What is a Pool Skimmer And How Does It Work?

The pool skimmer is often the most overlooked part of your filter infrastructure. It’s a key ingredient of a scintillatingly clean pool; a discreet yet essential part of the system that ensures the water stays free of grit, oils, dirt, and leaves. In this article, I will be discussing how skimmers work and how to take care of them to ensure your pool is functioning well.


Main Takeaways

  • Skimmers can range from a non-technical net you use by hand to skim the pool to a complicated machine.
  • The most common type of pool skimmer is the automatic model installed along with your pool filtration infrastructure.
  • They work by sucking the pool water in, sieving it, and sending the clean water back.
  • They’re easy to maintain and the average skimmer can last up to 25 years.

What is a Pool Skimmer?

A pool skimmer is most commonly recognized as the small white rectangle built inside the edge of your inground pool or the net you skim the pool with for dirt. The skimmer is a core component of the pool’s filtration system. It collects larger debris as water is sucked through it for cleaning and re-circulation.

There are a variety of pool skimmers available in the market in terms of function, features, and build.

Automatic Pool Skimmers

These are relatively straightforward and the most common type of pool skimmer available. These pool skimmers are usually installed along with your pool filtration system. Most are pre-fixed at a certain point in your swimming pool or are free-swimming, depending on the manufacturer. They are usually connected directly to the drain by a hose and are typically available either as an:

a) in-ground model, which is usually a concreted, fixed structure that requires professional aid in installation & repair or;

b) above-ground model; a comparatively simpler (and less expensive) pool skimmer usually affixed with some screws or clamps to the side of your pool.

Manual Pool Skimmers

A manual pool skimmer is simply a net attached to a long, lightweight pole. You drag the net across the surface of the water and gather up the debris within for disposal to keep the water clean. This is the easiest and most inexpensive type of pool skimmer available — however, it is also the most labor-intensive.

Self-Contained Pool Skimmers

These types of pool skimmers operate and propel themselves through the workings of built-in solar panels and can operate and filter debris even when the pool’s pump is shut down. They are more expensive and complex than other pool filters to run and maintain, but since they operate continuously using solar energy, a clean pool is always guaranteed.

Where is the Skimmer in the Pool?

The location of the skimmer in your pool depends a lot on what kind of model it is. If it’s a mounted skimmer, it’s most likely located on the side as a white rectangular slot. If it’s a robotic or floating pool swimmer, you’re more likely to find it gliding around the pool, whirring away to keep the water clean and dirt free! There aren’t any hard and fast rules on an ideal location for them – that just depends on the make of your filtration system and the size of your pool.

How Do Pool Skimmers Work?

Pool skimmers work by suctioning water (and debris) through a flap. As the water passes through, the debris gets collected in a basket. It essentially uses the simple sieving mechanism to gather and hold the debris. Emptying the basket of all the accumulated dirt is important to keep the filtration system in good shape and clean the water.

Breaking Down a Skimmer

  • A mechanical pool skimmer comprises six basic components: the lid, the mouth, the weir, the basket, the suction line, and the equalizer line.
  • The lid and the mouth are the most visible parts of the skimmer and the areas through which the water is sucked in.
  • The weir is the flap mentioned above through which the water and accumulated debris pass; it is the core component of the skimmer because it prevents the dirt from passing back out since it only opens one way.
  • The skimmer basket functions like a sieve – it collects and holds the debris that enters through the mouth and the weir.
  • The suction line powers the skimmer and works as the part of the skimmer that performs the essential task of pulling the water in for cleaning and re-circulating.
  • The equalizer line is the part of the skimmer that prevents the skimmer from sucking in air and overheating in case the water level drops too below the main inlet.

Do You Need a Pool Skimmer?

The short answer? Yes.

The long answer: A pool skimmer is, like any other piece of equipment, an integral part of the cleaning system that ensures that your investment in a swimming pool pays off. While it is not a necessity, it is arguably one of the first steps one should take toward building a healthy filtering routine for your water.

Clean, hygienic water is what makes for a good pool season, and the skimmer goes a long way in removing large pieces of debris from the water before it clogs up any vital parts of your other more expensive and complex machinery, such as your pool heater or other important parts of your pool pump or filtration system.

Whether you skim the top of your pool with a net or opt to invest in a little robot to do the skimming for you, I strongly recommend not skipping out on a good-quality pool skimmer.

How Much Do Pool Skimmers Cost?

Prices vary significantly when it comes to a pool skimmer. It starts anywhere from $8 for a simple manual net skimmer to $600 for a high-end solar-powered or battery-operated robotic pool skimmer with fancy features. Upkeep and maintenance costs also differ depending on the type of equipment you have chosen to invest in – for example, an in-ground pool skimmer can cost up to $1400 to replace since it is built into the pool and more complicated to install, whereas an above-ground skimmer can cost around $140 – $180 to replace.

In short, the average market price for a general automatic pool skimmer can be approximately around $200 – $400.

How Long Do Skimmers Last?

The good news is that non-manual skimmers are simple pieces of equipment and can last for a long time with some basic maintenance and upkeep. If taken care of, we’re looking at your skimmer lasting for more than a decade or two. Some pool owners report that their equipment is functioning in excellent shape even after 25 years of service.

If you’re using a simple manual skimmer, the build quality of your net and the pole matters as well, so be sure to check for wear and tear. Do not hesitate to swap out a worn-out-looking net for a fresh, clean one to keep your water sparkling.

Pool Skimmer Maintenance Tips

With a few simple steps, it’s possible to cut down on any hefty repair or replacement costs that you might incur during the lifespan of your pool skimmer. The better you maintain it, the longer the lifespan of all your other pool equipment too.

Clean Out the Skimmer Basket Regularly

Cleaning the skimmer is necessary for the overall maintenance of your swimming pool. A clogged skimmer makes your pump work harder to cycle the water. This can stress the seals in your pump and, subsequently, shorten your equipment’s life. Make sure you remove the strainer or basket regularly and empty all the accumulated debris from it before hosing the mesh down and replacing it within the skimmer.

Maintain Consistent Levels of Acid and an Adequate pH Balance for Healthy Filtration

This goes without saying. Keep your chlorine levels at an optimal range to keep the water sanitary and sparkling. Unbalanced pH levels can severely corrode your equipment, making it an expensive process to repair and replace any affected machinery. Do not skip out on testing the water regularly!

Use a Tennis Ball to Absorb Oils and Scum

An unexpectedly simple but cost-effective way of helping your pool’s filtration system is to toss a tennis ball into the pool once in a while. Oils, sunscreen, and general scum stick to the surface of the ball as it bobs around the water, making the work easier for your skimmer and filter pumps.

Schedule a Yearly Check-Up Appointment for General Upkeep

Just like you get a medical check-up done once a year, it’s best to have a qualified pool professional visit annually and have a look over all your equipment to see if it requires any professional servicing. Sometimes, you just need an expert’s eye.

Use a Solar Pool Cover to Make Sure Less Debris Falls into the Water

Covering your pool when not in use does a lot to help your water stay clean, healthy, and largely free of debris. This will greatly aid your skimmer and keep it functioning at a relaxed capacity.

Need Some Maintenance Help?

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Bottom Line

Pool skimmers aren’t that hard! Keep them free of muck, wash them now and then, keep your pool’s water chemically balanced, and the skimmer will go miles in helping you maintain sparkling blue water. If you need a new pool skimmer, check out my recommendations for the best pool skimmers. I also linked some of my related skimmer articles below.

If you have any questions, shoot me a question – I’m here to help!

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