Once the harvest is in and the season is over for a few months, you may be tempted to simply pack away your equipment and be done with it until spring. Not taking the extra few steps to winterize your sprayer could end up costing you time and money come spring.
As long as you’re not taking shortcuts, it’s important to remember that you should wear protective clothing any time you’re working with the sprayer. The chemicals it contains, such as pesticides, present a serious risk if your skin is exposed to them.
While it’s important to clean the sprayer after every use, it’s much more critical to properly clean it in the fall. Not doing so may cause freezing temperatures to damage the sprayer parts. When that happens, the pump may crack if water is left in the system through the winter. You could also find it unusable come spring when the product last used has had a chance to harden and clog the nozzles. It’s a costly mistake to make and easily averted.
A few simple steps will help guide you through the process.
1. Choose the Proper Location To Rinse Equipment
Before you begin the process of washing and rinsing your sprayer’s components, you want to choose a location that won’t pollute streams, water supplies, or plants. It’s also imperative to keep its runoff away from any animals or humans. Follow the herbicide label.
2. Choose the Appropriate Type of Cleaner
The three general types of commercial tank cleaners are required for cleaning most herbicides out of the sprayer equipment.
- Ammonia: Ammonia provides an increased pH balance that improves solubility of some herbicides making it easier to clean from the tank. Use 1 part household ammonia to 100 parts water.
- Dry-formulated laundry detergent: Some herbicides recommend a solution of dry laundry detergent mixed with water to clean away debris.
- Commercial tank cleaners: If an herbicide is oil or water-soluble, it may recommend a commercial cleaner to raise the pH level of the solution in order to effectively clean.
3. Cleaning Spray Tank Procedure
- Drain and collect in herbicide left in the tank.
- Add a half a tank of fresh water, and with a combination of spraying and agitation, flush through all components (booms, lines, tanks, and nozzles) for 10 minutes. Collect rinsate as directed on the herbicide label.
- Add one of the three cleaners mentioned above to clean water in the tank. Repeat the agitation and spraying process for another 15 minutes.
- Fill nozzles and boom lines with the solution and let it sit for a few hours or overnight.
- Spray the solution through the lines into the proper collection container.
Rinse 3 and 4
- Rinse with clean water, making sure to run through boom lines.
- Drain after each rinse into the appropriate collection container.
Examine & Clean Components
- This is a crucial step for the prevention of clogging and cross-contamination. You want to keep spray patterns and chemical distribution at an even flow rate.
- Remove nozzles, filters, pipe end caps, and screens and inspect them to make sure they are clean.
- Soak them in the appropriate cleaning solution for the herbicide if they need additional attention.
- Use a soft brush to remove any additional debris.
- Rinse with clear water.
- Reinstall the parts lubricating the o-rings with vegetable oil.
4. Winterize the Sprayer on Main Tanks and Pumps
Add RV Antifreeze to Empty Tank
- Use a solution that contains corrosion preventer. Save the containers for spring when you need to collect the antifreeze. You can reuse antifreeze for two years.
Leave the Master Spray Switch and Pump ON; Turn OFF all boom sections
- Run the mixture through the entire system, including backpack sprayers.
- Be careful not to run antifreeze through the boom because it will run directly onto the ground.
Drain All Accessory Tanks and Lines
- You can drain this back into the containers to reuse for up to two years.
Blow Air Through Lines
- You want all tanks and lines as dry as possible to avoid corrosion.
Open and Clean Mixing Chambers
5. Winterizing the Spray Boom
- The spray boom and its components require the same level of care and attention as the tanks unit. There are many places that chemicals can hide creating extensive damage and costly repairs.
- Follow the same methodical approach to cleaning and maintenance as you did with the tanks.
- Remove the boom section valves from the feed hoses.
- Flush each feeder hose with compressed air. Make sure the air escapes through the nozzles until the sections are completely dry.
- Remove end plugs and nozzles to continue to blow dry any remaining water.
- Using the appropriate cleaning solution, remove and clean the boom filters.
- Any metal fittings and screens should be removed and stored in vegetable oil. It keeps the parts from rusting.
- After you’ve made sure the boom is completely dry, lubricate o-rings with vegetable oil and reinstall.
- Remove gauges and store at room temperature in an upright position so they don’t freeze.
- To alleviate sticky valves and rust, coat the solenoid switches and relays with lithium grease.
6. Repair and Paint any Parts Requiring Additional Attention
7. Cover Equipment for the Winter
- It’s best to store your equipment indoors during the winter to protect it from the harsh elements. That’s not always possible, but at the very least, you should attempt to appropriately cover and shield it so that it’s fit and ready for service come spring.
As you can see, setting aside a bit of time as part of your routine at the end of the growing season to thoroughly go through your sprayer and boom systems can really save you headaches down the road. It may at first seem like an overwhelming and unnecessary package of extra work after all the long hours you’ve put in. The fact is, however, once you break it up into a few basic steps, you’ll see how easy and practical it is to both end and begin each season on the right footing.