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What is Pump Priming?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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Pump priming is when water, or some other liquid, is used to draw up more liquid from a well that has already been tapped. While priming is not necessary with many modern pumps, there are times when it may be required, especially with older devices. Therefore, knowing what to do and when to do it may be essential in some situations to ensure proper water supply.

When air has seeped down into the pump, replacing fluid and causing a loss of pressure, priming is usually needed. Most pumps use fluid, usually water, to create the pressure and suction needed to pull up more liquid from below ground. Therefore, when air seeps into the system, there is a loss of pressure.

In order to prime the pump, often all that is needed is another source of the liquid being sought. This is usually accomplished simply by pouring some of that liquid down the well. Once that is done, simply turning on the pump or using a hand crank, depending on the type of pump, is usually all that is required.

In most cases, once water starts to flow from a pump, more priming in the future should be unnecessary. In cases where use of the pump is suspended for a long period of time, however, more may be required. It is always best to try this method before assuming that the well has gone dry, since that would be a very rare situation for a water pump.

If pump priming does not work the first time, individuals may want to try again. It is possible that enough pressure was not created the first time the pump was primed. It may take several attempts before enough pressure is created to maintain a consistent water flow.

After priming, people should allow the water to flow for a short period of time before collecting it for use, especially if the use is for human or animal consumption. This assures that stale, possibly contaminated, water that had been in the pump has been discharged. While the depth of the pump may make a difference, usually discharging no more than a gallon or two (3.78 to 7.5 liters) is all that is needed.

In addition to the technical usage, pump priming has become a metaphor for other things. When the government infuses money into the economic system, for example, it may be referred to as "priming the pump." The government hopes an influx of capital will help spur more capital movement, so it is often said that the government is "priming" the economy.

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Discussion Comments
By oscar23 — On Apr 21, 2011

@poppyseed – Hello there! And congrats on your new home! Let’s see – you might be able to check in with town records in local townships to see if they have any prior reports on the water quality of your home or those close to you, or the realtor you’re working with may know something about it. There is a good chance that your water is fine, and that if it’s not you can get a decent purifying system to help you out. We live out in the sticks and have had well water for years. When my children were born, our doctor gave us a tiny vial that we could collect water in and sendoff to be tested for free. Maybe there’s something like that in your area too. Good luck!

By poppyseed — On Apr 20, 2011

We’re thinking of moving to a home in the country where the house has a well pump and septic tank system rather than being hooked up to a regulated water supply. Should we be worried about the cleanliness of this water? Since the house has been vacant, we can’t check it out to see how it looks or smells. Apparently, pumps have to have electricity to run. I’m all new to this stuff and just don’t want to get in over my head with a new house that has water we can’t use. So – how do we know if the water is pure without a primed pump and what should we do if it isn’t?

By Domido — On Apr 18, 2011

So, when a person needs to prime their well pump it is usually from a loss of pressure? I live in a rural area where many people still use well water to cook and shower with. Also, a lot of farmers use shallow wells for their animals and crops. I think those are called irrigation pumps. We get a lot of hurricanes where the power is knocked off. It never fails that if the power doesn’t come on for some time that we end up sloshing around out in the mud trying to prime the pump. We always try to keep some extra jugs of water handy just for that purpose. It might not be as easy as ‘town’ water (that’s what we call it) but it sure is tasty!

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