May 04

A simple guide to automatic pool cleaners

This weekend I had a lot of customers in the store as people are getting the pools open for the season. I had a few people ask me about automatic pool cleaners. We are always looking for ways to make pool ownership a little easier so we can enjoy it more, and what better way than to let a machine clean the pool for you?

Below I will go over the 3 types of automatic pool vacuums; suction side cleaners, pressure side cleaners, and self contained robotic cleaners.

Suction side cleaners

When we talk about the suction side of your pool we are referring to the ports in which the water is sucked out of the pool and into the filter. These ports include your skimmer, main drain, and possibly, a side wall suction.


Suction Side hook-up

A suction side cleaner is an automatic pool vacuum that hooks up to your suction line, in most cases your skimmer basket. These units generally install much like your manual pool vacuum using a suction plate that covers the skimmer basket.

The vacuum suction moves a small check valve in the cleaner creating a kind of hopping motion that moves the cleaner around the pool. These cleaners move randomly and generally take longer to clean the pool because of that. These pool cleaners only clean the pool floor and do not climb the walls.

The suction side cleaners tend to be the least expensive option in the pool auto cleaner market.

The drawbacks to these cleaners are that they are sucking the pool debris into your pool filter and clogging your pump baskets and filter media. This builds the pressure up in the filter system quickly and means you will have to keep an eye on your pressure gauge and clean the baskets and backwash when necessary.

Suction side cleaners are very popular in above ground pools as you do not need a cleaner that climbs the pool walls and in smaller pools that cleaner can usually get most of the debris before the filter needs to be backwashed or cleaned. Above ground automatic pool cleaners like the Sta-rite lil- shark generally run around $200.00

nkk (1).jpgA popular in-ground suction side cleaner is the famous Kreepy Krauly by Pentair. This cleaner is probably the best option for suction side cleaners and will generally run around $500+.

Pressure side cleaners

Pressure side cleaners are the opposite of suction side cleaners. The pressure side of your pool includes your return lines where the water returns from the filter back into your pool.

Pressure side pool cleaners use the return lines to push the automatic cleaner around the pool.

One of the main benefits of using a pressure side cleaner is that is collects the debris it picks up in its own self contained bag. This spares your filter from being clogged by the pool debris.

Some pressure side pool cleaners like the original Polaris pool vac, operate completely independent of your main pool filter system by way of a separate booster pump. These units are installed during the pool building process as they require a separate pool line to be plumbed in to the pool for the booster pump. This way the cleaner can operate even if your main pool pump is off.

Also this keeps any backpressure that may be created from a standard pressure cleaner from slowing down the circulation of the pool via the main pool pump.

Another great thing about a lot of these pressure cleaners is that they will climb the walls as well as clean the floor, giving you a more complete pool cleaning.

Polaris 380 Pool Vac

Polaris Pool Vac

Standard pressure side cleaners usually run about $500-$700, and the booster pump powered cleaners around $1200-$1500.

The most recognized pressure cleaner our there is the Polaris 380 and 360 and are one of the most widely used automatic pool cleaners in the country.

Self contained robotic cleaners

The popular robotic self contained pool cleaners offer the most complete solution of the 3 pool cleaner options mentioned in this article. A robotic cleaner like the Aquabot or Dolphin Pro is electric powered and all vacuuming and filtering is done within the unit.

The robotic cleaners have an onboard water pump and drive motor so it does not need any part of your pool filtration system, suction side or pressure side to operate.

Units like the Dolphin pro include a 50’-60’ long power cord that plugs into a power supply outside of the pool. The cleaning unit contains a very fine filter bag that filters out the debris the cleaner sucks up. This bag is a very fine mesh so it allows the unit to filter very small particle that self contained pressure side cleaners can not get.

These units most often have an onboard programming chip that directs the cleaner around your pool so it does not miss a spot and also cleans more efficiently. The top of the line robotic cleaners can clean your entire pool in as little as 3 hours; this includes vacuuming the pool walls and scrubbing the tile line! For some of you more hands on types there are even remote controlled versions, so you can vac the pool from your lounge chair!

The robotic pool cleaners do get expensive they range anywhere from $700- $1500 depending on features. These units are also more costly to repair compared to the other options, especially if the internal pump or drive motor breaks down.

Dolphin M4 Supreme Pool Cleaner

Dolphin M4 Robotic Cleaner

What is best?

Despite being tougher to repair and a bigger upfront expense, I do believe the self contained robotic cleaners are the best option for in-ground pools. The most popular robotic cleaners are the Aquabot Turbo and The Dolphin Pro cleaners. The available features like tile scrubbers and special computer chip cleaning programs make it the most efficient and complete auto cleaner solution for an in-ground pool.

For above ground pools  something like the Sta-rite Lil-shark suction cleaner is usually all you need and works great for cleaning the pool bottom.

As you can see though the price ranges and feature sets vary greatly when it comes to auto pool cleaners. If you have any questions regarding specific units you can leave a comment below or email me at [email protected]

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