We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Every pool owner needs a way to clean debris from their pool's floor, wall, and stairs. The market offers hundreds of pool cleaners, but it's important to find the ideal match for your pool. Consider the following:
The right pool cleaner can extend the life of an in-ground pool, but the wrong one can result in expensive damage by the end of its first season.
If your pool water becomes too acidic or alkaline, the potential for algae or mildew growth increases. Pool cleaners don't affect a pool's pH balance, but maintaining the pool's general water quality stave off algae and mildew growth for a healthy pool.
Mesh skimmers, battery-powered brooms, and pool brushes are the primary manual pool cleaning tools of today. The three most common electrically powered pool cleaners available are the suction side automatic cleaner, the pressure side automatic cleaner, and therobotic automatic cleaner.
Suction side cleaners are generally the most affordable, but they're also the most limited. A suction side cleaner requires no booster pump because it attaches to your pool’s existing filter and intake system. However, its suction and cleaning power directly correlate with the size and design of your pool's original pump and filter.
Suction side cleaners efficiently remove small debris from most pool surfaces, including walls and steps. Powered by the intake pump, a flexible rubberized flap essentially pulls itself along the bottom of the pool, agitating dirt, sand, and other debris. A powerful vacuum then draws the material into a filter for disposal.
This type of cleaner gobbles up a lot of your pump's energy, which can in turn shorten the pump life and raise your electric bill. It's not ideal for larger pools (or pools with unconventional designs), but it's great for smaller pools that don't collect much detritus.
Pressure side pool cleaners use water pressure from a jet stream to agitate debris and draw it into a vacuum chamber for disposal. Typically mounted on small wheels, the unit randomly wanders the bottom of the pool as it does its job. Its aggressive cleaning action is more effective on stubborn algae and dirt than a suction side model, but unfortunately, some pressure side pool cleaners have been known to wear down vinyl surfaces.
Because most pool pumps don't produce enough energy to feed a pressure side cleaner, owners must either invest in a stronger pool pump or a second pump dedicated to the pressure side cleaner. Neither choice is easy on the budget, but a pressure side cleaner will not produce acceptable results without this additional power boost.
You needn't enter the pool to install or retrieve your pressure side cleaner, but in terms of maintenance, you will have to change the location of the collection bin fairly often and backwash the pool's filter to avoid clogging the system. Pressure side pool cleaners are recommended for pools that regularly collect larger debris, such as gravel, acorns, leaves, and sand.
Self-contained robotic cleaners that automatically scour the pool’s floor, walls, and steps are the ultimate in pool cleaning technology. Much like a robotic vacuum cleaner for the home, a robotic pool cleaner runs a programmable or random pattern across the floor. Special bumpers alert the unit's on-board computer to obstacles, and brushes on the bottom of the base direct debris into a centralized suction tube. Once in the tube, the debris travels to an on-board collection bag for disposal.
Because no external connections are required to the pool's pump motor, skimmer, or filter, owners shouldn't have to modify their existing pool maintenance system to accommodate a robotic cleaner. However, a water-safe electrical cord is needed to power the unit.
Robotic cleaners have a few drawbacks. They cannot be pushed into position from the side deck; rather, they must be installed and removed from the water manually. When the cleaning cycle finishes, someone must also retrieve the unit from the bottom of the pool. Depending on the pool's overall condition, the collection filter may need to be cleaned frequently during the cycle. And, just like a pressure side pool cleaner, a robotic pool cleaner may have a detrimental impact on certain pool surfaces.
Robotic cleaners are certainly thorough and convenient in many ways, but due to their hefty price tag, they may be too much of an investment for some people—particularly those who own small pools and don't mind putting some personal effort into their pool maintenance.
It’s true that pool cleaners don’t affect water pH, but a pool’s general water quality directly impacts how challenging a pool cleaner’s job will be. The optimal pH level for pool water is considered to be 7, so many owners spend hours adding acidic and basic chemicals to maintain that balance. But during that process, if the water becomes too acidic or alkaline, the potential for algae or mildew growth increases. Pressure side pool cleaners, which do not make direct contact with pool surfaces, are not always effective against these outbreaks.
Does your pool tend to collect a lot of debris? Skimming leaves and sticks from the water’s surface keeps them from sinking to the bottom and becoming the responsibility of a pool cleaner. Seed-bearing tree branches should be cut back, and swimmers should be encouraged to clean their feet before entering the pool.
To help combat the accumulation of foreign materials, a lightweight mesh pool cover can easily be stretched over the pool to collect airborne debris and discourage algae growth.
Bill has been a hardware store owner, locksmith, and general home repair guru for over 40 years. His ability to solve problems and repair every item in every situation is a true gift. In his spare time, you may find Bill working in his garden, tending to his perfectly manicured lawn, or riding his bike.
Q: What does a pool cleaner do?
A: A pool cleaner performs essentially the same function for a pool that a vacuum cleaner does for a carpet: it agitates and removes debris from the floor, wall, and stairs. It doesn’t have much of an effect on the water’s pH level or clarity. Water treatment and pool cleaning are two separate maintenance operations.
Q: Does pool size matter?
A: The dimensions and design of your pool definitely matter. Pool cleaners are rated to handle different pool sizes, and some have difficulty accessing design elements like sharp corners. Some pool cleaners use long external handles which limit their cleaning range in larger pools. Owners should have their pool dimensions handy when shopping online or in store.
Q: Does surface type matter?
A: Another important consideration before buying a pool cleaner is the pool’s surface. Is your pool made of concrete, fiberglass, tile, or vinyl? Some materials are more vulnerable to damage than others, and some pool cleaners exert more aggressive force than others. Furthermore, some surfaces discourage algae growth while others tend to promote it. See our Types of Pool Cleanerssection for more information.
Q: How much physical labor is required?
A: The amount of physical labor required to maintain a pool depends, in large part, on the type of cleaner you get. Manual pool cleaners (water brooms, vacuum brushes) require users to spend a significant amount of time and energy on the job. Suction side and pressure side models are a little more autonomous, but some human guidance is usually required. Fully automated robotic pool cleaners offer true “set it and forget” technology, but even then, owners must spend some time cleaning and backwashing the pool’s filter during the cleaning cycle.