As summer approaches, we look forward to the sound of birds chirping in the mornings, the smell of barbecue and freshly cut lawn, it’s a beautiful time of year. It’s also the time to get your swimming pool ready for endless days of summer relaxation, games and laughter. In order to enjoy your pool, you want it to be clean and healthy. There’s nothing more off-putting than a green, slimy pool full of debris. Not to mention that a dirty pool is unhygienic. We all know that cleaning the pool can be a drag, especially if you’re still using a manual pool cleaner. Those vacuums that you pull up and down the pool using a pole.
For over forty years, we’ve come to depend on automatic pool cleaners to make our lives easier. They’ve actually been around for quite a bit longer, but it was in the late seventies that automatic pool cleaners really started to take off. Even then, those early automatic pool cleaners weren’t all that great. Sure, it beats cleaning a pool the old-fashioned way, but the first suction side automatic pool cleaners had their issues and required regular attention and maintenance. Today, we have a great variety of pool cleaners that do all the work for us and require very little effort from us. Whether you have a below ground or an above ground pool, there’s an automatic pool cleaner that will do the job for you.
There are many considerations that you need to take into account before choosing the best pool cleaner. The first will be whether your pool is below the ground or above it. Below ground pool cleaners are easy to find. In fact, any pool cleaner that’s able to handle an above ground pool will be just fine in a below ground pool. So, it’s only above ground pool owners who need to be more selective about the type of pool cleaner that they buy.
Above Ground Pool Cleaners
The first thing that differentiates the above ground pool from their below ground counterparts is the pump. Small above ground pools may not even have a pump and those that do, will have a less powerful pump than an above ground pool.
If you’re using a pool vacuum or skimmer that relies on a pump, you obviously need a pump. Furthermore the pump needs to be able to provide the power to operate your automatic pool cleaner. If you don’t have a pump, or the pump is not powerful enough, a robotic pool cleaner might work out cheaper and these are the best pool cleaners available today. If you take into account the price of installing or upgrading your existing pump, it’s often worthwhile paying a little extra for a robotic pool cleaner.
The second factor that affects what type of pool cleaner you use for an above ground pool is the walls of the pool. A built-in above ground pool will have reinforced walls and this makes it possible for the pool cleaner to climb the walls. If your above ground pool has no support for the walls, you’re even more limited by what type of pool cleaner you use. Automatic pool cleaners that are designed for pools with flexible walls only clean the floor of the pool, you’ll have to use a brush to clean the walls. There are only a few pool cleaners that are designed to do this.
Types of Pool Cleaners
There are four basic categories of pool cleaner that you can choose from. There’s the manual pool vacuum, but these are almost redundant these days. One can get a decent automatic pool cleaner that doesn’t cost too much. So why waste your time doing it manually?
When it comes to automatic pool cleaners, you’ll want to decide between a suction side, power side, or robotic pool cleaner. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. I’m going to discuss each of these pool cleaner types in order to help you figure out which one is best for your needs.
Suction Side Pool Cleaners
The first pool cleaners to find their way onto the market were suction side pool cleaners. Brands like KreepyKrauly and Baracuda became an instant hit amongst pool owners through the eighties.
I remember these old pool cleaners well. While they create a fond sense of nostalgia, watching a stupid machine chugging randomly around the pool, missing spots and continuously getting stuck, makes me glad things have moved on since then.
A suction side pool cleaner uses the pool’s circulation pump to move it and provide the suction that vacuums your pool. Initially, the suction side pool cleaner used a diaphragm to suck up the dirt and a pulsing hammer to move it about the pool. We all know the familiar knocking sound of these pool cleaners.
These pool cleaners weren’t ideal. The diaphragms became clogged easily and this meant pulling the pool cleaner out of the pool and removing the debris from the diaphragm or “throat” of the pool cleaner. If the pipes coiled up, which happened often, they would get stuck in one position and stop cleaning the pool. Again, we would have to intervene to get the pool cleaner working again. They were also incredibly slow, and because they moved in a random pattern, it could take days to clean the pool. Even then, there would be some areas that the suction side pool cleaner simply wouldn’t cover and you’d have to brush some brown spots on the pool floor. Because they use the pool pump, your usual skimmer no longer functions and the pool filter debris basket fills up really quickly with all the dirt vacuumed from your pool.
A lot has been done to negate these problems over the years. Today’s suction side pool cleaners are much more efficient and have some basic design features that give them a more logical cleaning pattern and prevent the pipe from coiling. Some have wheels instead of the old hammer suction pad. Even those that still use the hammer action have been improved and are much quieter and faster than their predecessors. Diaphragms have been improved, they are more robust and don’t block as easily as the older ones.
