Cleaning Irrigation Systems Properly

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Cleaning Irrigation Systems Properly

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At the end of the growing season crops are harvested and some of the farming equipment is stored. Tractors, harvesting equipment, sprayers, and tillage equipment is hauled into sheds for winter. While in storage, these pieces of equipment get maintenance checks to fix one thing or another in preparation for the next growing season.

However, not all farming equipment can be stored. For example, irrigation systems.

Irrigation systems are vital in agriculture and essential in regions where annual precipitation cannot meet the moisture required to produce a crop.

How important is irrigation in the U.S.?

According to the USDA, approximately 20% of land used for crop production is irrigated and yet it accounts for 54% of total crop sales value. Thus, we are highly dependent on irrigation for our survival.

Other reasons underlie the importance of irrigation include:

  1. Drought compensation – Allows crop production to occur in places where there is too little rainfall or uncertainty about rainfall.
  2. Increasing the area of cultivable land – Some areas/regions are naturally arid. Irrigation can turn arid land into productive, cultivable land.
  3. Maintaining/increasingfoodsecurity – Irrigation expands man’s ability to grow food where it is impossible to do otherwise. With a rapidly increasing global population, irrigation technologies provide a lifeline to sustainable food production and with it, food security.
  4. Increasing cropproductivity – Whereas the lack of rainfall can be compensated for by irrigation, in instances where there is sufficient rainfall, irrigation can be used to increase crop productivity.
  5. Enabling multiple cropping – irrigation makes it possible to grow multiple crops at the same time in one area. This is ideal in the tropics where there is no winter.

What are the major types of irrigation systems used in crop production?

Two types of irrigation systems widely used in crop production are drip irrigation and spray irrigation.

  • Drip irrigation system – consists of plastic pipes, with holes in them, that are laid along the row of crops or buried along their root lines. Water is sent through the pipes and seeps out of the holes to irrigate crops.


  • Spray irrigation system –mimics how one might stand with a hose watering a lawn and spray water in all directions. Spray irrigation systems are characterized by having a long pipe fixed at one end to a water source. Water flows through pipes and is shot out onto crops by a system of emitters. Two commonly used spray irrigation systems are overhead sprinkler and center-pivot.
    • Overhead sprinkler irrigation system – water is pumped into pipes under pressure and sprayed down onto plants from flat spray nozzles.
    • Center-pivot irrigation system – consists of several metal frames on rolling wheels that hold the water pipes in the field.  The pipe is fixed to the water source at the center of the circle. A big water gun (emitter) at the end of the pipe delivers the water onto the plants. Electric motors move each frame in a big circle around the field.

End of season maintenance check of irrigation systems

At the end of the crop growing season, a routine maintenance check of the irrigation system must be performed. During this check, the irrigation system is flushed with water to:

  • Check for leaks and remove debris that may plug the emitters/nozzles.
  • Check sprinklers to verify that water flow and pattern match the irrigation system design.
  • Visually inspect sprinklers for consistency in spray distribution pattern. Faulty sprinklers should be replaced.
  • Use a pressure gauge to verify the pressure at the pump, pivot point, and end of the pivot. The pressure from in-season should compare to end-of-season pressure

End of season maintenance checks include an examination of gearboxes, wheels, tires, and other parts that some irrigation systems rely upon for the delivery of water.

Why do irrigation systems need to be cleaned?

Cleaning irrigation systems is necessary because of issues related to the quality of water used for irrigation. Water for irrigation comes from a variety of sources that include lakes, ponds, rivers, wells, and municipal water systems, and may have large differences in quality. For example,

  • Well water and municipal water is generally free of debris, clean, and may require only a screen or disc filter to remove particles in the water.
  • Lake, pond, and river water will contain inorganic solids such as soil particles (sand, silt, and clay); organic solids such as algae, bacteria, and slime; and dissolved solids such as iron, sulfur, and calcium.
  • The pH of irrigation water determines whether or not certain cations that are prevalent in some lake, pond, and river waters will remain in solution (typically when pH is low) or precipitate and potentially lead to blockages within the irrigation system.

Analyzing the quality of water sources prior to installing an irrigation system will help identify inorganic solids, organic solids, and dissolved solids particular to a water source. The local Cooperative Extension Service County agent can supply a list of laboratories within the state that provide this service.

The water quality report:

  • Identifies substances in the water that are likely to become problematic during the crop growing season. If not addressed, the identified problems can lead to insufficient amounts of irrigation water reaching crops and affect crop yield.
  • Indicates what remedy needs to be put in place to ensure that the irrigation system runs smoothly during the season and the type of cleaning that needs to be done at the end of the growing season.

Properly cleaning an irrigation system

At the end of the growing season, flushing the irrigation system helps clear out the buildup of unwanted material in the pipes, like bacteria and residual calcium salts.

Using an acid to flush out the pipes will help clean out salt deposits of manganese, calcium, iron, and other cations commonly found in water.

Using an anti-clogging, line maintenance flush and stain control product specifically designed to clean irrigation systems provides the best results. For example:

  • Royal Flush™ – designed for use with low volume irrigation systems and to unclog emitters.
  • Royal Conditioner™ – contains a water conditioning agent and it controls iron and calcium stains.
  • F-239™ – non-corrosive line cleaner that also controls irrigation stains.
  • Water Conditioner™ – irrigation stain control and line cleaner.


Read the label and use caution

When flushing an irrigation system using an acid-based product, like Royal Flush, Royal Conditioner, F-239, and Water Conditioner wear proper safety equipment to protect your face, hands, and skin.

Further Reading



Brewer International has been a leader in land and water chemistry since the 1980s and for over 40 years has proudly served its national and regional distributors.

Our products are used widely across the United States in agriculture, aquatics, forestry, rights of way, and land management.

Our customers trust our dedication to quality ingredients, tried and true formulas, and positive outcomes.

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