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
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?
There are three types of pool cleaners: pressure-side, suction-side
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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
“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
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.
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
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
“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
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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