Clean Sweep: Types of Pool Cleaners
A breakdown of pool cleaner options, including manual, automatic, and in-floor.
By Nicole Janda
Today’s options in pool cleaners/sweepers range from simple, handheld vacuums to computer-controlled devices to custom designed in-floor cleaning systems. While all are effective at cleaning pools, you may be unsure as to which type of pool cleaner is right for you. Below is a breakdown of the different pool cleaners—how they work, what they cost, and the types of swimming pools they fit best. This will help you make the right purchase.
Manual Pool Cleaners
or handheld pool cleaners
consist of a vacuum head attached to a telescoping pole with a vacuum hose that uses the pool’s filtration system to suck up dirt and debris. Typically used for aboveground pools, manual pool cleaners are the least expensive option (costing around $100 – $200) because they possess the least amount of technology; the power and navigation come from the user. Depending on the size of your pool, it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half to clean your pool by hand. Though they require your time and energy, manual cleaning is effective because you’re less prone to miss any areas.
Automatic Pool Cleaners
Automatic pool cleaners
help alleviate maintenance duty by doing most of the work for you. They come in three different designs: suction-side, pressure-side, and robotic.
Suction-side pool cleaners
are the least expensive type of automatic cleaner (ranging $200 – $500), as well as the easiest to install. They hook up to the pool’s skimmer or a dedicated suction port and use the suction from the filter system to move around the pool’s surface. They suck up debris like sand, dirt, and other small items and transfer them into the pool’s skimmer; some models come with leaf traps so that larger debris like leaves and small twigs do not clog the skimmer. There are also versions with bristles that brush the pool’s walls.
Most suction-side pool cleaners move in a random pattern and will take at least four hours to clean the entire pool (which makes them best for small to medium-sized pools). They require periodic adjusting to ensure the cleaner does not get pushed into a corner or tangled in the cord. They are available for aboveground and inground pools and are a good option for areas where small debris is the primary concern (such as Florida and Southwest).
Pressure-side pool cleaners
are powered by water pressure produced from the pool pump or a separate booster pump. (Most manufacturers recommend using a booster pump to increase the pressure of the water flow.) The pressure is used to propel the machine around the pool as well as create a vacuum at the bottom of the unit that blows dirt into an attached debris bag. Most pressure-side cleaners have a tail or whip that swirls the pool water around to flush finer particles toward the skimmer or main drain for filtration. They take about three hours to complete a cleaning circuit and need their debris bag emptied on a regular basis.
Pressure-side pool cleaners have a larger opening than suction-side cleaners (up to 2 ½ inches in diameter) and do well in areas where bulky debris, such as leaves, acorns, and twigs tend to be an issue (Northeast and Northwest). They are sold for aboveground and inground pools and cost approximately $425 without a booster pump and $800 with a booster pump.
or robotic pool cleaner
s run independently from your pool’s filtration system; they operate via a water-safe electrical cord plugged into a standard or GRCI-protected outlet, chargeable battery, or solar power. These self-contained machines move around the pool sucking up dirt and debris and collecting it in their own filter bag. Most are able to climb walls and stairs and feature rotating scrub brushes or powerwashing jets that remove grime and build up.
While they are more expensive than other automatic pool cleaners, ranging from $900 to $3,350, they are the most technologically advanced. Robotic pool cleaners can be fully programmed to clean your pool in a particular sequence to ensure all areas get covered and typically take about one to two hours to sweep the pool (great for large pools). They work with aboveground and inground pools and can handle all types of debris, from large leaves to small sand granules.
In-Floor Cleaning Systems
In-floor pool cleaning systems
are the cream of the crop when it comes to convenience. These systems operate via a series of submerged nozzle heads installed in the pool’s floor and steps. Cleaning cycles are set through a timer, and when activated, the recessed jets rise up from the floor and spray high-pressure streams of water that push debris to the deep end of the pool where they are filtered by the main drain. Finer particles are stirred up and suspended in the water to be filtered by the pool’s circulating system. When the cycle is complete, the jets retract back into the floor, and the pool’s interior returns to a smooth, level surface.
In-floor pool cleaning systems are very effective and require little hands-on management; however, they are the most expensive option, costing $3,000 to over $6,000. Additionally, the installation of an in-floor system requires a lot of piping and customization; they are best for inground pools undergoing construction or renovation. Though they work with any pool shape or design, they are a good consideration for large pools and can navigate around unique obstacles such as a spa or in-pool table and bar stools.
Photo courtesy of APSP, California Pools