Utility adjuvants are added to pesticide tank mixes to improve spray mix characteristics such as spreading, penetration, droplet size, volatility and drift reduction.

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When to Use Utility Adjuvants

An adjuvant is a non-pesticide product added to a pesticide tank mix that enhances the spray solution’s performance. Adjuvants either increase the active ingredient effectiveness or improve spray mix characteristics, such as spreading, penetration, or managing droplet size. The first category, increasing ingredient effectiveness, is called activator adjuvants, and the second category, affecting spray mix characteristics, is called utility adjuvants. These utility chemicals, mixed in the tank solution to improve the spray application process, include buffering agents, antifoam agents, and drift control agents. Utility adjuvants can also be called application aids. Utility adjuvants are used in the agricultural, turf and ornamental, and industrial vegetation management industries.

Buffering Agents

Most pesticides perform better in a slightly acid environment when the spray solution’s pH is between 4.0 and 6.5. Except for sulfonylurea herbicides, pesticide activity is less stable at a pH of 7.0 or higher. Buffering agents lower the spray solution pH to the desired value to stabilize and enhance herbicide activity. The label will provide the information for recommended amounts needed to achieve the optimal pH.

A special kind of buffering agent is Volatility Reducing Agents (VRAs).   In 2020, the EPA began requiring VRAs to be added to over-the-top dicamba tank mixes in addition to DRAs as another layer to reduce off-target pesticide movement. Examples include the herbicides XtendiMax® with VaporGrip Technology, Tavium®, or Engenia®. VRAs are approved adjuvants by the manufacturers of dicamba-containing products.

Drift Reducing Agents

Drift Reducing Agent (DRAs) or drift control agents are adjuvants added to tank mixes to reduce the drift of pesticides into neighboring areas where the application of the active ingredient is undesired. By reducing drift, they increase the deposition. DRAs ensure that the pesticide reaches its intended goal and does not float in the air for an extended time. The use of DRAs is critical near sensitive sites or when conditions require caution. The EPA requires the use of a drift control agent for over-the-top dicamba applications.

Drift Reducing Agents minimize drift by increasing droplet size and reducing driftable fines by modifying the spray solution’s viscosity. Droplets that are smaller than 150 microns are considered driftable fines. The optimum particle size to prevent drift ranges between 250 -500 microns.

These utility chemicals, mixed in the tank solution to improve the spray application process, include buffering agents, antifoam agents, and drift control agents

When using DRAs, it is essential to consider the labeled rate, the proper nozzle type and size, and the correct sprayer pressure. If drift control agents are used at a higher than recommended rate, the DRA pinch the spray pattern or create too large droplets, leading to insufficient coverage. An inefficient spray pattern can also be caused by using the wrong nozzle size or spray pressure. Following nozzle manufacturers’ guidelines is necessary to ensure an effective spray pattern.

Some active ingredients require DRAs in the tank mix. Examples include the herbicides with Engenia®, XtendiMax® with VaporGrip® Technology, or FeXapan® herbicide Plus VaporGrip® Technology. 

Water Conditioning Agents

Water quality varies from location-to-location. Hard water minerals can bind with active ingredients in some pesticide tank mixes, decreasing active ingredient performance. Water conditioners neutralize these hard water minerals and ensure the pesticides’ effectiveness. It is essential to know the quality of your water when creating tank mixes.


Multifunctionals are adjuvants that have multiple functionalities. They come in a broad range of functionalities and can combine any functionality, including increasing the active ingredient’s effectiveness. The advantage of multifunctionals is the ease of use as there is only one additive that needs to be added to the tank mix. A multifunctional would not be advantageous in a circumstance where a higher or lower amount of a specific characteristic is necessary than the multifuntional provides. The incorrect amount of functionality can negatively affect the function of the adjuvant and even the pesticide effectiveness.

How to Know Which Adjuvant to Include in a Spray Mix?

Pesticide labels include a section to help decide what type of adjuvants are needed to get the most out of each application. They mention terms such as “required,” recommended,” or “can be used” to help understand which adjuvants are essential to your mix and which ones are optional.
Before using any adjuvant, always read and follow the accompanying pesticide product label. Not all adjuvants are labeled for use in all states, and many adjuvants have crop-specific recommendations. Violating these instructions is an illegal use of the pesticide and can also result in crop damage or poor performance.

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