Even though the suction side pool cleaners that we can buy today are a far cry from their primitive ancestors, they are still the slowest. While many of the old problems have been done away with, they still can get stuck in tricky corners and don’t always handle steps too well.
With that being said, a suction side pool cleaner is the cheapest option, which makes them very popular. They are also the only alternative to a robotic pool cleaner for above ground pools that don’t have very powerful pumps. There are some really great suction side pool cleaners available and these are certainly worthwhile if you don’t want to spend too much.
Pressure Side Pool Cleaners
To overcome the slowness and some of the other issues that are associated with the suction side pool cleaner, the power or pressure side automatic pool cleaner was invented. They’ve been around almost as long but were never as popular as the cheaper suction side models.
Instead of using the suction inlet to your pool pump, the power side automatic pool cleaner derives its power from the pump outlet – the water that is pumped back into the pool. This means that they need a lot more power than the average pool pump can provide and one usually has to install a booster pump to provide this power.
The biggest advantage of a power side pool cleaner is that it moves much faster than a suction side pool cleaner. Many of the more advanced power side pool cleaners can compete with the superior robotic pool cleaners when it comes to cleaning your pool in the least amount time. Another advantage of power side pool cleaners is that they have a debris bag or bin, so the filter basket is not filling up all the time. Many of these also have skimmer attachments to collect floating debris.
So a power side pool cleaner is more advanced than the suction side alternative. The down side is that you have to install a second booster pump or replace your existing pump with a more powerful unit. This pushes up your initial purchase price and you’ll have higher operating costs as a result of the higher power consumption of the pump.
Robotic Pool Cleaners
The latest thing to come along is the robotic pool cleaner and these are the ultimate automatic pool cleaners. They too, have improved over the years and robotic technology moves fast. So every year, robotic pool cleaner become more effective and affordable. Though they are still the most expensive option.
Robotic pool cleaners have their own low volt electric motors that drive the bot and provide their suction. These motors are highly efficient and use a lot less power than a pool pump. This is one of the first advantages of using a robotic pool cleaner, they result in lower electricity bills which helps justify their higher price.
Though it’s their superior cleaning abilities that set robotic pool cleaners aside from the pack. They have remarkable filtration, with some being better than others. Top end robotic pool cleaners remove micro particles (including pathogens) from the water. This results in cleaner water in your pool and less reliance on chemicals. Using less chemicals obviously reduces your running costs even further and you have less problems with skin irritations and scratchy eyes. They collect all the debris in a bin or bag, so your pool filtration system hardly works at all.
Because robotic pool cleaners are intelligent, they’re able to scan your pool and learn its dimensions. They, therefore, calculate the best way to clean your pool more effectively – saving both time and electricity. Robotic pool cleaners are almost hands-off. You plug it into a wall socket and drop it into the pool. You will need to remove it from the pool when it’s done and clean the debris bin and filters, like you would with a vacuum cleaner – so there is some effort involved.
Just about all robotic pool cleaners have programmable cleaning cycles and these will vary, with the most expensive bots usually being the most sophisticated. Many will allow you to do a quick (less intensive) cleaning cycle when you’re in a hurry, or clean only the floor, the walls, or the water line. They all have sensors to tell them when they’re at the water line. So even if you have a beach entry pool, the robotic pool cleaner will know when to backup and turn around.
Most robotic pool cleaners have remote controls and some even make use of advanced smartphone apps. Remote control allow you to override the program and control the bot yourself if you want it to go to a specific area. Some will even have a function where you can direct the bot to a certain place in your pool where it will climb the wall and expel the water inside so you can remove it effortlessly.
So a robotic pool cleaner is obviously the best option for any pool type. Some are designed specifically for above ground pools. The only thing with these pool cleaners is that they’re expensive. The high-end models, which are naturally the best, cost a lot more than any other type of pool cleaner. Granted, you will save a bit on electricity and chemicals but, mostly, you’re paying for fast hassle-free pool cleaning.
In addition to automatic pool cleaners, a permanent pool skimmer is also a must-have item for any pool owner. This is especially true if you’re using a pool cleaner that connects to your pool pump inlet as this stops the pool’s natural skimming action.
Some pool skimmers work in conjunction with a suction side or pressure side pool cleaner, so you can use them together. Other’s will use the natural circulation within the pool to direct floating debris into a catchment net that’s easily emptied.
Automatic pool skimmers aren’t expensive – even the best versions don’t cost too much. No matter what type of pool cleaner you use, a skimmer will reduce the amount of work these pool cleaners have to do. So it’s certainly worthwhile installing one in your pool, they will always be more effective than the regular skimming action of the pool’s design.