How Automatic Pool Cleaners Work: Breaking It Down

Written by Michael Dean
June 6, 2023

pool cleaners and instruction manuals

Gone are the days of manually cleaning the leaves and dirt out of your pool. Nowadays, people turn to automatic pool cleaners to do the job for them. Whether you already own one or want to buy one, you may wonder: how do they actually work?

In this article, I’ll explain how these pool cleaners work technically and the different types of automatic cleaners you can choose from.

Main Takeaways 

  • There are three types of automatic cleaners: Robotic, pressure-side, and suction-side.
  • Robotic cleaners rely on electricity and have sensors to direct them.
  • Suction-side and pressure-side cleaners rely on a pool pump.

How Automatic Pool Cleaners Work

While I will discuss three different models of automatic pool cleaners in this article, all automatic cleaners operate by motors or a pool pump, removing the human element of cleaning the pool. You have the choice of three types of automatic cleaners:

  1. Robotic pool cleaner
  2. Pressure-side pool cleaner
  3. Suction-side pool cleaner

Each model has different technical specs.

How Robotic Pool Cleaners Work 

The robotic pool cleaner is the most popular choice of automatic pool cleaner as it is suitable for all types of pool shapes and depths. This is because it is the most technologically advanced option available.

Major Parts

  • Main body
  • Built-in debris bag 
  • Tracks/wheels
  • sensors

How They Function

The robotic pool cleaner has a built-in electric motor that powers the sucking process. This electric motor allows small and large pieces of debris to be sucked up. With the help of rotating brushes under the body of the cleaner, the sucked-up debris is stored in a separate filter bag inside the body of the cleaner. Much like a vacuum cleaner, these bags can be and should be emptied when filled.

To move around the pool, robotic cleaners have a set of tracks or wheels that help them navigate the corners and stairs in the swimming pool. Depending on your model, some cleaners have pumps that act as a water filter and a propeller simultaneously.

What is really technologically impressive about the robotic cleaner is that it has built-in sensors that can detect the pool’s bends, staircases, and waterline. Some sensors can even pick up debris that needs to be cleaned, preventing missed spots with manual pool cleaners.

How Pressure-Side Pool Cleaners Work

Major Parts

  • Main body
  • Filter bag
  • Sweeper tail
  • Wheels
  • Return jet hose

How They Function

Unlike robotic pool cleaners, pressure-side pool cleaners rely on water to move around and suction debris. Therefore, the pool pump will need to be turned on. The cleaner is attached to the pool’s return jet via the provided hose, relying on the water pressure from the pool filtration system to move around and suction. To sum it up, the pressure-side cleaner basically creates a water vortex to work.

The sweeper tail on the pressure-side pool cleaner assists with cleaning as it helps to remove fine debris off the pool walls and floor and into the pool cleaner’s filter bag. Any stubborn debris that doesn’t get sucked up by the cleaner gets dislodged by the pressure-side cleaner so that it may be picked up by the pool’s filtration system instead.

Using the filtered water to create suction, this type of pool cleaner moves on its own in a random path, assisted by the wheels underneath the body. Because it does not have sensors, they sometimes may get stuck, so they come with built-in backup valves that create a short burst of force to move the cleaner to a new location.

How Suction-Side Pool Cleaners Work

Suction-side pool cleaners are the most commonly used automatic pool cleaners and are the most economical. You’ll see them in most pools, and they are affectionately known to many as “pool crawlies.”

Major Parts

  • Main body 
  • Roller skirts
  • Deflector wheel 
  • Hose
  • Tires (depending on model)

How They Function

As the name implies, this type of pool cleaner uses suction to remove debris from the pool water. The suction-side cleaner is connected to either the pool skimmer or a dedicated suction line with the hose. The water then travels through this suction line and into the pool pump. The pool pump receives what the cleaner has suctioned and filters out the debris before sending clean water back into the pool.

The wheel deflector helps the suction-side pool cleaner move around the pool and even maneuver around tight corners. Another feature that allows this type of automatic cleaner to effectively clean the pool is the roller skirts. They help to retain suction when going across uneven surfaces by conforming to the shape of the obstacle.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How does a robotic pool cleaner know where to go?

One of the most helpful specs of a robotic cleaner is that it knows where to go without human involvement. This is thanks to built-in sensors with robotic pool cleaners, which can map out your entire pool. These sensors can see where the bends, dips, and even staircases are in the pool. The sensors help guide the cleaner safely around the pool, but they can also sense large debris in the pool, notifying the cleaner where to go next.

The more expensive robotic cleaners have mobile apps on which you can see where the cleaner has cleaned or where you program it to clean.

How do you hook up an automatic pool vacuum?

Hooking up an automatic pool vacuum is very easy. For your ease, I have broken it down step-by-step.

Step one: Assemble the device.

This first step is to assemble the cleaner according to the instructions provided in the manual. Usually, there isn’t too much to assemble once you get it out of the box.

Step two: Get your filtration system ready.

Start up your filtration system before attaching the cleaner and let it run for 10 minutes.

Step three: Insert skim vac.

The skim vac, also known as the suction plate, is then inserted into the body of the cleaner. The skim vac acts as an adaptor for the hose to be connected.

Step four: Connect the hose.

Connect the hose to the pool skimmer found on the wall.

Step five: Place the cleaner into the pool.

Once the skim vac and hose are attached, gently lower the cleaner into the pool. 

Step six: Fill the hose.

Before connecting the other end of the hose, submerge it in the water so that it can build pressure. An easy way to do this is by submerging the hose vertically into the water.

Step seven: Connect the hose.

The final step in hooking up your automatic pool vacuum is to connect the other end of the hose to the cleaner’s suction plate. Once connected, the pressure built up from the pool filter system will move the vacuum, and the cleaning will begin.

Need Some Maintenance Help?

Send me a message! I can answer any of your pool maintenance, equipment, or other questions.

Bottom Line

Understanding the workings behind automatic pool cleaners has never been simpler. To sum it up quickly, robotic cleaners rely on electrical motors. In contrast, suction-side and pressure-side cleaners rely on a working pool pump.

Have more questions? Let me know. You can also check out some of my other articles below.

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