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    Swimming Pool Cleaners: Suction, Pressure or Robotic?

    January 22, 2015
    Matt Spencer


    When swimming pool cleaners were first invented, and for many years after - there was one type available, sort of like the black Ford Model T automobile. Made by Jandy and Arneson, they were not vacuum cleaners, as they did not suck up any debris, but had with long tentacles that whipped around, to lift debris off the floor, where it had a better chance of reaching the skimmer or main drain. These were called "pool sweeps" because they swept the floor. arneson-pool-sweep

    These old stirrer-upper pool cleaners are now OBS and NLA (obsolete and no longer available). Today, there are 3 types of automatic pool cleaners, all of which vacuum debris, and also stir up debris and circulate water. Modern pool sweeps are classified into Suction, Pressure and Robotic pool cleaners.


    Suction cleaners attach to a suction port on your pool, such as a pool skimmer or a dedicated vacuum line in the wall. They are not meant to be attached to the main drain suction port, which would be hard to connect and remove, and would likely tangle itself.

    Suction cleaners use the pool filter pumps suction to vacuum the pool and for motion, which is created by "pulsing" the water, or briefly interrupting the water flow, causing the cleaner to jump and move very slightly, and slowly.



    • Inexpensive to purchase, the cheapest type of pool cleaner available
    • Fewer parts used to manufacture means fewer parts to replace
    • Easy installation, can be assembled and connected in 10 minutes



    • Clogs often with large leaves or sticks, at the unit, or in the pump basket
    • Speed is dependent on pool pump size and water flow, cleans pool in 2-4 hours
    • Must be connected and disconnected from the skimmer, to allow for surface skimming


    Pressure cleaners attach to a return port on your pool, such as a pool return or dedicated cleaner line. There are two types of pressure pool cleaners - booster pump powered cleaners and filter pump powered cleaners. Those cleaners that require a booster pump have several advantages, despite using more energy than other cleaner types.

    A booster pump with a dedicated cleaner line can be run on a time clock, making this cleaner type truly automatic, shutting itself off after a pre-set daily cleaning run. It also is consistently powered, and independent of the filter system, running at peak performance, even if the pool filter or pump basket is dirty and clogged. And, speaking of power, booster pump cleaners are the fastest tracking, cleaning most pools in under 2 hours.

    The other type of pressure cleaners connect to a wall return fitting, or dedicated cleaner line. Examples include Jandy Ray-Vac, Polaris 360 and Letro Legend II. These are not as powerful as the booster pump driven models, they put back-pressure on the filter system, and must be manually connected and disconnected to shut off the cleaner. Another pressure cleaner type, the Polaris 165 operates without a booster pump, and connects to a wall return. It moves around on the surface (but does no skimming), pulling a 'drag bag' which sweeps the floor and captures debris in a mesh net.


    • Powerful and quick cleaning and can handle large leaves, acorns and sticks
    • Booster pump pressure cleaners are truly automatic, shutting themselves off
    • Truly independent of the filter system, not reliant on pool pump and filter performance


    • Expensive to install the booster pump model with a dedicated cleaner line and timeclock
    • With many more parts than suction cleaners, repairs are more frequent
    • Booster pump energy usage makes these cleaners less earth friendly than other types


    Robotic pool cleaners do not attach to your pool circulation system at all, and are the only cleaner to be truly independent of the pool pump and filter system. They operate on low voltage 24 volts, which powers onboard motors, a pump motor (for vacuuming) and a drive motor (for movement). Newer models are jet propelled, requiring only one motor, a pump motor - which accomplishes both vacuuming and movement.

    Robot cleaners have their own debris bag which is easily emptied when full. Most models also help filter your pool water as the cleaner pumps 40 gpm of pool water through the debris bag and on-board filter. Inground models can climb walls and even scrub the water line.

    green-thumbROBOTIC CLEANERS: PRO

    • Affordable, depending on the model - prices have come down in recent years
    • Fast cleaning and thorough, some models learn your pool and can self-program
    • Easy to install, plug-n-play right out of the box. No assembly required


    • Some models are expensive, rivaling the cost of a booster pump pressure cleaner
    • Repairs can be expensive; some units are fragile and damage easily by kids or dogs
    • Clogs easily with large debris, such as big leaves, sticks or acorns

    vacuuming-the-polBesides swimming pool cleaners, there is another way to keep your pool clean - using a good ol' vacuum head and hose. Manually vacuuming, brushing and skimming your pool is faster than any pool cleaner, and does a better job. It also is a good form of exercise, and some quality time for you and your pool.

    Matt Spencer
    SPP Pool Expert

    Blog Author
    Matt Spencer