By Sue Robach
Automatic pool cleaners are relatively simple machines that can take most of the grunt work out of pool care. There are three main types of cleaners—suction, pressure and robotic—each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
These cleaners attach to one of the swimming pool’s suction ports. Usually, this port is the skimmer; however, some pools are designed with a dedicated vacuum port. When the cleaner is operating, suction is created on the underside of the cleaner via the pool’s circulation pump. Dirt and debris is sucked up by the cleaner as it moves around the pool. It then passes through the hose, past the suction port, through the pipe and is eventually trapped in the filter pump’s strainer basket.
These cleaners attach to the return (pressure side) of the pool’s circulation system. This is the side of the plumbing that returns clean, filtered water to the pool. These cleaners are powered by water pressure to pick up dirt and debris, collecting it in a bag or net, which is part of the cleaner head. Some models use booster pumps to supplement power from the pool pump. Pressure cleaners that do not require booster pumps offer a ‘green’ option, as less equipment is required.
Powered by low-voltage electricity rather than the pool’s pump or a booster pump, robotic cleaners are also considered ‘green’ because they operate independent from the pool’s circulation system. Robotic cleaners have their own built-in filters, further reducing the demand on the pool’s primary filtration system. These differences result in lower energy costs, greater life expectancy for the pool’s pump and filter and longer periods between filter cleanings.
These cleaners are also convenient to use. Some even have remote controls, which allow the pool owner to steer the unit from the deck for easy spot cleaning. However, similar to a fully-loaded vehicle, these benefits come with a higher initial price tag. Some customers are willing to pay more up front knowing they can reduce long-term energy costs and increase the circulation system’s lifespan.
Key factors to consider when selecting a cleaner
Often, a particular type or brand of cleaner will dominate a geographic market because of environmental factors. For example, pressure-side and robotic cleaners handle heavy leaf loads better than suction-side cleaners, but suction-side cleaners are better equipped to consistently pick up fine debris, such as sand.
Pressure cleaners are often the better choice in leafy environments because they do not rely on the pool’s circulation system in the same way suction cleaners do. As suction cleaners get their power from the suction side of the pool’s circulation system, they can sometimes get into trouble in heavy debris situations. That is, if the cleaner chokes on heavy leaves or debris, the circulation pump could lose prime (no longer pumping water), which can compromise the entire filtration system. Pressure-side cleaners also rely on the circulation pump, but they are plumbed on the discharge side of the filter, so the amount of debris they are attempting to collect does not affect the overall system demand in the same way.
Pool shapes, sizes and surfaces should also be considered when selecting a cleaner. For example, cleaners that follow or push the lead hose can get stuck in sharp, tight corners. Some adjustments may be made to assist the cleaner, but cleaners that operate on the bottom of the pool and pull the leader hose (rather than pushing it) perform better in pools with sharp angles.
Other pool cleaner obstacles are handrails and steps. An old-fashioned floating cleaner may work well in this instance, as would a bottom cleaner using a programmed cycle, which allows the cleaner head to eventually turn in another direction.
The pool’s surface can also affect cleaner efficiency. Most work well on plaster surfaces, but fibreglass and vinyl surfaces are very slick. Cleaners with tires, pads, feet or bristles designed to grip slick surfaces should be used in these applications. These cleaners should be labelled for use on either vinyl or fibreglass. It is also important to note newer aggregate surfaced pools and older pitted plaster pools may cause more wear and tear on a cleaner due to the rougher surface.