6 Different Types Pool-Cleaning Systems and How to Choose One

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A pool cleaner works in addition to whatever circulating water filtration system your pool has, to help remove clinging dirt and algae that aren't captured by the built-in system. In pools that have no circulating pumps (such as smaller above-ground units), the pool cleaner is the sole method of keeping water clean. 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 cleaning system is the right one for your particular pool or hot tub? Below, learn about six different options—from simple manual brushes to powerful automatic systems—and how to choose the one best for you.

  • 01 of 06

    Manual Brushing

    A person cleaning a pool manually with a net

    Carol Yepes / Getty Images

    Best for: Small above-ground pools and spas; spot cleaning of any pool.

    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 parts 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. Brush cleaning is also a good way to do a deep, thorough cleaning even when a pool has another cleaning system.

    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.

    This is by far the most affordable option. For less than $50, you can buy a perfectly serviceable brush and net kit with a telescoping pole.

    • Least expensive option

    • Good for above-ground pools

    • Allows for deep, thorough cleaning

    • Labor intensive

    • Must be done frequently

    • May cause pool filtration system to need more frequent backwashing.

  • 02 of 06

    Handheld Pool Vaccum

    Man cleaning the pool with a handheld vacuum

    Sladic / Getty Images

    Best for: Any type of pool.

    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 roller brush, as is found on an indoor vacuum) and it offers an inexpensive way to relieve the load on your pool's filtration system.

    These systems are affordable and easy to use, will work with any type of pool, and offer a good way to spot-clean areas that get especially dirty. Of the powered options, this is the most affordable. Handheld pool vacuums start at about $50 for a unit suitable for cleaning a spa, running up to about $300 for a powerful rechargeable unit suitable for larger pools.


    The bigger it is, the longer it will take to clean a 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.

    • Least expensive mechanical option

    • More powerful than many automatic systems

    • Doesn't require pool to have a filtration system

    • Requires manual operation; doesn't work automatically

    • Thorough cleaning can take several hours

    • May force more frequent backwashing of pool's filtration system

  • 03 of 06

    Automatic Suction (Suction-Side) Vacuums

    Side-suction pool vacuum

    galitskaya / Getty Images

    Best for: In-ground pools.

    Another type of pool vacuum goes by the name "automatic suction" or "suction side" vacuum, depending on the manufacturer. It operates much the same way as a whole-house central vacuum system does. The unit is connected to the filtration system's water intake with a flexible hose, usually at a fitting found at the skimmer basket.

    With the pool circulation pump turned on, the vacuum then utilizes the pool pump's suction power to move the vacuum head around the pool automatically, collecting debris as it goes. Suction-side pool cleaners require that the pool pump is 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.

    Prices for automatic suction side pool cleaners start at about $300, but can easily run up to $700 or more for units that can climb walls to clean them.


    There are also suction-side vacuums that are not automatic—units that you connect to the filtration system but which must be moved around the pool by hand.

    • Low cost compared to other automatic systems

    • Easy to use and maintain

    • Durable and long-lasting

    • Uses more electricity than manual options

    • No internal filter; dumps debris into pool's filtration system

    • Requires a pool with a filtration system, running during operation

  • 04 of 06

    Pressure Pool Vacuum

    Pressure-side pool vacuum cleaner

    fusaromike / Getty Images

    Best for: Pools that experience a lot of debris.

    Also known as pressure-side cleaners, these cleaners operate much like suction-side vacuums, also using the pool's filtration pump to provide the power. 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. This is a good system for pools that collect a lot of leaves and other large debris that can overtax the pool's circulating filtration system.

    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. 

    Automatic pressure pool vacuums start at about $500 in price but can run up to $1,000 or more for a unit powerful enough to climb and clean walls.

    • Has internal filters; doesn't clog pool's filtration system

    • Good for collecting large debris

    • Easy to clean and maintain

    • More expensive than suction systems

    • May require booster pump to work effectively

    • Requires pool to have filtration pump, operating during cleaner use

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Robotic Pool Cleaner

    Automatic pool cleaner climbing up the wall

    Igor Vershinsky / Getty Images

    Best for: Any pool type.

    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 the pool's filter. They have their own motors that both propel the unit around the pool and pump water through the unit to filter it. Most of these units are powerful enough to clean walls by climbing them.

    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.

    Robotic cleaners have the widest price range, depending on the features they include. Basic robotic cleaners suitable for small pools start at about $500, but $700 to $900 is more typical. And for robust robots that can clean large pools and have wall-climbing ability, don't be surprised to see prices in the $1,200 to $1,400 range.

    • Self-filtering; does not increase load on pool filtration system

    • Easy use; no pool pump connections required

    • Some types are programmable

    • Most expensive automatic cleaner

    • Many moving parts; more likely to need maintenance

    • Unit's filters need frequent cleaning

  • 06 of 06

    In-Floor Vacuum System

    In-ground pool vacuum

    Paramount Pool and Spa

    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 through 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. Such a system will add several thousand dollars to the price of pool construction.

    • Cleaning is entirely automated

    • Little to no maintenance required, other than filter cleaning

    • Most expensive system

    • Must be included during construction; can't be added on

Choosing a Pool Cleaner

Budget is, of course, a consideration when choosing a system for cleaning your pool. A pool cleaning system can range from a $50 brush and skim net, to several thousand dollars for an in-floor vacuum system. But considering the installation costs of most swimming pools, and the reason you own them in the first place—to have fun, not perform cleaning chores—most people will want to own some sort of mechanical system. Therefore, these other considerations are usually more important that budget when choosing a type of pool cleaner:

  • Type of pool: Some types of pool cleaners work equally well on above-ground or below-ground pools, but others are more amendable to one type of the other. For an above-ground pool without a filtration pump, for example, you'll be restricted to manual brushes or a hand-held pool vacuum. Automatic vacuum or pressure pool cleaners require a pool with a circulating filtration pump. Robots can be used with any type of pool, though are rarely used for above-ground pools.
  • Size of pool: The larger your pool, the more likely it is that you'll want to avoid the time-intensive methods in favor of one of the automatic pool cleaners—suction, pressure, or robotic. If you're in the process of building a large pool, this is the time to consider a built-in in-floor vacuum system.
  • Your tolerance for maintenance tasks: A simple, inexpensive pool brush and debris net could be all you need if you like the physical workout required to manually scrub your pool, and if you have the time to do it weekly. On the other hand, if you loathe such chores, then one of the automatic cleaners will be best—such as a robotic pool cleaner, which requires you to simply stick the unit in the water and turn it on.