How to Adjust Sprinkler Heads

Adjusting out-of-alignment sprinkler heads is straightforward when you have the right tools and know the type of head(s). Generally, you turn the head to adjust the right and left stops and increase or shorten the arc’s radius.

Determine what type of sprinkler head type you have

Before we go into step-by-step instructions on adjusting your sprinkler heads, you must first figure out what kind you have to adjust them properly. You might know what you have without even looking outside.

There are three commonly used types of sprinkler heads:

  • Gear-driven rotors
  • Pop-up sprinklers
  • Impact or multi-trajectory sprinklers

The differences between the three types lie in where the heads are, how they move or rotate, and how they spray water.

Head Type Location Movement Spray Pattern
Gear-driven rotors Underground or above-ground Rotates back and forth Multiple and single stream
Pop-up sprinklers Underground Pops up and stays stationary Circular spray
Impact sprinklers Above ground Sprays in different directions Multi-trajectory


Tools needed

Most of the time, you only need a narrow flathead screwdriver to adjust the sprinkler heads in your yard. The following tools aren’t necessary, but you want to have them on hand. They can come in handy.

  • Pliers or vise grips
  • Hex wrench
  • Rotor nozzle adjustment tool (may have been included with your system)
  • Nozzle insertion collar (often called a sprinkler head lock tool)

Adjusting the different sprinkler head types

Remember that there’s a good chance you’ll get wet during this project—you’ll need to be out in the yard while the sprinklers are running—so plan accordingly. If possible, tackle the project on a warm, sunny day so you don’t get too cold.

Note: Some sprinkler heads are designed with a fixed spray nozzle; they spray at a designated angle and a particular distance. For example, an 8-foot half-circle fixed sprinkler head sprays eight feet of water in a 180° arc; an 8-foot quarter radius fixed head sprays eight feet in a 90° arc. You can adjust the spray direction, but neither the angle nor the distance. If this type of head isn’t spraying its intended specifications, you can’t adjust it to fix the issue. You need to replace the head.

How to adjust rotor sprinkler heads

Gear-drive rotor heads rotate to move the water stream(s). They can have one stream of water that comes out of a single opening, or they can have numerous openings and spray multiple streams as they turn.

With these heads, you can adjust the arc and the spray radius.

To adjust the arc

  1. Grip the head and carefully turn it counterclockwise until it hits natural resistance and stops. The arrow on the head is now pointing to what is called the left stop. Or the furthest left edge the water sprays.
  2. To adjust this left stop, use vise grips or pliers to turn the sprinkler until the arrow points in the correct direction. In some cases, you may need to unscrew the rotor from the sprinkler head, pull it out, reposition the left stop, and then screw it back into the sprinkler.
  3. Carefully turn the sprinkler clockwise until it won’t turn any further. Where the arrow is pointing is the right stop position.
  4. With one hand, hold the rotor in this right stop position. With your other hand, insert the rotor adjustment tool securely into the keyhole on top of the rotor.
  5. Slowly turn the key to the right to decrease or narrow the arc; turn it to the left to increase or widen the spray arc.
  6. Repeat steps four and five to fine-tune the arc adjustment until it is where it needs to be.

To adjust the spray radius

  1. Insert a flat-head screwdriver into the radius adjustment screw on the top of the rotor.
  2. Turn the screw counterclockwise to shorten how far water sprays, e.g., decreasing the radius; turn the screen clockwise to lengthen how far the water sprays from the head, e.g., increasing the radius.

How to adjust pop-up sprinkler heads

Pop-up heads come in varied fan widths ranging from 30 to 360 degrees. You can adjust the spray pattern, distance, and volume of water emitted.

  1. Insert a flat-head screwdriver into the radius adjustment screw on the top of the rotor.
  2. Turn the screw counterclockwise to shorten how far water sprays, e.g., decreasing the radius; turn the screen clockwise to lengthen how far the water sprays from the head, e.g., increasing the radius.
  3. You can move the arc’s position by manually turning the stem of the sprinkler head. Sometimes, you can use your hand and firmly grip the riser or head, but you may need to use vise grips or pliers.

How to adjust impact heads

Impact sprinkler heads are a subset of rotary sprinklers. They spray water in multiple directions as they rotate.

  1. Move the metal stops to the left or right to adjust the spray pattern and direction. If you can’t pinch them together using your fingers, use vise grips or pliers to grab and squeeze the tabs.
  2. Turn the nozzle left or right to lower or raise the spray deflector and adjust the distance. If you drop the shield, the sprinkler will spray water closer to the head. Raising the shield creates a higher arc, and the sprinkler sprays water further away.

Tips for adjusting sprinkler heads

  • Knowing the sprinkler heads’ brand is unnecessary to adjust them. Most adjust similarly, but it’s always good to double-check your owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s website for specific instructions.
  • Special adjustment tools are available from manufacturers that work with their line of sprinkler heads. They aren’t needed to adjust a head’s spray patterns but make it simpler.
  • Pop-up sprinkler heads are easiest to adjust when your system is on, letting the water pressure push the heads up out of the ground. There’s less risk of damaging the head when it comes up on its own versus if you try to pull the riser out of the ground. Use a sprinkler head lock tool to keep the riser above ground when the water is shut off.
  • When using vise grips or pliers to move the arc position, don’t tighten them too much and crack the sprinkler head plastic.
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