What kind of pool vacuum is right for you?
Keeping your oasis crystal clear and debris-free
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With most of us staying home this year, backyard swimming pools have become staples of this summer season—so much so that if you haven't bought one already, you may be out of luck. Assuming you're one of the hundreds of people who bought a pool for the first time this year, you're probably now acutely aware of just how quickly their smooth vinyl floors can get speckled with bits of dirt and detritus. Not only is it uncomfortable to have hard or sharp chunks of debris underfoot, it's a recipe for tears that can be costly to fix in terms of time and effort.
If you're looking for a cleaning solution, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the product space first. We'll be taking a look at the four major options out there—robots, suction-side cleaners, pressure-side cleaners, and manual cleaners—and getting into the pros and cons of each method to help you decide which one is best for you.
Manual pool cleaners
Manual pool cleaners are the cheapest and simplest option when it comes to pool cleaning. These often look like a typical vacuum cleaner, only the vacuum head is at the end of a telescoping pole. These can have their own canisters for collecting debris, connect to your pool's pump via a hose, or even feature a combination of both. This lets you vacuum the bottom of your pool just like you'd vacuum the floor of your home, assuming your household vacuum cleaner is about 10 feet long.
While manual pool cleaners might make up the cheaper option here, they will definitely cost you in other ways. For starters, it's a great workout for your arms and back. You're moving a huge pole back and forth through water, which can be exhausting. It also takes much longer than other options to do well, which is less time spent relaxing poolside.
Even if you want to hurry the process, it's not recommended: The vacuum really only gets the dirt that's sitting sedentary at the bottom of the pool—moving the vacuum head around quickly will kick up debris, creating obfuscating clouds and putting a lot of the dirt out of suction reach. Also, water adds a ton of resistance, so moving things around slowly will be a lot easier on your back than trying to muscle through as fast as you can.
Suction-side pool cleaners
A suction-side cleaner leverages your pool's pump and filter to provide the suction and skim out debris. These are like automated versions of a manual pool cleaner on either two or four wheels, patrolling your pool and automatically vacuuming up anything it comes across. Since these models use your pool's pump and filter, it'll draw quite a bit more electricity than the stand-alone robots, but will otherwise be a much cheaper option.
As with other options that leverage your pool's pump, you'll need to backwash and empty the filter, as well as manually pull out anything stuck in the skimmer after each use.
Suction-side pool cleaners are one of the less-expensive automatic options for keeping your pool clean, but they can take a long time to complete a full circuit. Additionally, by using your pool's filter, they'll create some extra wear and tear, necessitating more frequent replacement than you otherwise would. Keep this additional maintenance in mind when pricing out your options.
Pressure-side pool cleaners
Like the suction-side options, pressure-side cleaners also rely on your swimming pool’s pump and filter, only they use the pressurized water pushed out of the pump instead of the water getting sucked into the pump. Since it's not able to send debris through the filter, these models often have their own canisters or filter bags, which can be a lot cheaper to replace than the big one in your pool's pump. This also means you won't have to backwash your pool's filter after use (though you will have to clean out its filter bag each time).
These models are very similar to suction-side pool cleaners in that they still rely on your pool's pump for power, and that pump draws a ton of electricity. While often more expensive than suction-side cleaners, depending on the cost of filters, pressure-side cleaners can be the slightly cheaper option over time.
Robot pool cleaners
Robotic pool cleaners are No. 1 in terms of ease of use—as well as cost. This is the most "set it and forget it" option available: Just plop these bots into your pool and a few hours later it'll be spotless. These devices have their own filter bag or capture canister that needs emptying after each use and either depend on battery power or can just be plugged into the closest available socket via a suitably long extension cord.
Since they don't depend on your pool's filter or pump, these robots are often significantly cheaper to maintain over time, both in terms of replacement filter costs and power usage (in fact, it's actually encouraged you don't run your pool's pump while they're going, to ensure nothing is kicking debris up and away from the robot's suction).
Also, unlike other cleaning methods, the robot pool cleaners often don't require a long hose that's affixed to part of your pool. This can be a boon if you want to use the pool while swimming around, since it means you won't have to avoid a long plastic obstacle the whole time.
While robot pool cleaners are the best option for routine pool maintenance, many units have a lot of trouble with larger pieces of debris. Depending on the unit, even something the size of an acorn can cause problems, either blocking the unit's suction or simply being left behind as the device focuses on more manageable morsels. Most can't handle larger items like sticks, which a good suction- or pressure-side cleaner might be able to manage.
Nothing says summer like cool, clean water
For some, the hard work of manually cleaning the pool makes the payoff of a refreshing dip all the more refreshing. For others, the convenience of a robot pool cleaner might make more sense. Regardless of the option you choose, your pool's lining (and your feet) will thank you.
If you're looking for other ways to make this summer feel more like other summers, check out our other summer fun articles to learn which pool is right for you, which products are the most splurge-worthy, and which one shoppers are swooning over.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.