A Clean Sweep:  Facts about Automatic Pool Cleaners

They get in the way of swimmers, sometimes spray the windows with pool water, and end up in the “shop” far too often.  Yes, those pesky pool sweep/vac thingies.  Some of my customers have strange nicknames for them, but I always know what they’re referencing.  And I know the frustrations.  Still, taking care of a pool without one is disastrous.  Leaves and seedlings sit on the plaster and add organic stains, most of which can be removed, but who needs the hassle?  When performing properly, an automatic pool cleaner helps maintain the pool between cleanings.

What’s the Difference?

I’m glad you asked.  There are 5 different types of floor cleaners for pools…but don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz later.  I do recommend you pay attention to the following for the category of cleaner you own, and for the one you SHOULD own (hint:  it’s the first one):

  • Boosted pressure cleaners: This category includes such staples as Polaris 280 and Letro Legend.  Some newer models include Polaris 3900 Sport and Pentair Racer.  Whether 4-wheeled or 3-wheeled, these are the most efficient cleaners available.  A booster pump takes the filtered water and increases its flow/pressure through a dedicated pipe toward the pool wall.  Here, the pool sweep is connected, and it uses that water to drive its wheels, whip its tail, and shoot water through nozzles up into the debris bag.  This is called “venturi action”, where the movement of the water draws debris upward in the direction of the nozzle spray.  In a very short period of time, these cleaners can sweep the floor of leaves and debris more than once.
  • Filter-dependent pressure cleaners: These function similarly to the “boosted” type.  However, because the pressure is not boosted above that of the filter pressure, they are normally slower-moving and have less-powerful venturi action.  These typically need to be active all day or most of the day in order to effectively clean the entire pool.  Also, their hoses are more subject to wear and tear than boosted pressure models, because they are thinner-walled and corrugated.  Good news: these normally can be easily converted to boosted pressure systems.
  • Suction-side cleaners: Please forgive me for disparaging a full category of pool equipment, but these are my least-favorite cleaners (that’s an understatement).  For indoor pools, these can work fairly well because there are no leaves and large debris to be vacuumed.  But for outdoor pools, here are the issues.  Because they are integrated into the suction side of the filtration system, and because they require a minimum amount of vacuum pressure to move across the floor AND vacuum up debris, these “cleaners” reduce the amount of water drawn in by the skimmers in a pool.  This is problematic because the top couple of inches of water are the dirtiest, and skimmers are designed to draw this layer in quickly.  Suction cleaners are often sold without vacuum leaf canisters, which are components that should be added to the suction hose to capture leaves.  This prevents clogs in the suction piping, but I rarely see them in place on suction-type cleaners.  GREAT NEWS:  we can convert these to boosted pressure systems as long as there is a dedicated suction port in the wall.  If not, conversion is much more costly.
  • Robotic cleaners: These are great but require a little more work on the pool owner’s part.  They connect to a transformer box that connects to a 120-volt outlet via a waterproof cable.  These electrically-powered cleaners all move in unique ways, but they tend to clean a pool floor in about the same amount of time as a boosted-pressure cleaner would.  You have to pull them out of the water when the floor is clean, and there is a leaf trap inside the body of the robot.  But these are desirable where there is no vacuum- or pressure-cleaner port in the pool wall.
  • In-Floor system: This system includes pop-up heads that penetrate the floor and steps of a pool, a hydro-mechanical valve that redirects water as needed, and a pump.  The pump should be specifically dedicated to the in-floor system, but some builders try to save money where they shouldn’t, tying the cleaner system in with the filter pump.  The rotating heads pop up in groups of 3-5, typically.  Nozzles shoot water across the bottom of the pool, moving debris toward drains.  The effectiveness of these systems is debatable, but one of the reasons for them is to keep a hose and head out of the pool for aesthetic reasons.  One could convert to a boosted pressure system IF circumstances are right AND the pool is being resurfaced.

Prove It!

Why are boosted-pressure systems worth converting?

  • The booster pump uses water most efficiently to power all functions on the cleaner
  • These can do in 3 hours what others cannot do after a full day of running
  • They do not rob from any portion of the pool suction, essential for clean, filtered water
  • Depending on the model chosen, they can be easily maintained/repaired

What factors should you consider before converting?

  • The upfront costs are relatively high, given you have to buy a new pump, timer/relay, and sweep
  • An additional pump is one more component subject to failure
  • A professional will need to check the amperage of your current filter pump circuit

Nothing takes the place of weekly maintenance on your pool.  A pool professional can vacuum debris, brush the walls, adjust chemistry, skim the top of the water, and do so many other things that a pool sweep or pool vac simply cannot do.  Still, a properly-working pool sweep actually does help maintain the pool between the professional’s visits.  The presence of a working cleaner is actually a factor in the pricing structure of some pool cleaning companies.  Whether yours is on the fritz, non-existent, or I’ve convinced you to consider converting, give us a call today for all your pool cleaner needs.

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