For 32 years, the voice of the pool and spa service professional.

An in-depth comparison of today’s pool cleaners

By Marcelle Dibrell

For lots of service professionals today, it appears that gone are the days of manually vacuuming pools as part of routine pool maintenance.

It wasn’t so long ago that weekly pool service meant literally hours of skimming the water surface, scrubbing scale off of water lines, and manually vacuuming the pool.

For many service technicians, this tedious and time consuming job has been minimized by the advent of automatic pool cleaners.

Pool cleaning devices have come a long way since they were first invented, perhaps as early as the late 1700s. Richard K. Cacioppo, author of “The History of Pool Cleaners,” notes that there almost certainly was no single inventor of a pool cleaner recorded in history as the first such machine. He does allow, however, that a patent for such a device was first filed, but not issued, in 1798.

The patent was, in fact, filed for a cistern cleaner. A cistern is a waterproof receptacle for holding liquids, usually water, and is commonly used where water is scarce sometimes in order to catch rain. The predecessors to pool cleaners are cistern cleaners, and the first patent was issued to John Pattison in 1884 for his “Cistern and Tank Cleaner.” Then in 1912, the first patent for an actual pool cleaner was issued to John Davidson for his “Cleaning apparatus for Swimming Pools and the Like.” While there is apparently no record that the device was ever constructed, it was intended to scrape slime off of the bottom of the pool, and using a pump, suck the dirty water out of the pool.

The first patent ever issued for a machine that actually resembles a modern day pool cleaner was granted to Roy B. Everson, in 1937, and had brushes and rollers to facilitate movement.

The 1950s saw a rash of suction- based pool cleaner patents, but it wasn’t until 1965 that a patent was issued to Howard M. Arneson who had developed the Arneson Pool Sweep, the predecessor of the modern day pressure- side cleaner. Attributed by many as the “first” automatic pool cleaner, the central unit had long and short tentacles that sprayed pressurized water out the ends, and resembled an octopus.

Electric robotic cleaners began to gain popularity in the 1970s. The first modern version of an electric robotic cleaner was invented by Robert R. Myers, who was issued a patent for his invention in 1967.

Today’s automatic cleaners come in three major varieties that have evolved somewhat over time: pressure-side cleaners, which operate off the return line of the pump; suction-side cleaners, which pull debris from the suction-side of the pump; and robotic cleaners, which operate independent of the pool’s filtration system and are powered electrically. A fourth class of cleaners also worth mentioning, invented by Guy Erlich, is the battery-powered, handheld vacuum, notable for operating without any booster pumps, hoses, or electrical cords. The patent was obtained surprisingly recently, in 2004, although many prior attempts had been made to develop a battery-powered cleaner. While many thought that the handheld device was actually a technological step backward, the fact that the cleaner is conveniently battery powered as well as inexpensive ensures its continued popularity among consumers.

More information can be found in “The most definitive, accurate history of the pool cleaner published to date”, Richard K. Cacioppo’s “The History of Pool Cleaners.”

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