An important concept in check valves is the cracking pressure which is the minimum upstream pressure at which the valve will operate. Typically the check valve is designed for and can therefore be specified for a specific cracking pressure.
A ball check valve is a check valve in which the disc, the movable part to block the flow, is a spherical ball. In some (but not all) ball check valves, the ball is spring-loaded to help keep it shut. For those designs without a spring, reverse flow is required to move the ball toward the seat and create a seal. The interior surface of the main seats of ball check valves are more or less conically-tapered to guide the ball into the seat and form a positive seal when stopping reverse flow.
Ball check valves are often very small, simple, and cheap. They are commonly used in liquid or gel minipump dispenser spigots, spray devices, some rubber bulbs for pumping air, etc., manual air pumps and some other pumps, and refillable dispensing syringes. Although the balls are most often made of metal, they can be made of other materials, or in some specialized cases out of artificial ruby. High pressure HPLC pumps and similar applications commonly use small inlet and outlet ball check valves with balls made of artificial ruby and seats made of artificial sapphire, both for hardness and chemical resistance. After prolonged use, such check valves can eventually wear out or the seat can develop a crack, requiring replacement. Therefore, such valves are made to be replaceable, sometimes placed in a small plastic body tightly-fitted inside a metal fitting which can withstand high pressure and which is screwed into the pump head.
There are similar check valves where the disc is not a ball, but some other shape, such as a poppet energized by a spring. Ball check valves should not be confused with ball valves, which is a different type of valve in which a ball acts as a controllable rotor to stop or direct flow.
A diaphragm check valve uses a flexing rubber diaphragm positioned to create a normally-closed valve. Pressure on the upstream side must be greater than the pressure on the downstream side by a certain amount, known as the pressure differential, for the check valve to open allowing flow. Once positive pressure stops, the diaphragm automatically flexes back to its original closed position.
A swing check valve is a butterfly-style check valve in which the disc, the movable part to block the flow, swings on a hinge or trunnion, either onto the seat to block reverse flow or off the seat to allow forward flow. The seat opening cross-section may be perpendicular to the centerline between the two ports or at an angle. Although swing check valves can come in various sizes, large check valves are often swing check valves.
A clapper valve is a type of check valve used in firefighting, and has a hinged gate (often with a spring urging it shut) that will only remain open in the outflowing direction.
A stop-check valve is a check valve with override control to stop flow regardless of flow direction or pressure. When the valve is open, it acts as a check valve, but the valve can be deliberately shut to stop flow.
A lift-check valve is a check valve in which the disc, sometimes called a lift, can be lifted up off its seat by higher pressure of inlet or upstream fluid to allow flow to the outlet or downstream side. A guide keeps motion of the disc on a vertical line, so the valve can later reseat properly. When the pressure is no longer higher, gravity or higher downstream pressure will cause the disc to lower onto its seat, shutting the valve to stop reverse flow.
There are also double ball check valves in which there are two ball/seat combinations sequentially in the same body to ensure positive leak-tight shutoff when blocking reverse flow; and piston check valves, wafer check valves, and ball-and-cone check valves.
Check valves are also often used when multiple gases are mixed into one gas stream. A check valve is installed on each of the individual gas streams to prevent mixing of the gases in the original source. For example, if a fuel and an oxidizer are to be mixed, then check valves will normally be used on both the fuel and oxidizer sources to ensure that the original gas cylinders remain pure and therefore nonflammable.
Also used with most home made snowmakers.
Frank P. Cotter developed a "simple self sealing check valve, adapted to be connected in the pipe connections without requiring special fittings and which may be readily opened for inspection or repair" 1907 (U.S. patent #865,631).
Nikola Tesla invented a deceptively simple one-way valve for fluids in 1916 (U.S. patent #1,329,559; patented 1920).