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Sunday, November 23, 2014

How to Clean Drip Emitters That Are Plugged

Q. How do I unplug drip emitters that are plugged?

A. Drip emitters can get plugged from salt accumulation and debris. Never cut irrigation lines that have drip emitters on it with a hacksaw blade. The plastic debris created by the hacksaw blade is nearly impossible to keep out of the irrigation lines. I will guarantee you that this debris will end up
Salt accumulation on drip emitters.
in your drip emitters and plug them. Cut PVC irrigation lines with a PVC cutter. It leaves no debris to plugged emitters. You can cut polyethylene pipe, the kind used for drip emitters, with a pruning shears.
PVC cutter
Make sure the ends of the drip lines can be cleaned by opening them up and letting water flow for 15 or 20 seconds about once a month. You can buy little figure 8 devices to go on the end of the irrigation lines or you can bend them over and slip on a small piece of PVC pipe to hold that shut.
Figure 8 for closing the end of a drip irrigation line

Secondly, put drip emitters facing up, not down. If salt accumulation is the problem and the emitters can be removed without damaging the drip system, remove and soak them in vinegar for a couple of hours.
Button drip emitter
If you cannot open the drip emitters to clean them, try poking a needle or pin through the opening to see if you can unplug them. In the past I have knelt down on the ground and lifted the emitter to my mouth, after I washed the outside, and sucked on the emitter to try to get debris cleaned from the opening.
If you cannot remove the emitters from the drip line, you might have to replace them. Make sure when you buy drip emitters they are the kinds that you can open and clean easily. Flag drip emitters are inexpensive and can be cleaned easily. Button emitters can be more difficult.
Flag emitters are easy to clean
Drip tubing with built-in, in-line emitters can be the most difficult. If you buy the built-in emitters, by a name brand such as Netafim, Toro, etc. make sure you have a filter on your drip system somewhere after the valve.

If you work on drip systems and have to cut the tubing, after you repair it, flush the system with water by opening the ends and letting it run out the ends. If you don't do this, debris will get pushed into the emitters and can become a problem. 

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