In this paper, we present a class of preconditioning methods for a parallel solution of the three-dimensional Richards equation. The preconditioning methods Jacobi scaling, block-Jacobi, incomplete lower-upper, incomplete Cholesky and algebraic multigrid were applied in combination with a parallel conjugate gradient solver and tested for robustness and convergence using two model scenarios. The first scenario was an infiltration into initially dry, sandy soil discretised in 500,000 nodes. The second scenario comprised spatially distributed soil properties using 275,706 numerical nodes and atmospheric boundary conditions. Computational results showed a high efficiency of the nonlinear parallel solution procedure for both scenarios using up to 64 processors. Using 32 processors for the first scenario reduced the wall clock time to slightly more than 1% of the single processor run. For scenario 2 the use of 64 processors reduces the wall clock time to slightly more than 20% of the 8 processors wall clock time. The difference in the efficiency of the various preconditioning methods is moderate but not negligible. The use of the multigrid preconditioning algorithm is recommended, since on average it performed best for both scenarios. (c) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.