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Automatic cleaners — a friend to service pros

By Marcelle Dibrell

It pays to delegate. Not all work is created equal, and some jobs are simply worth more than others. Time is money, and there is little that buys a pool service technician more time than an automatic pool cleaner. 

Automatic cleaners come in three basic varieties, utilizing the pool’s suction side, pressure side, or operating independently of the pool’s circulation system. 

Let’s take a closer look at these invaluable time saving devices.  

Suction-Side Cleaners

As their name implies, it is the suction made available by the pool’s skimmer that provides the power to vacuum up dirt and debris with a suction-side automatic cleaner.

Therefore, the key to maintaining optimum performance on these types of cleaners depends on the system’s filter being in good condition. 

Cleaner manufacturers commonly recommend that prior to installing or reinstalling the cleaner for the season, the filter should be thoroughly cleaned to make sure there is uninterrupted flow through the system.

Because suction-side cleaners replace the cleaning process of manual vacuuming, the main drain needs to be closed to increase suction through the skimmer. 

An overly dirty pool environment will cause the flow through the system of the pool to quickly decline. This can cause the machine to either stop operating altogether, or only operate intermittently. Check for excess debris in the cleaner, which may be restricting the unit’s movement or adequate water flow.

After the pool environment itself is clean, the system flow can be kept working optimally by routine filter cleaning.

Routine checkups should also include replacement of broken or missing baskets as well as damaged filter grids or cartridges. Sand filters should be treated with a backwash aid to increase the filter capacity and flow rates.

Many swimming pool return lines are set up to flow current in a circular fashion, allowing the debris on the surface to move around to the skimmer. This can impede the cleaner’s operation and is an ineffective means of turning over the pool.

For this reason, pool returns should be directed down toward the bottom of the pool. Not only does this create a better environment for the cleaner, but it also increases the efficiency of the hydraulic system. That’s because the clean-filtered water is pointed into the body of the pool rather than needlessly on the surface where it will be drawn back into the skimmer. 

If the cleaner gets stuck under the pool ladder, a ladder guard should be installed according to the instructions included in the packaging. This is particularly true if the pool is a vinyl-lined, where the unit could tear the liner.

When installing or reinstalling any unit, service professionals should pay special attention to the specific instructions provided by the manufacturer. But in general, a typical installation involves the following procedures:

• After assembly, prime the hose and then submerge the cleaner. Install it into the suction port of the skimmer. Most suction-side cleaners come with either a manual regulator valve or an automatic system, which is designed to consistently limit high flow of water through the cleaner. This allows for skimming action as well. The manual regulator valve and a flow meter correctly set the cleaner to the right flow. Excess flow remaining after the cleaner is added in is diverted back to skimming.

• To do their job effectively, cleaners must be properly balanced. For the machine to travel the pool properly, the foot pad must sit square against the surface of the pool. Only when the unit is properly balanced will the foot pad’s adhesion allows the cleaner to climb the vertical walls and travel the pool from deep to shallow end. The hose should not pull up or down on the unit. Adjust hose weights one inch at a time to achieve proper hose balance. Adjust weights initially in the deep end, and then move to the shallow end. Also, check the hose balance of the machine periodically to ensure that it has not been altered

• Because proper flow is a necessity for suction-side cleaners, service professional should make it routine to check the baskets for debris buildup.

Inline leaf canisters can be used to keep the pump and skimmer baskets free of debris. This is especially important in high-wind areas.

In addition, service personnel should monitor the pool returns to be sure they have not been altered by swimmers playing with the fittings.

If the cleaner needs to be removed from the pool, it is best to store the hose straight, preferably in its original container. 

If the hose is coiled like a garden hose, it will retain memory and will want to return to the coiled position, which
will adversely affect coverage of the pool.

Pressure Vacuum Sweepers 

Vacuum sweepers take pressurized water from the booster pump to both sweep and vacuum. The sweeping occurs as some of the water is diverted through the tail of the unit. The water pressure causes the tail to sweep back and forth, brushing loose any fine dirt or debris, which is then filtered out through the normal circulation system. 

The high pressure causes a venturi, or suction, effect that vacuums dirt and debris into an attached bag.

Some units do not require a booster pump but are equipped with a special valve that controls the cleaner’s pressure and flow cycles. 

Because vacuum-sweeps carry their own filter bags, they operate effectively without a usable main drain and can extend filter cycles. They require a dedicated line to avoid running hoses or pipes across the pool deck. 

Manufacturers offer a number of optional accessories with vacuum sweeps to enhance their performance, including: 

• A backup valve that enables the cleaner to free itself from entrapments. 

• Ladder guards to prevent the cleaner from becoming trapped. 

• A choice of catch bags — one with fine mesh for trapping sand and silt and one with coarser mesh for leaves and large debris. 

When sweepers were first introduced, the units only whipped up dirt for elimination through the normal circulation process. Now they direct debris into their catch bags, acting much like a leaf rake. 

Service professionals should empty the catch bag and/or sock as needed. However, similar to some filtration devices, they should recognize that the bag can work better with some leaves or dirt in it. The debris itself works as a filter, catching fine particles in the leaves. 


Robotic cleaners operate independent of the pool plumbing, often traveling on track wheels and carrying their own filter and pump with them. 

Their power is supplied by a 24-volt power supply or by 120-volt household current, both plugged into an ordinary AC outlet.

The greatest advantage of robotic cleaners is that they collect debris in their own filter bag, increasing filter cycles by decreasing the amount of debris entering the pool filter. Like other cleaners, they also help mix chemicals in the pool.

Some of the robots are remote-control operated, allowing for spot cleaning when the whole pool does not need cleaning. And using micro-chip technology, they have the ability to memorize the pool pattern for greater coverage.

Some of the units have jets that provide the capacity to remove sand and algae from floors and walls, and from pores in plaster surfaces where brushes cannot reach. Furthermore, their internal filtration systems can remove fine particles down to as small as two microns, making the units similar to a back-up filtration system.

Because of this, some are advertised as saving the regular filtration system as much as 25 percent run time. The units are simple to install, require no additional plumbing, and they can even operate under a pool cover.

Because they operate electrically, to ensure complete safety when operating this type of cleaner, make certain that all power cords are protected by a GFCI.

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