How to Fix a Sprinkler Head that Won’t Rotate

March 17th, 2020

Indeed, sprinklers are effective irrigation systems that come in handy in any farming undertaking, more so when it comes to watering wide areas of your garden or lawn.

These automatic systems are designed to spray pressurized water on a given surface uniformly by mimicking the effect of rain to ensure that each patch of your garden or lawn is sufficiently waterede.
Whilst these automatic irrigation systems are magnificent, expedient and tremendously convenient tools for any farming endeavor, there are always those moments when they can malfunction just like any other machinery. I mean, you might all over a sudden 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, notice that only certain patches of your garden or lawn are receiving enough water to thrive. With no doubt, this can be infuriating. However, you can take charge of the situation by repairing your sprinkler to optimize its performance and ensure your farming antics are deservingly rewarded.

What’s the Problem with Sprinklers?

Virtually 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 by any chance you realize that the rhythm of this pattern is unusual, chances are that that sprinkler head is stuck on one side of the arc or it 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 or gears, valves and mechanical components which 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 or are they?

Well, if not, how do you explain 5 star and 1-star ratings on the same product? Should this be blamed on cheap materials, lousy craftsmanship by manufacturers or bad design? Truth be told, you could also be the problem. When a malfunction occurs, it is the nature of us human beings to assume that the problem is internal. That might be true. Even so, it is important to give your sprinkler the chance to operate like it should before judging it. The thing is, 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 the design or manufacturer.

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. The thing is, 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 problem 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 and so should your expectations.

Water Pressure or Water Volume

It goes without saying that 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 rotate 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 very big difference between high volume and high pressure through the functionality is always the same. Therefore, be very vigilant when shopping for sprinkler and make sure to buy one that will rotate in tandem with the pressure of your water.

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 any 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 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 operational levels. Most water supplies for domestic purposes are set at between 50-60 PSI which should work well. However, if the readings of your water pressure are above this, you should consider 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.


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 since there will be extra load due to rubbing on each other.
And depending on the quality of the materials used in crafting the head, the movement might be slowed or stopped altogether as the gears attempt to force their way around the arc. This 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 which 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.

Elevate the sprinkler using sticks or place it on an even and solid surface to avoid interaction with any possible obstructions. It is also important 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.

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 being shot away from you 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 rather than the outside one. 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 never be tempted to brutally wrench the head 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 idea is the friction generated by this rough paper will reduce any friction that could be hampering the smooth movement of the sprinkler head. However, don’t get tempted to 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.

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 that could still be lodged within. A solution of water and vinegar will come in handy in this cleanup.
The solenoid valve should also be cleaned 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 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 part is damaged or not, compare it another part that is not damaged. Nevertheless, damaged parts will always stick out like a thumb toe.

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 at 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. If too close to each other, the head will be limited to turning only in one direction. If that’s the case, adjust it by pinching the prongs then turning around up to watering range you want to achieve. If the collars are damaged, there is nothing you can do but to replace them.

Bearing Washers

Bearing washers should be replaced 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, they should be replaced without hesitation. Otherwise, your efforts to repair and clean might be futile.

Body or Arm of the Sprinkler

The body or arm of the sprinkler can also be damaged by one reason or another. This can prevent the head from turning seamlessly. If it is bent, try straightening it but if it is damaged, 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 the 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 your sprinkler is set 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. This might sound stupid but there is the science to explain it.

When placed on an uneven surface which extrapolates to an altered state, the tolerance of the gears and other moving parts is affected. A minor tilt is not bad but avoid tilting it to extremes of 15 to 20 degrees.

If the slope of your garden or lawn is not even, build a platform that is going to even surface so that the sprinkler can be level. This is especially if you will be watering a sloping area.

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 is sufficiently watered.

Final Tips for Efficient Watering

  • Keep Nozzles Unclogged. 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 are designed to produce large drops of water just like rain. If your sprinkler is producing mist, most of the water will be carried away by wind and very little will settle on your garden. In case you notice that the sprinkler head is producing mist, it could be as a result of high pressure. To solve this, reduce the volume of water getting in the hosepipe on the faucet that is serving it. 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. This will significantly affect the watering consistency leaving some places dry and other waterlogged. If you can’t avoid watering on a windy day, water small sections of your garden or lawn using low height streams of water. This will necessitate frequently moving your sprinkler but in the long run, you will have even watered your garden or lawn.
  • Check Soil Saturation: Different sprinkler will require different time periods to sufficiently water a certain location. Depending on which you are using, frequently monitor soil saturation to ensure that you don’t over water a certain patch or underwater it. This 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, don’t be stupid by settling for a compromise. Instead, 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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