Automatic Swimming Pool Cleaners

Keeping a swimming pool up, running and ready for use often comes with a lot of questions. Public or private, all swimming pools need cleaning on a regular basis—not only for the sake of appearances, sanitation, and peace of mind, but to protect that hard-earned investment in your backyard oasis. A properly installed and maintained swimming pool cleaner will help make that job easy.

Which Swimming Pool Cleaner is Best?

Ultimately, the choice you make in your pool cleaner will depend on your needs and budget: the features you want, your current pool setup, how much you are willing to spend now and in the future, and how much of an effort you want to put into using the cleaner and keeping it serviceable. For instance, most homeowners with inground swimming pools opt for the more popular automatic swimming pool cleaner, which can certainly help cut down on the time and work needed to accomplish the task. While they are available in a few different styles and many different designs, they basically fit into one of the following categories: Suction-Side, Pressure-Side, or Robotic.

The following sections are geared toward helping you choose one of the three.

Suction-Side Pool Cleaners

The first major category of swimming pool cleaners—suction-side pool cleaners—are cleaners that attach to the suction side of your swimming pool’s plumbing. The suction side refers to the pipes and fittings that draw water out of the pool via your pool’s filter pump to be filtered.  While you can attach the cleaner’s hose to the hole in the skimmer beneath its basket or use a skimvac attachment allowing the cleaner to vacuum debris into your skimmer basket; the preferred option involves installing a dedicated suction cleaner line just for the purpose, where you attach the cleaner directly to a wall fitting, usually located in the middle of the long side of the pool. A dedicated suction side cleaner line is recommended when using this type of cleaner to avoid dropping the suction draw used by your pool’s skimmers and main drain while the cleaner is doing its job. Keeping your pool’s skimmers operating properly while the cleaner is working is important because they circulate water efficiently and skim debris off of the pool’s surface.

Suction cleaners are divided into roughly two types: the flat, round disk or pulse type cleaner that you walk around the pool with using a long handle; and the automatic hydro-drive-train powered types like the older and now discontinued Polaris ATV style cleaner; and the newer automatic suction-side lines from Zodiac and Pentair.

With the hose attached and the filter pump running, suction is created on the underside of the cleaner. The cleaner moves either randomly or automatically around the pool with motion created by a device that gives a stop/start pulsing of water. As the unit travels, debris is sucked up through the neck and then the hose, past the suction port, through the pipe, and stops at the filter pump strainer basket, while smaller debris passes through to the filter. Adjustments on the hose, the unit itself, and flow volume will create different cleaning patterns, so as to maximize pool coverage. Increased flow is generally better for speed and vacuum ability; however too much suction can cause the cleaner to move too fast or possibly get stuck on uneven areas of the pool floor.

Pressure-Side Pool Cleaners

Pressure side cleaners are those that attach to the pressure side (return) of your pool’s circulation system. Also called booster pump type cleaners, the water that is pumped back to the pool propels these units hydraulically. Being on the pressure side affords these units distinct advantages. They are helpful in distributing clean filtered water around the pool and having their own debris bag means that they don’t compromise the filter system by bringing dirt and debris into the pump basket and pool filter. Even with the bag full, a pressure cleaner still operates, stirring debris up for filtering by the filtration system.

These cleaners attach to one of the existing return ports and are powered by the pool pump (Polaris 360, Pentair Legend II, Jandy Ray-Vac, etc.), or to a dedicated cleaner line with an additional booster pump (Polaris 180, 280, 380 and Pentair Legend).Without the booster pump, these units would crawl along slowly, picking up very little debris. Some manufacturers (e.g., Polaris) offer models that operate at only 15 – 17 PSI, and are not intended for use with a booster pump. These cleaners operate in a similar fashion to booster pump cleaners and connect to one of the existing return ports.

POLARIS VAC SWEEP-360 Automatic Swimming Pool Cleaner

A test is made at that return port to determine if the circulation system can deliver the proper amount of pressure to operate the unit. Boosterless cleaners can be as effective in cleaning the pool as booster pump driven models, although very dependent on the effective operation of your pump and filter system. The main advantage to booster pump models is that they are usually run with a time-clock, which can be programmed to turn these cleaners on and off automatically, saving energy and wear and tear.

POLARIS VAC SWEEP-360 Automatic Swimming Pool Cleaner

The water that flows into the unit is directed three ways: through the sweeper tail, the thrust jet and the venturi. The sweeper tail helps to get fine debris off the walls and floor and into the suspension where it can then be filtered out by the filtration system. The thrust jet are the jets on the back of the cleaner that help propel and direct the unit. Similar to the exhaust in a car, the thrust jet is the exit point of water that has gone through the filtration system, and are a series of ports and gears that drive the unit around the pool in a random pattern. The venturi is the port on the bottom where leaves are sucked up into a bag (that you empty when full) as the unit rolls around the pool. An in-line back-up valve in the feed hose reverses the flow every few minutes to change the cleaning pattern and remove the cleaner from possible obstacles.

The Polaris 180, 280, 380, 480 and 3900 Sport and the Pentair Legend models require a booster pump to power the unit. These cleaners need about 30 PSI to operate their hydrogears effectively. Most filter systems don’t provide enough pressure on their own to power these cleaners properly. When installing a pressure side pool cleaner, the return pipe is cut (after the filter), and a tee fitting installed. Feed water is thusly directed to the booster pump which then pumps water through a dedicated line, usually installed midway down the pool wall. This line can be run under the deck and through the pool wall, or over the deck for a cheaper installation.

Robotic Pool Cleaners

Robotic pool cleaners, the third and last major category of the three, are self-contained, low voltage electric cleaners which are put into the pool when there is a need for cleaning. A transformer is plugged into a wall outlet and a long cord {length is model dependent} from the unit plugs into the transformer. The transformer steps the 110 volts from your outlet to a safer 24 volts, which operates the cleaner. This power operates two motors; a pump motor which draws debris into the unit’s filter, and a drive motor which moves the unit around the pool.

Robotic Swimming Pool Cleaner: Self Contained FilterThe advantage of owning a robotic pool cleaner includes their self contained filter, which is easily cleaned. They also do quite well with their pool coverage and speed. Some units are computer chip controlled and some even have remote controls which allow you to steer the unit from a lounge chair! Being that they are the only cleaners not attached in any way to the pool’s circulation system, they produce no resistance or back pressure on the filtering system. In fact, the process of pumping your pool water through the internal filters of the cleaner can reduce the work required of your pool filter. Robot pool cleaners are also mini pool filters, and some models filter down to 2 microns!

On the downside, the cost of a robotic pool cleaner can be more than suction or pressure side cleaners. They are somewhat heavy to handle, and some repairs can be costly. Not the best choice for heavy debris, with large sticks, leaves or acorns.

Recently introduced, a new type of robotic cleaner known as Jet pool cleaners, include higher flow rates and a simpler design with fewer parts. Also available at a lower price point than original robotic pool cleaner designs, Jet robotic pool cleaners have gained a strong foothold in the marketplace.

automatic swimming pool cleaner


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