What is a Soil Wetting Agent, and How do you Make One?

Soil Wetting Agent

The warmer months are here with us. It is a great time to get your lawn looking its best. However, in some situations, your lawn may not reflect the watering and fertilizing that it is getting. You will find some areas are patchy, and they stay a lot drier no matter what you do. In most cases, this issue is caused by hydrophobic soils. Hydrophobic soils repel water, and the water runs off the surface or simply pools and does not absorb water. It is a common problem with sandy soils, but it can affect other types of soil that are not watered regularly or are compacted. If there has been a dry spell and the lawn has not been watered, you can carry out an experiment to check whether the soil is water repellent. Try pouring water on the surface of the soil. If the soil does not suck in water quickly, it may be hydrophobic.

What Causes Hydrophobic Soils?

According to Agric, hydrophobic soils are caused by the decomposition of organic materials forming a waxy substance that clogs the soil particles. Hydrophobic soils are common in Australia. The hot climate and unreliable rainfall cause damage to the soil. After long periods of dry weather, the soil can become dehydrated, which exposes the hydrophobic surface that makes it difficult for water to penetrate. Luckily, this issue is easy to fix. Instead of wasting water, you need to correct this problem with the use of a wetting agent. You can do this by aerating the ground, followed by applying a wetting agent like Ezi-wet.

So, What Is A Soil Wetting Agent

A soil wetting agent is a detergent or disinfectant that attracts water to the soil surface, helping it to soak in and improve infiltration. This reduces water run-off and encourages deeper roots which help to make your lawn dry tolerant. Wetting agents come in liquid or granule form, and it is mixed in the lawn food or top dressing mixes. Common wetting agents include Wetter soil, Hydromax, Viagra, and Ezi-wet. For new lawn installation, especially sandy soils, it is advisable to mix organics with wetting agents before laying a lawn. You can also mix with aesthetic fertilizers like lawn launchers, which contain moisture magnets for a perfectly healthy lawn.

How do soil wetting agents work?

Wetting agents work by improving the absorption of water in dry soils or by improving the adhesive properties of water to adhere to the surface of plants. Wetting agents are called surfactants. They help reduce the surface tension of water, which helps water molecules spread evenly on the soil’s surface. For existing lawns that are hydrophobic, there are three easy steps that you can take to fix the problem. According to Hunker, the first thing is to aerate the soil. Aerating allows air, water, and nutrients to penetrate the soil surface. The second step is to apply a wetting agent. Wetting agents are applied during the warmer months to help your lawn through the dry period. The third step is to top-dress your lawn. You can use an organic or compost material to help your soil hold moisture, particularly for sandy soils. Saving water is essential, especially during dry periods. If you feel that your lawn is not performing as it should, take some positive actions to conserve water and improve your lawn condition.

Why not use detergents and household soaps?

According to Plantcaretoday, detergents contain active ingredients like chemical additives and fragrances that make them non-biodegradable. Many detergents and household soaps react to fertilizers and soils, which is fatal to plants.

Types of Wetting Agents and Surfactants

Wetting agents and mulching are a perfect combination to attain a healthy-looking garden. We can use them on a new garden or established gardens. It is good to use them at least twice a year in autumn, take advantage of the coming rains, and in spring to safeguard moisture for summer. On the other hand, mulching will protect the soil from the harsh sun and prevent evaporation. When applied at a seven to eight centimeters depth, it will smother weeds. Wetting agents, also called surfactants, work by reducing the surface tension of water molecules, making it easy for water to spread quickly and be absorbed by dry soil. It makes it easy for water to be transferred from one soil particle to another. Wetting agents can also be mixed with pesticides to enhance their effectiveness. There are four different types of surfactants; Nonionic surfactants are the most common wetting agents used in horticulture. When they are correctly used, they are not harmful to plants. When used at a high concentration, they may be dangerous to plants. Currently, research is being conducted on improving the efficacy of nonionic surfactants by improving their ability to harm zoospores, which are fungal spores that pass through the soil moisture and fungicides. Anionic surfactants are used because they improve the spreading properties and foaming of soil. They are primarily used in horticultural plants. Hair shampoo usually contains ammonium, lauryl sulfate, and sodium. When anionic surfactants are used in horticulture plants, they can cause a potential problem with sprayers with agitators, disrupt the flow of water, or the functioning of pumps where there is foam. Cationic surfactants are significant to plants and can damage the membrane ion balance. They are not easily used for controlling pests. Amphoteric surfactants are wetting agents rarely used in horticultural plants, and if they have to be used, you will need to mix them with pesticides. Amphoteric wetting agents are mainly added to potting mixes, containing a high percentage of pine bark. At times, potting mixes may contain an unnecessarily high concentration of wetting agents. Potting mixes are similar to wetting agents, and they contain ethoxy sulfates and polyoxyethylene esters. When mixed in a high concentration, they tend to become toxic to roots and leaves. Temperature and weather can similarly affect plants if they are grown on barks or peat-rich media.

