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Automatic pool cleaners are valuable assistants to many service technicians (and their aching backs).

Generally speaking, there are three types of pool cleaners: pressure side, suction side and robotic. And all come with distinct advantages.

But how do you get maximum performance from these worthy sidekicks? And what are some common mistakes pool techs make with cleaners that may rob them of peak operation?

Cleaner types

There are three types of pool cleaners: pressure-side, suction-side and robotic.

Both pressure- and suction-side cleaners work on the same principle: Water passes through the cleaner’s head and propels it around the pool. As the cleaner moves, the same flow of water creates a vacuum, and draws dirt and debris into the cleaner. Then, it is either trapped in a bag or sent to the filter.

Robotic cleaners, by contrast, are self-contained units with their own drive motor and filter built in. Just slide them into the pool, plug them into a wall outlet, and let them go. They also include programmable timers, allowing them to run anytime, day or night.

Robotic units operate on 24 volts, which uses considerably less energy than running the filter pump at 120 to 240 volts to move a pressure- or suction-side cleaner around the pool.

Pressure-side cleaners

Karl Eggers, owner of Deep Blue Pool Service in Roseville, Calif., frequently uses pressure-side cleaners. In heavily wooded Northern California, the products’ wide mouth and hydraulics of their venturi action mean less likelihood of congestion.

“Pressure-side cleaners are better at picking up leaves, twigs and other big things that will clog up a suction-side cleaner,” he says.

As for common mistakes, too much hose is a big one, even though manufacturers’ instructions typically explain how much hosing to use and where to set the swivels.

“When the cleaner has to pull too much hose around the pool, it creates drag in the water, which slows the cleaner down,” he says. “And that can cause it to pop a wheelie as it moves along.”

Improper placement of swivels also prevents the cleaner from moving and turning properly, which can limit its effectiveness. A word of advice: Don’t feel compelled to use all the hose or swivels in the box.

Another common mistake Eggers finds is improper placement of the hose floats, or too many floats altogether.

“Too many floats by the cleaner head will pull the unit up and make it hard to stay on the bottom,” he says.

The shallow end is cleaned more effectively than the deep end because, as Eggers explains, “the floats keep trying to pull the cleaner up. [Too many floats on the hose] doesn’t let the hose uncoil and stretch out so the cleaner can move around the pool.” In other words, the unit has to pull harder on the hose to untangle it.

Another tip: Opening the main drain a bit more than normal will help achieve maximum performance from pressure-side cleaners, says Eric Christiansen, Territory Sales Manager for Pentair Water Pool and Spa, Sanford, N.C.

“You should have a 50-50 suction between the skimmer and the main drain,” he explains. “The whip hoses on pressure-side cleaners are an integral part of the process. They were designed to kick the fine debris into suspension so the main drain could vacuum it out of the pool.”

Suction-side cleaners

Simply put, suction-side cleaners work on the suction side of the pump. They typically plug into the skimmer, except on many newer pools, which are built with a dedicated suction line for the cleaner.

Suction cleaners often are preferred for fine dust or sand, which may blow through the cloth bag of a pressure-side cleaner.

As for common mistakes, two culprits frequently rob suction-side cleaners of peak performance: Too many hose links and too few hose links on the cleaner.

The hoses for a suction-side cleaner are one-and-a-half inches in diameter. They hold a lot of water and can get very heavy, and when the cleaner has to pull too many of these hose links it can slow the unit down.

Conversely, too few hose links prevent the cleaner from making it all the way across the pool for a uniform job.

Robert Huntley has identified another common problem: “Sometimes the cleaner gets into a pattern, and it will follow the same path around and around the pool, not getting it totally clean,” says the owner of XYZ Pools in Huntington Beach, Calif.

This occurs when the hose links develop a memory, which doesn’t allow them to clean the whole pool.

Huntley’s strategy incorporates what he calls a “hose toss.”

“I take all the hose links out of the pool and literally throw them up in the air, and then reinstall them,” he says, adding that it’s usually enough to change the pattern of the cleaner.

Water flow is the key to many things pool-related, including cleaners, which are designed to operate on a certain amount of vacuum. Give the cleaner too little, and the unit goes nowhere; but too much vacuum is no good, either, since full suction can result in the cleaner climbing the pool walls, jumping out of the pool, losing prime, and creating loud noises.

Simply adjust the suction to the cleaner, Huntley says, and the problem is solved.

What’s more, all cleaners come with some kind of flow control valve to help regulate water flow through the cleaner. When the cleaner is plugged into the skimmer, use that valve, as it’s the only way to regulate flow and keep the cleaner in the pool.

Robotic cleaners

A relatively newer product, robotic pool cleaners continue to gain market share in the industry. Most work faster than the other cleaner types, and feature more suction ports.

Like other types of cleaners there’s a random element built into the program. But unlike other cleaners, robotic units incorporate technology that includes a self-turning module. This allows the unit to navigate the pool without relying on any walls for direction.

TIP: Start operating the robotic cleaner before the pool’s filtration system is activated. This will allow the cleaner to more effectively gather debris from the pool floor.

In addition, robotic cleaners rarely become stuck, since they contain a “back-up bar” or “bumper bar” that can sense when the cleaner has hit something or stopped moving. This sensor will shift the cleaner into reverse and start it moving again.

The filter varies, but most use a fine mesh bag, and some have an actual cartridge inside to capture dirt and debris. From time to time the unit must be removed from the pool so the filter can be cleaned.

“If it’s not cleaned, all they do is redistribute debris,” says Brian Kelly, owner of Shamrock Pool Services in N. Lauderdale, Fla. “And if your flow is not maintained properly, you’ll get sluggish performance.”

How often to clean depends on the individual pool and how much debris the cleaner collects. But a good rule of thumb, according to Kelly, is to clean out the filter for every 10-15 hours of run time.

As with most products, he adds, the manufacturer typically will provide precise guidelines for how often cleaning should occur.

Foutz is a California contractor and owner-operator of Purity Pool Service in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Kristen MacDowell contributed to this report.


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