What is an Oscillating Sprinkler?

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  • Written By: Carol Francois
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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An oscillating sprinkler is a water distribution system that uses a specially designed sprinkler head to force the water to spray in a fan-shaped water curtain. An attached arm moves the water back and forth over a predefined area. This type of sprinkler is commonly used to water a lawn or field.

There are two designs of oscillating sprinklers: rotational and intermittent. In a rotational oscillating sprinkler, the water is forced through a single metal bar with spaced holes built into it. The bar is attached to the oscillating motor head, moving the bar itself. As the water flows, the bar distributes the water over a broader area. The height of the water flow is directly related to the amount of water flowing to the sprinkler, the higher the water pressure, the larger the affected area.

An intermittent oscillating sprinkler has a slightly different design. The water flows in a steady stream. An intermittent arm on the sprinkler moves into the water flow and redirects it in a circular arc. The standard oscillating sprinkler is designed to modify based on the volume of water going through the system.

When purchasing an oscillating sprinkler, it is important to review the quality of materials used, warranty and the overall quality. Oscillating sprinklers are not very expensive, ranging in price from $10 to $35 US Dollars (USD). They can be purchased in a hardware or general department store.


Look for a sprinkler with a metal arc wand and gears. Inspect the washer to ensure that it is a rubber washer and not plastic. The average oscillating sprinkler comes with a one-year limited warranty against breakage and corrosion. Check the details of the warranty to determine the conditions of use required to maintain this coverage.

When installing your sprinkler, follow the instructions to attach it to the garden hose. Place the sprinkler in the middle of the area that you want to water. Remember that the water will arc 180 degrees along the same line as the sprinkler arm. Turn the water on slowly and observe where the water goes to make sure that it is watering the correct area.

Features that are nice to have on your sprinkler include an automatic timer, different watering patterns and a pause function. These features reduce the amount of monitoring required when watering your lawn and reduce the possibility of over watering your lawn. The automatic timer function can be set to change watering patterns after a predetermined interval, removing the need to manually adjust the sprinkler.


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