Other Types of wetting agents

  • Penetrants – work by dissolving waxy layers on leaves, which allows another chemical to enter a plant or an insect’s tissue, such as in a pesticide.
  • Thickeners – they reduce the ability of spray drifts. Some of the active ingredients are vegetable oils, polymers, polysaccharides, polyacrylamide, and polyethylene. When applied in high volumes, they may damage spray nozzles and also be harmful to plants.
  • Emulsifiers – they make it easy for water to mix with petroleum-based pesticides.
  • Spreaders and stickers. Spreaders assist pesticides in engulfing plants evenly, while stickers help to improve the absorption of pesticides to foliage. Stickers can be classified into different groups, and they mainly constitute latex, fatty acids, plant oils, inorganic oils, and alcohols. They can be harmful to herbs, annuals, hairy leaved plants, and rough leaves.
  • Oils – we have two types of oils: petroleum-based oils and plant-based oils. Oils are used to kill chewing pests and sap-sucking insects by suffocation. Alkyl polyglucosides are modified sugars that are environmentally friendly and are used in genuine biodegradable detergents and some pesticides which can be used in organic gardening.

Soil Wetting Agents for Lawn Care

It is necessary to select the correct type of soil wetting agent that suits your lawn. There are three different categories to choose from; Residual wetting agents – are effective after a considerable amount of time. Residual wetting agents do not cure dry patches on lawns, but they assist in improving the condition of dry patches. They are similar to chemical fertilizers. The wetting agent will only boost the grass suffering from dry patches, but they will not cure the problem. Residual wetting agents are a temporary solution and can be used as a quick fix for a short period, like a week. Their work is to re-wet an area for a short period. Other better soil wetting agents contain kelp, a natural stimulant that promotes grass growth. Curative wetting agents – curatives cure the original cause of dry patches; however, they will not completely alleviate the problem. This is because top dressing as a lawn care method increases dry patch problems. The more you top-dress, the more dry patches increase. Curative wetting agents are mainly used on green golf courses. The wetting agent can be applied repeatedly over a month to counter a specific problem. Curative wetting agents are usually applied three times in each season. The current wetting agents have proven effective against dry patches. Penetrative wetting agents – they are effective in disbursing still water. Penetrants also enhance the movement of water through compacted or dry soils. Mixing penetrants with other soil treatments is the best way to get the maximum benefit of their use. Penetrants may also be used to treat grass for a short period, like a week. This can be done in advance before a hot and dry season. They are helpful because they break the soil’s surface tension and protect grass from burning when temperatures increase considerably. Penetrants are an excellent solution to foreseen dry patch issues.

How to make your own soil wetting agent

Water sometimes beads up on the soil surface, refusing to penetrate and soak into where plant roots need it most. Sandy soil, poorly tilled soil and soil that contains organic matter but has been allowed to dry out completely are most likely to repel water. A soil wetting agent coats the soil particles on the molecular level so the water can infiltrate the garden bed. Although commercial wetting agents are available for both outdoor and indoor use, you can make your own temporary solution to combat a short-term moisture issue.

Things you will need

According to Homestolove, to make your own soil wetting agent, you will need a hose-end spray applicator, liquid dish soap, watering can, and a spoon or stick.

Garden Bed Application

Fill a hose-end applicator with liquid dish soap but avoid dish detergents. Screw the sprayer onto the end of your garden hose. Adjust the application rate dial on the sprayer to five tablespoons per gallon. This will mix five tablespoons of dish soap with every gallon of water in the sprayer nozzle. Water the soil with the soap and water mixture. Apply the mixture directly to the soil and avoid spraying any plants when possible. Thoroughly saturate the soil to feel moist to at least a 4-inch depth. Monitor the soap level in the sprayer bottle and refill it as necessary. Rinse any plants or grasses in or near the soil bed with clear water immediately after application to remove any soap residue from the foliage. Wait two hours before applying any chemical pesticides, fertilizers, or other lawn or plant treatments.

Moisture Potting Soil

Fill a one-gallon watering can with water. Add one or two drops of liquid dish soap to the can. Mix the soap and water together with a spoon or stick, stirring slowly to avoid suds. Water the soil in the pot with the mixture until the excess water begins to drain from the bottom of the pot. If you are moistening new soil in preparation for potting, stir the soil and water together to ensure the soil is completely saturated with the mixture. Allow the soil to drain for thirty minutes. Empty the collected water from the drip tray beneath the pot.


Soil wetting agents attract water to the soil surface helping the soil to soak in and improve infiltration. Dry soil is difficult to re-wet if it is dry for an extended period. Water collects on the surface of the soil, and it does not penetrate to the roots where it is needed. This results in dry spots that contain wastewater and nutrients. Proper use of wetting agents in your garden or lawn can help you make maximum use of your resources. Good soil wetting agents shorten the amount of time it takes to care for your garden and lawn. Additionally, your garden will be healthier and help you avoid dry patch problems.

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