Troubleshooting Problems with an Oscillating Sprinkler

An oscillating sprinkler on a green lawn.

A quick and easy option for watering the lawn is with an oscillating sprinkler. This simplistic mechanism has been around since the late 1800s and still going strong. The operation of an oscillating sprinkler looks straightforward with minimal moving parts to regulate the water. But while sprinklers can have issues specific to their particular model and manufacturer, there are several basic problems many oscillating sprinklers experience.

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Water Hose Problems

Whenever the sprinkler is not working at its best or not at all, there are a couple of areas that could be causing the problem. It doesn’t take much to cause an oscillating sprinkler to malfunction.

If the sprinkler is coughing and sputtering with limited water being emitted, the problem could be as simple as air in the hose because of a crimped line. To eliminate the problem, turn off the water and disconnect the hose from the sprinkler. Straighten the hose line, allowing built-up air to escape. If your hose has a weak area due to age or damage that causes the crimp, replace it so the sprinkler has access to a direct flow of water.

A twisted garden hose on a green lawn.

Check the hose connection point for gushing water. This will interfere with the sprinkler’s operation and may only need a hose gasket installed or replaced.

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Low or High Water Pressure

Since an oscillating sprinkler is dependent on regulated water pressure to disperse a constant spray to lawns, having too much or too little affects the sprinkler's operation.

When the water pressure is too low, there isn’t enough pressure to move the distribution/cylinder bar back and forth. Depending on how low the water pressure is, the sprinkler can move extremely slow to one side, but may not have enough pressure for it to pivot back. This results in no oscillation. In other models, the cylinder bar may not move at all, remaining in a stationery position.

Troubleshooting for low pressure is easy enough. First, check for crimps in the line. Next, increase the flow by turning the faucet clockwise. The problem may only require more water power. Observe the sprinkler to see if increased water affects the sprinkler motion. If it still does not operate properly, it may be that the water pressure on your property is to too low to accommodate the need of an oscillating sprinkler and you may need to purchase a different model. Check the manufacturer’s information regarding the use of the sprinkler with low or high water pressure.

A close-up image of an exterior water faucet.

High water pressure creates its own problems for sprinklers. The internal structure of an oscillating model revolves around gears that interact with the water to create the oscillating motion. Whenever the water flow is too strong, the pressure can work against the gears, causing them to work contrary to their design specifications. When the gears don’t operate according to design, it can result in the bar not moving at all or moving in an erratic motion. Either can cause the gears to become unaligned and can result in permanent damage or breakage.

To avoid too much water pressure, adjust the faucet to a lower level to determine if it makes a difference in the sprinkler’s operation. If it does not, you may need to purchase a pressure regulator from a plumbing company or home improvement center.


Rust, corrosion, and grime buildup is problematic. Wipe the sprinkler with a clean cloth and then apply spray lubricant to each end of the oscillating arm for smooth operation.

Remove any obstructions that may interfere with the sprinkler’s operation, including tall grass, weeds, gravel, or mulch. Because of its low design, anything that inhibits the cylinder/arm causing unnecessary rubbing may cause the sprinkler to not rotate properly, or at all, resulting in stripped or dislocated gears.

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