How Do Lawn Sprinklers Work? [Which One Is Right For You?]

When several sprinklers spray water on a large yard, at the same time it creates a mesmerizing moment. Out of interest, we often wonder how do lawn sprinklers work?

While researching, I have come across several types of these water-spraying heads. They have different mechanisms and are used in different circumstances.

So, I have described the working principles of all those models to satisfy your curious mind. Without further ado, let’s get started.

How Does A Lawn Sprinkler Work?

A sprinkler is a device used to irrigate lawns, flower beds, landscapes, golf courses, playgrounds, and agricultural crops. The water is distributed evenly through a network that might consist of pumps, valves, pipes, sprayers and nozzles. When water is pressurized through the pipe, it gets dispersed from the nozzle and sprinkles water on the greens. According to the size, water is piped one or more central locations within the field and sprayed by high pressured spraying guns.

There are both manual and automatic irrigation sprayers. While with the manual one, you can judge the weather and keep it on accordingly, the automatic one saves you from the hassle. It’s like set and forget, it will turn on without any manual intervention at specified points in the day. So, you can go for vacations and business trips without worrying about a dead lawn.

Again, the best time for watering the grass is early in the morning. So, with the automated irrigation system, it will turn on and start watering even before you wake up from sleep.

Some can be installed with retractable heads for aesthetics and practical usage, preventing damage from lawn mowing. Also, there are portable options, too for watering larger areas efficiently.

However, irrigation sprinklers vary in size, cost, and mechanism. So, you have to choose wisely, keeping your property or garden size and water pressure in mind. You can also set it underground or above the soil level. Some can be super noisy too. If it’s an issue for you, consider this factor before you fit the sprinkling irrigation system.

Types Of Different Sprinkling Systems And Their Working Mechanisms

These are the different types of sprinkler systems for lawns:

  • Rotating Sprinkler
  • Impact
  • Gear-driven
  • Stream
  • Fixed Sprayer
  • Oscillating Sprinkler
  • Portable Sprayer
  • Pop-up Sprinkler

Let’s dive into further details about their mechanism, required water pressure level, best-suited field size and watering range. Because the last thing I want is you won’t end up fitting the wrong irrigation system and a dried-out lawn.

Rotating Sprinkler

You may ask, how do rotating sprinklers work?

Well, as the name suggests, these sprinklers deliver water in rotating streams over the lawn and garden areas. Evenly Distributes water in such a manner that every patch of lawn gets the same amount of water. On top of that, it’s perfect for slow absorbing soil.

These sprinklers require fewer stations because each one covers a much larger area. It’s an ideal solution to irrigate fields of any size and shape. For larger space, it is more useful than any other type of stationary sprayer. Even some models can even throw water at a huge distance, as far as 90 ft. as a result, covering a diameter of about 180 ft.

  • Compatible to: Any sized field
  • Covering range: Up to 180ft
  • Required water pressure: 40-50psi

There are 3 more types of rotating sprinklers. These are the impact, gear-driven, and stream sprayer.


These are the most common type of rotating sprinklers. The head of the sprinkler sits on a rotating bearing that allows them to pivot as water disperses through them for full 360-degree coverage. The head is made of hardwearing metal, making the sprinkler withstand the elements and the wear and tear.

But the drawbacks are, it makes really loud noises and requires more maintenance. Obviously, you don’t want to disturb your neighbours early in the morning by watering the lawn, do you? So, nowadays, homeowners opt for other types of low maintenance rotatory sprayers that run quietly. It’s used in commercial properties like golf courses.


These are more consistent and quieter rotating sprayers. Instead of an arm, it sprinkles water using an internal mechanism, namely, a gear to move the sprayer through its watering arc.

This allows them to water without making much noise or in a shaky motion like the impact sprinklers. So, it can be used both in commercial and residential areas. Also, it requires less maintenance and can spread water streams at a distance between 18 to 55 ft.

Stream Rotor Sprinklers

This one is also known as multi-stream rotors as they spray rotating streams of water in multiple directions simultaneously. These are beyond doubt the most beautiful sprinklers to watch operate.

This gear-driven sprayer increases efficiency by 30% by dispersing water uniformly in many directions at once. The rotating stream technology delivers water at a low precipitation rate, making it perfect for slow absorbing soil and uneven ground.

The only drawback is that the head can get easily clogged if you use unfiltered water and cause operational problems.

Best suited for: Medium to large-sized lawns

Fixed Sprayer

It sprays in such a pattern of streaming water that does not change the direction. But in most of the models, the user has the option to set the angle. So you can spray in the quarter, half and full circle. When you set the half-circle option, it can sufficiently water the lawn’s whole edge without wasting any water on the sidewalk.

This kind of sprayer runs at low pressure and can’t throw water as far as the rotating one. So, if you’ve got a small to medium lawn with a low water pressure level, this is the best option for you.

  • Perfect for: Small to medium-sized lawns
  • Covering range: 3-16 ft
  • Required water pressure: 20-30 psi

Oscillating Sprinkler

This kind of sprayer has a metal arm that oscillates (move back and forth at a fixed speed) so that the entire lawn area is thoroughly covered. It’s reasonably well priced, ideal for small to medium properties. If you have a rectangular-shaped even yard, then this is for you.

Again, if you have newly planted grass seeds, go for it. After sprinkling one spot, it gives time so that the soil can soak before sprinkling again.

  • Perfect for: Small to medium-sized rectangular or square-shaped lawns
  • Covering range: around 20 ft
  • Required water pressure: 30-50 psi

Tractor Sprinkler

Also known as a traveling sprinkler, a self-propelled sprayer can water the yard moving from one place to another. This type of sprayer makes an amazing alternative to several sprinklers fitted at different locations across the lawn. Usually used in sport fields, big yards or agricultural lands.

  • Perfect for: Any sized lawns
  • Covering range:15-50 ft
  • Required water pressure: 35-60 psi

Pop-up Sprinkler

This is my favorite kind of sprayer, as I found it super convenient and safe. It pops up when activated or turned on, otherwise sits in the ground, being invisible. So, it helps to achieve clean looking lawn presenting zero trip hazard. If you have toddlers, then go for it as it will allow them to play in the garden without falling over. Therefore, it makes a safe irrigation system that is aesthetically pleasing too.

It comes in a variety of heights from 2 to 20 inches long. So, you can purchase accordingly. If you have a low and flat lawn with no obstacles, buy 2-inch one. Taller popups are more useful for the vegetable garden, flower beds, shrubs and planters. Usually, 8-12 inch popups are suitable for watering them.

  • Suitable for: Small to medium-sized yard
  • Watering range: up to 15 ft
  • Pressure requirement: 30-50psi

Also Read: How Often Can You Fertilize Your Lawn [The Insider’s Guide]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the average cost of a lawn sprinkler system?

Well, that depends on the yard size and the type of irrigation sprinkler you’re using. According to Home Advisor, the cost range will fall between $1719-$3519 to install a new sprinkler system. So, starting at $500, the average cost can be $2429.

Do sprinklers use a lot of water?

To provide your lawn with 1

Can I install a sprinkler system myself?

Yes, you can save money by doing it by yourself. But before jumping into it, consult the local building department to check if you need to get permission.


Now that you’ve learned how do lawn sprinklers work and their different types. Forget doing it manually. Now you can sit back and relax while your automated sprinkler system is watering and making your lawn lush and green.

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