6 Pool Cleaning Systems: Which Is Best for You?

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Ahhh, the joys of pool ownership: swimming, entertaining, and keeping cool during those hot months of summer. But the fun of owning a pool comes at a price—and not just the cost of the pool installation itself. One way or the other, you'll need to keep the pool clean—unless you want a green swamp, a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and someone from the city ringing your doorbell informing you that neighbors have been complaining about your dirty pool.

If you don't hire a pool cleaning service to clean and maintain your pool or spa, you will need some kind of DIY strategy for keeping your pool clean. And this usually involves the purchase of some kind of pool vacuum cleaner or other tools.

But how do you determine which pool vacuum system is the right one for your particular pool or hot tub? Here are six different options to consider.

Manual Brushing With a Telescoping Pole

Provided your pool or spa has a good filtration system, it is possible to remove debris, stains, and even green and yellowish algae the old-fashioned way—with brushes and skimming nets attached to a telescoping pole. You can reach the deepest reaches of the pool to scrape and brush off stains and algae from the sides and bottom, then use a skimming net to remove floating debris.

It's a great upper-body workout and also fairly time-consuming but doable and inexpensive. It takes a lot of work to clean a pool this way, and you may find your filtration system needs to work extra hard to filter out the debris you miss with skimming.

Benefits of manual scrubbing:

  • Good for fairly small pools and spas
  • Good choice for above-ground pools
  • Offers a good physical workout
  • More thorough cleaning is possible
  • Minimal cost

Handheld Pool Vacuums

Handheld pool vacuums work much like a household floor vacuum. They are self-contained appliances with bristle/suction heads, a built-in filter, a debris-trapping compartment, and a long handle. There are both plug-in and battery-operated types available. The operator maneuvers the suction head, which is fitted with bristles, across the pool's side and bottom surfaces, much the way you vacuum the floor of your home. A handheld vacuum has no mechanical parts (there is no rollbrush, as is found on an indoor vacuum) and offers an inexpensive way to relieve the load on your pool's filtration system.

A warning: The bigger the pool, the longer it will take to clean the pool—possibly a few hours. Hand vacuuming often works best if you combine it with a light hand-brushing before vacuuming. The bristles on the vacuum will likely kick up some excess debris in the water, so count on backwashing the pool's filter system after vacuuming, which adds even more time to the chore.

Benefits of handheld vacuums:

  • System is efficient and affordable
  • Allows for easy spot-cleaning of specific areas
  • Easy to use
  • Both plug-in and battery-powered models are available
  • More powerful than many automatic pool vacuums
  • Works for all types of pools and spas
  • Good choice for above-ground pools

Automatic Suction (Suction-Side) Vacuums

Another type of hand-operated pool vacuum goes by the name "automatic suction" or "suction side" vacuum, depending on the manufacturer. This type of vacuum connects to the filtration system's water intake with a flexible hose, usually by a connection at the skimmer basket, and it utilizes the pool pump's suction power to collect debris. Suction-side pool cleaners require that the pool pump should be running during operation, which means they'll be using more electricity than other types of pool cleaners.

To use this type of vacuum, the filtration pump needs to be in good condition and large enough for the task. Be prepared to clean and backwash your filters frequently since more than the normal amount of dirt will run through the system.

Benefits of suction-side vacuums:

  • Low cost
  • Easy to maintain and use
  • Dependable and long-lasting
  • Good choice for in-ground pools

Pressure Pool Vacuums

Also known as pressure-side cleaners, these cleaners operate much like suction side vacuums, also using the pool's filtration pump to provide the suction. But this type is equipped with its own filter bag, so it doesn't place any added load on the pool's filter. If you add a booster pump, this type of cleaner can become more powerful. 

Pressure pool vacuums move under their own power, independent of the pool's circulation system. Mounted on wheels to easily move around, pressure cleaners don't scrub the pool surfaces as thoroughly as contact-type cleaners do. 

Benefits of pressure pool vacuums:

  • Good for pools that have lots of debris and dirt
  • Has its own filter and debris bag; won't clog pool's filtration system
  • Long life span
  • Easy to clean and maintain

Robotic Pool Cleaners 

Some of the most popular types of automatic pool vacuums are robots, which are powered independently of the swimming pool circulation system and place no extra load on its filter.

Of all the different types of pool cleaners and vacuums, a robot is considered the most energy-efficient. As self-contained units with a built-in filter and motor, robotic cleaners are able to grab the smallest particles from all types of pool surfaces. Some models come equipped with fun features like remote controls for spot cleaning and four-wheel drive movement.

Benefits of robotic pool cleaners:

  • Good for above-ground pools that aren't equipped with skimmer baskets
  • Self-filtering; no connection to pool pump required
  • Filters water, reducing the need for chemicals
  • Fast, easy to use

In-Floor Vacuum Systems

Many of the more luxurious in-ground swimming pools have in-floor automatic vacuum systems, which are installed during the construction process. Jets are built into the bottom of the pool and connected to the filter system's return line. When the whole system is turned on, heads pop up and a booster pump generates a high-pressure swirl of water through the pool. A strong current is produced as the water moves along the pool's floor, and dirt and debris are forced toward the main drains. The main pump siphons the debris out of the pool as the water circulates to the filtering system.

Such systems require that the pool filters be cleaned more frequently—but, if you can afford an in-floor vacuum, it's likely that a hired pool service is also doing the routine filter maintenance.

Benefits of in-floor cleaning systems:

  • The most carefree, automatic system for owners who can afford it
  • Eliminates an unpleasant maintenance chore