Worn, or Damaged Parts

When cleaning the sprinkler head, evaluate it keenly to see if there are parts that are damaged or misaligned and could need to be adjusted replaced. In case you notice any damages, save yourself the trouble by replacing the damaged part since, even after fixing, it might not work. If you are not sure if a piece is damaged or not, compare it to another element that is not damaged. Nevertheless, damaged parts will always stick out like a thumb toe.

Solution

In case any part is misaligned or needs to be reset, good for you. All you need to do is align it to its right position or reset it to where it should be. The most important parts to look at are the trip collar and the trip pin. The trip pin is a thin metal located at the base of your sprinkler and should be hard to identify. It is right above the trip collar.

Diffuser/trip pin

Ensure that the trip pin is in a downward position. Otherwise, the sprinkler head will not rotate. If it is misaligned, just return it to its original position, and your sprinkler should begin turning after the readjustment. If you have a flathead screwdriver, this should be very easy to do all by yourself.

Trip/Diffuser Collars

Trip/Diffuser collars are very important more so when it comes to determining the range that your sprinkler can spray water. If not where they are supposed to, they will compromise the area you can water your garden or lawn. The head will be limited to turning only in one direction if they are too close to each other. Should that’s the case, adjust it by pinching the prongs then turning around up to the watering range you want to achieve. If the collars are damaged, there is nothing you can do but to replace them.

Bearing Washers

Replace bearing washers in case you ever used a lubricant on the sprinkler head. Lubricants are oil-based, which means that they attract debris and dirt, which damages the washer faster than usual. If the thickness is less than 2/3 of the original width, you should consider replacing them. Otherwise, your efforts to repair and clean might be futile.

Body or Arm of the Sprinkler

The body or arm of the sprinkler can damage. It can prevent the head from turning seamlessly. If it is bent, try straightening it, but if you can see the damage, you might have to replace it with a more functional one.

Arm Spring

The arm spring might need to be adjusted if the tension becomes slack. If you have a metallic impact sprinkler, unhook the spring from its arm with the help of needle nose pliers and bend it a little bit to readjust its tension. If yours is a plastic model, remove the spring from its current position and rehook to the next protrusion of the sprinkler’s arm.

Last but not least, if you notice any other part of the sprinkler that could be damaged, replace it so that the head can function optimally. If it is misaligned, return it to its right position.

Non-Level Grade

If If you set your sprinkler on a steep incline, the head might fail to rotate as it should or not move at all since the cycle around its arc is significantly compromised.

Placing the sprinkler on an uneven surface will affect the tolerance of the gears and other moving parts. A minor tilt is not bad but avoid tilting it to extremes of 15 to 20 degrees.

Solution

If the slope of your garden or lawn is not even, build a platform to even the surface.

You can try using PVC pipes to create legs for the sprinkler on each side or perhaps a flat plank of wood on each side of the sprinkler. And this should not be an intimidating endeavor. No special implements or tools are necessary here. You only need to ensure the sprinkler is on an even surface.

If building a platform is not practical for you, yet you still have to water your sloping patch of the garden, you can set the sprinkler either at the bottom or top of the slope where the surface is even enough. You can move it along that surface to ensure that every section has enough water.

Final Tips for Efficient Watering

  • Unclog Nozzles: If you notice erratic streams of water from any nozzle, poke it using a paper clip, pin or needle to remove any clogged dirt that could be lingering inside. Poke both the outlet and the inlet and complete the process by flushing out any debris using water.
  • Avoid Misting: Most sprinklers produce large drops of water, just like rain. If your sprinkler is producing mist, most of the wind will carry most of the water away, and very little will settle on your garden. In case you notice that the sprinkler head is producing mist, reduce the volume of water. If this is not viable, consider buying a pressure regulator to keep your water pressure under check.
  • Avoid Windy Times of the Day: Even when the sprinkler is not producing mist jets, strong winds can carry water droplets away from your garden or lawn. It will significantly affect the watering consistency leaving some places dry and other waterlogged if you can’t avoid watering on a windy day, small water sections of your garden or lawn using low height streams of water.
  • Check Soil Saturation: Different sprinkler will require different periods to sufficiently water a certain location. Depending on which you are using, frequently monitor soil saturation to ensure that you don’t go over water a specific patch or underwater it. It will not only help you save water but also help you cover bigger sections of your garden.
  • Take Advantage of Adjustment Options: Though adjustments on many sprinklers can hard to interpret. Fumble around with the adjustments until you are fully aware of how to adjust it from right to left, center to full. If you can’t figure it out, I am sure that the manufacturer will be more than willing to help you out.

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