3 Simple Steps to Cleaning a Pump Sprayer - by Nick Federoff

Posted by Jill Yanus on

glass greenhouse

Did you know that many things gardening typically begins on the farm? Farmers are usually the trailblazers in bringing products we use for our garden to the consumer marketplace. Or, at the very least inspiring the inventors of the world to make something better and easier to use. For instance, in the 1850’s an insect called the Colorado Beetle was devastating the potato industry. A gravity fed leather knapsack, (think of a bota bag backpack on steroids – which probably leaked all over you), oozed a chemical solution out of a sprinkler head as the farmer painstakingly walked every inch of ground to save the crops. In the years to follow inventors figured out how to add a pump and include a pressurized metal tank. The problem was they leaked and Ralph E. Chapin wouldn’t have any of that nonsense for his hardware store clients, so he figured out how to make the sprayers better and today we have the leaders in sprayer technology.

Metal spray tanks were the norm in first part of the 1900’s which made way for high density polyethylene (HDPE) tanks, a material that’s much lighter and easier to manufacture through the injection mold process. Metal tanks are still in production and both types of tanks have their use in commercial plus home and garden applications. Today we’re going to take a step forward from commercial farm equipment and look at how to properly use and clean hand pump sprayers that the everyday person uses.

Chapin sprayer tip

Read the label on the material you’re using. All “….cides” (pesticide, herbicides, fungicides - natural and organics, too) are known to leave a residue. Use the right tool for the right job. Choose a sprayer that’s appropriate for the type of chemical or solution you need to use based on the manufacturer’s description.

Hand pump sprayers come in many shapes and sizes. Their use is limitless and spans from controlling weeds, fertilizing, misting houseplants to helping remove wallpaper and even washing cars. Oh, the list really goes on. Without getting into details the important part is that you’ve chosen the right sprayer for the right job. Let’s focus for a moment that you’re using your sprayer for the obvious: gardening. So, what we have to do is to properly clean the sprayer for the next time it’s going to be used. The key is to clean it right away so not to allow the material sprayed get imbedded into the tank, handle, hose, spray nozzle and O-rings. All of those parts need to be sparkling between uses.
Fun Fact: Cleaning agents, when mixed with water, changes molecularly. Under a microscope the molecules look like a ball with spikes. These spikes scrape, grab, bond and change the ‘…cides’ from oily to milky then gets dumped into the abyss when it gets emptied.

Metal tanks are smooth making them much easier to clean. There’s less friction inside. Under a microscope high density polyethylene (HDPE) tanks have itty-bitty nooks and crannies which are great places for ‘…cides’ to play hide and seek. That’s why using either a granular (water soluble) or liquid spray tank cleaner is needed. These cleaners are nothing short of magic as they are able to neutralize the tank by lowering the pH, they bond to the stuff you’re trying to get rid of and they are known to extend the life of the hose, wand, handle and rubber rings with inhibitors to protect the parts.
Three Step Cleaning Process. If you can peel off roughly 3-minutes of time after spraying you’ll be able to clean your sprayer giving it longevity. It’s really a quick 3-step process.

Chapin Sprayer Tip - in Use

Never mix more than what you need. There’s never a good way to store excess. If you happen to have a bit left then go back and hit those areas again. You want an empty sprayer to clean.

Select an area in the yard that has good drainage and infertile soil. I dug a 16”x16”x 12” hole in the back forty, where nothing grows and filled it up with gravel. It works perfectly! This is where I clean the sprayer. To keep your manicure looking good don a pair of rubber chemical gloves and safety goggles. Just to make sure your sprayer looks good outside as well as inside, with hose in hand rinse the outside of the tank to clean off of any dirt or possible overspray.

sprayer steps

Step 1

Fill the tank 1/3rd to ½ with water, put the pump back in and slosh the water around. Now pump it up a few times to move any chemical out of the hose, wand and tip, then dump it in its designated area. Empty the tank.

Step 2

Fill the tank just like in Step 1 but this time add the manufacturer’s recommended amount of the neutralized spray tank cleaner which can be found at your local farm store, garden center or lawnmower shop. Bust out some shaking moves with the sprayer mixing it up, then pump it up and spray to clear out the lines. Okay, time to empty the tank again.

Step 3

Guess what’s next? Fill the tank up a third time and flush just with water, pump, spray, and then empty.

You have now successfully properly cleaned your sprayer but let’s not get so sassy because there is a secondary process and that’s to open it up and allow to air dry. When completely dry you’re ready to use it again with any chemical or organic material. Just don’t use the sprayer for potable purposes.


Chapin Sprayer Tip with Weeds

Regardless of how well you clean your sprayer cross contamination is a real thing. Given how inexpensive sprayers are nowadays dedicate one sprayer for fertilizer, another for glyphosate, one for permethrin’s, etc.

By the way, even if you use organic or natural ‘…cides’ it’s imperative to clean the sprayer as described, as organics and natural compounds can be very oily which will eat away the sprayer parts and it up.

warning graphic

WARNING: You may be asking yourself if the commercial neutralizing spray tank cleaners can be substituted with ammonia, vinegar or even liquid dish soap. DON’T DO IT! I get it that you don’t want to use a cleaning product you’re not use to and you want something that’s on-hand, ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ but you never know what kind of reaction you’ll get by cleaning with them. For instance normally all ‘…cides’ have a low pH. Vinegar has a low pH of around 2.5. If you clean with it you may cause a chemical reaction that can eat away at the sprayer and the fumes can become toxic! Be smart, clean safely.

Nick Federoff
Award-winning radio & TV garden communicator

chapin sprayers lineup

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