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What Is the the Difference Between Soaker Hose & Sprinkler Hose?

By Richard Hoyt ; Updated September 21, 2017

A soaker hose attached to a faucet or the bottom of a rain barrel is an elementary kind of drip irrigation in which water trickles slowly out of tiny holes. A soaker hose directs water at plant roots. Water in the form of a thin spray squirts out of a series of small holes on top of a sprinkler hose.

Soaker Hose Basics

Black or brown soaker hoses are usually made from recycled tires or other rubber. They are ordinarily ½ or 5/8 inch wide and are sold in lengths of 25, 50 or 75 feet. Their 1/16- to ¼-inch-wide holes allow the water to “sweat” or seep out of the hose to irrigate plant roots. Soaker hoses screw onto an outdoor faucet that is turned on one quarter to one half turn, not full strength.

Sprinkler Hose Basics

A fine mist is forced out of holes on top of a sprinkler hose. Most sprinkler hoses are three narrow hoses attached side by side; this design gives the sprinkler hose a flat base so that the spray can be directed accurately and maintain its coverage. Some sprinkler hoses are made of rubber that withstands cuts, scrapes, wear and tear. Other hoses are made of vinyl that resists sun damage; a green sprinkler hose is usually made of vinyl. Most sprinkler hoses are sold in lengths of 25 or 50 feet. Shorter lengths often have couplings at the end, so two hoses can be attached end to end. More expensive models allow the gardener to control the strength and frequency of the spray.

Soaker Hose Advantages

Soaker hoses do not require complicated and expensive timers, tubes and emitters of sophisticated drip irrigation systems. Commercial soaker hoses work well for plants that are close together such as groundcovers, ornamental beds or flowers growing in clumps. Soaker hoses reduce water that is wasted through evaporation and runoff. Water properly directed to plant roots with a soaker hose lets the soil between plants remain dry, which discourages the growth of weeds. Soaker hoses don't work as well when plants are spaced far apart. However, gardeners can make their own soaker hoses by carefully punching holes in a garden hose to match the distance between plants. Horticulturists at the University of Rhode Island say drip irrigation delivers more than 90 percent of the water that plants need. Sprinklers are only 65 to 75 percent efficient.

Sprinkler Hose Advantages

For most sprinkler hoses, a fine mist covers a 10-foot-wide area. A sprinkler hose placed in the middle of a yard or flower bed will cover most of the area with water. Sprinkler hoses are most useful for turf.

Disadvantages Compared

A soaker hose must be moved more often to cover all the roots of a lawn. Water sprinkled on leaves is an invitation to fungal diseases. Water sprinkled on leaves also evaporates, wasting water; the roots need the water, not the leaves.