How to Clean a Clogged Emitter or Sprayer?

How to Clean a Clogged Emitter or Sprayer?

Jul 5th 2024

Emitters or sprayers are one of the main components of a drip irrigation system that controls the water volume and flow rate from drip tubing to plants. However, emitters are exposed to pollution and can experience problems. Clogging is the most common issue with emitters and sprayers. The tiny openings in emitters can get clogged even with clean water. A clogged emitter causes water flow variations, negatively affecting plant quality and water efficiency. Chemicals and fertilizers we use in irrigation systems or minerals in water can build up and clog the drip emitter. Therefore, regular maintenance and cleaning of emitters is important to ensure they work effectively without reducing the lifespan of your irrigation system.

In this blog, our irrigation experts explain the causes of emitter clogging and how to clean clogged and blocked emitters.

Why do Emitters Get Clogged?

Clogging can occur due to debris buildup, such as dirt, sand, and plant matter. When clogging happens, water doesn't reach the plant and even damages them.

Physical Clogging

This is the common cause of clogging of emitters. Suppose the irrigation water is poor quality and the filtration system is not installed correctly. In that case, the debris and sediment will flow into drip tapes or drip lines from where they pass through emitters and block the water flow, clogging the emitter. Sand particles are usually found in surface water. Some suspended solids can be too big to pass through the emitter's small opening and might end up clogging it. Sometimes, silt-sized particles accumulate in tubing and cause clogging.

Chemical Clogging

It is caused by the crystallization of chemicals or inorganic salts in water. One problem is that adding fertilizers to irrigation water (fertigation) can cause clogging due to high mineral concentrations and chemical interactions, which will block the emitter's flow channel. Moreover, if the irrigation water is hard, calcium, iron, magnesium, and manganese sedimentation can block the dripper.

Biological Clogging

The growth of algae, green moss, and other organisms in the emitter flow channel causes biological clogging. If algae and other microorganisms are prevalent in irrigation water and the drip system is combined with fertigation, it will cause the proliferation of microorganisms, which will clog the emitters. As the drip irrigation system provides water directly to the soil and plants' roots, it provides an ideal environment for bacteria, algae, and fungi to grow, which can lead to slime accumulation. Bacterial slime can also cause clogging in the emitter.

Types of Cleanable Emitters Available

Cleanable emitters and sprayers are a great choice if you have hard or dirty water. They can be easily taken apart for cleaning. Here are the emitters available on DripWorks that can be easily cleaned.

Take-Apart Emitters

Take-Apart emitters feature a locking cap that can be easily removed for cleaning. They work effectively with low-pressure gravity systems and are UV-resistant to provide protection against sun damage. This easy-to-clean emitter has a 1/4" barb inlet, which can be inserted into a hole in mainline tubing or attached to the end of 1/4" microtubing.

CETA Emitters

Our CETA emitters are cleanable pressure-compensating emitters that can be taken apart for easy cleaning. These PC emitters can work within a 15-45 PSI pressure range. They have three different flow rates and a 1/4" barb inlet and outlet. They are made of premium quality chemicals and UV-resistant materials.

Non-Plugging Emitters

If you have a dirty water supply that quickly clogs the filter screen, use non-plugging emitters for your irrigation needs. These emitters cannot be taken apart for cleaning but are a great option for someone who has dirty water for their irrigation. These emitters are reliable, non-clogging emitters available. Use a coarse-screen filter for large particles; this non-plugging emitter will pass the particles that plug other drip emitters. It has two diaphragms with six small openings. When minerals block the diaphragm openings, pressure builds up and stretches the opening, which forces the particle through. Then, the opening returns to its normal size.

Types of Cleanable Sprayers

These sprayers at DripWorks provide large quantities of water to crops.

Spectrum Sprayers

This adjustable spectrum sprayer has an umbrella spray pattern and is one of our best-selling cleanable sprayers. Its top can be easily removed for cleaning, and it has no moving parts that can be damaged. Use this sprayer to deliver efficient water to plants.

Adjustable Bubbler

This is also an excellent choice for people who have dirty water. Adjustable bubblers are cleanable emitters that deliver a large amount of water to a small area. They have a twistable cap and come with a 5" stake.

PC Shrubblers

Shrubblers allow you to expand your watering options while using less water. They can be disassembled easily for cleaning. These sprayers emit water streams that can be adjusted from a slow drip to a large 12-inch spray pattern. They have a cap that can be turned off by just twisting. Also, they require minimum filtration.

How to Clean Clogged Emitters or Sprayers?

Here is a step-by-step process to clean the emitters.

  • Turn off the water supply to prevent accidental water flow that can damage the drip system.
  • Carefully unscrew the emitter top from the body. Turn on your water to flush out debris clogging the emitter and replace the cap. Remove the emitters from the tubing if the emitter needs further cleaning.
  • Fill a container with clean water and a cleaning solution suitable for cleaning clogged emitters, such as vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Soak the emitters in this solution for at least one hour until the solution dissolves sediments and mineral deposits.
  • Use a small brush to remove dirt or debris inside the emitter. You can also insert a paper clip in the opening to clear debris. Then, rinse the emitter under clean running water and remove the cleaning solution.
  • After cleaning the emitters thoroughly, dry them and reinsert them in the tubing.
  • Test the system to confirm each emitter works correctly and that there are no leaks or blockages in water flow. If any emitter appears faulty and is not functioning correctly, replace it with a new one. Keep extra drip fittings on hand while cleaning and replacing the emitters.

Tips for Maintaining Drip Emitters

Here are expert tips to maintain drip irrigation emitters and prevent clogging.

  • One of the most effective ways to prevent clogged emitters is to use filters in the irrigation system. Filters help catch dirt, debris, and minerals that cause emitter blockage. An appropriate filtration system from a reliable manufacturer is essential to ensure proper water flow and avoid clogging issues.
  • Flush the system regularly with clean water. Flushing is done by removing the end caps on irrigation pipes, allowing the water to flow through the lines, and flushing out any debris or deposits trapped in them. Replace end caps with flush valves to flush the lines automatically after every watering session.
  • Check the water quality. Hard water can lead to faster mineral accumulation and emitter clogging.
  • Inspect drip emitters frequently to ensure no leakage, damage, or blockage.

The Bottom Line

Remember, a well-maintained drip irrigation system not only prevents common issues like clogging but also ensures your plants receive the optimal amount of water, increasing the system's life. Follow these tips and use high-quality, cleanable emitters from DripWorks to maintain your system's efficiency and keep your garden thriving.