Types of Pool Cleaners: What’s the Difference?

Written by Michael Dean
December 21, 2023

types of swimming pool cleaners

A pool filter keeps your water nice and clean, but can’t remove debris that winds up on the pool floor or stuck to the walls. This is where pool cleaners (often called vacuums) come into play. There are four main types of pool cleaners:

I’ll walk through the benefits and drawbacks of each vacuum type and recommend some of my favorite ones.


Main Takeaways

  • Robotic pool cleaners are energy-efficient and effective, but they are the most expensive option.
  • Pressure-side pool cleaners are a great mid-range option that stores debris into a vacuum bag, but they may require a booster pump to run.
  • Suction-side pool cleaners are the cheapest automatic pool cleaner option, but they dump debris directly into the filter, which may cause additional strain on your filtration system.
  • Manual cleaners may be the most cost-efficient, but they do require a lot more manual labor.

Robotic

Robotic vacuums are the most effective, energy-efficient option. However, they are more expensive than the other options. Instead of being attached to your existing filtration system, robotic vacuums are self-contained units plugged into an electrical outlet. They may have fancy software allowing them to map your pool and ensure the entire surface is cleaned. Many of them can climb the walls up to the water level.

Pros

  • Self-contained cleaners.
  • Can generally clean the water line, stairs, and all surfaces of your pool .

Cons

  • More expensive than most other types of cleaners.
  • Since they are self-contained, they carry a limited amount of debris before they need to be emptied.

How to Install a Robotic Vacuum

Robotic cleaners are the easiest option to install. Once the cleaner caddy is hooked into a wall outlet, all you need to do is plug the cleaner into the caddy and submerge it in the pool. Then, you choose the programming option on the caddy’s control panel and press start.

Recommended Robotic Vacuums

For a budget option, the Aquabot ABREIQ Breeze IQ is very popular. It cleans floors and lower walls with scrubbing brushes, has a long cable for huge pools, and picks up almost all debris.

Aquabot ABREIQ Breeze IQ Wall-Climbing Robotic Pool Cleaner

Aquabot makes a very affordable option that is also great for small debris.

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If your budget is a little larger, the Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus Robotic Pool Vacuum Cleaner gets high marks for thoroughness and ease of use. It cleans up to the water line and learns your pool to ensure maximally efficient cleaning.

Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus Robotic Pool Vacuum Cleaner

This is my most recommended robotic pool cleaner and the model that performed best in my tests.

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View all of my top picks for the best robotic pool cleaners.

Pressure-Side

Pressure-side vacuums attach to the pressure side of your filter pump and move around using the water pressure for force. They often require a booster pump in addition to your current filtration system, which can increase water circulation but also increase your cost. Pressure-side vacuums are generally a mid-priced option, but the cost of the booster pump must be considered. They do reduce strain on your filter by not dumping debris into it. Debris picked up by this type of vacuum is stored in a self-contained bag, but they are better at picking up larger debris than small and usually clean the floor better than the walls.

Pros

  • Much more affordable than robotic pool cleaners.
  • Does not put a strain on your pool filter; debris is stored in a bag.

Cons

  • You may need to invest in a more powerful booster pool pump.
  • Are not the most effective option, as they may struggle to clean the walls, stairs, and waterline.

How to Install a Pressure-Side Vacuum

When installing a pressure-side vacuum, the dedicated pressure line in the pool is usually fitted with a quick-release connector. This attaches to the vacuum line, which must be adjusted to the correct length of the pool by following the instructions provided. Once the vacuum is attached to the pump, all that is required is to test the wheel speed and adjust the jet on the back for optimal wall climbing. A qualified technician should install the booster pump.

Recommended Pressure-Side Vacuums

Four wheels keep the Pentair LL505G Kreepy Krauly Legend Pressure-Side Inground Pool Cleaner upright and contribute to its ability to clean stairs and walls well. It uses a booster pump that is reportedly easy to set up.

Pentair Kreepy Krauly Legend Pressure-Side Inground Pool Cleaner

This pressure-side cleaner is incredibly effective and can handle large debris pretty easily.

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The relatively similar but slightly higher-rated Polaris Vac-Sweep 380 Pressure Side Pool Cleaner is also popular for delivering a thorough clean. It requires a booster pump as well.

Polaris Vac-Sweep 380 Pressure Inground Pool Cleaner

This option is a bit more expensive, but more effective at catching all the debris in your pool.

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View all of my top picks for the best pressure-side pool cleaners.

Suction-Side

Suction-side vacuums attach to the suction side of your existing pool filter pump and dump vacuumed debris into the filter. The suction causes them to move randomly around the bottom surface of the pool. They are the cheapest option aside from manual vacuums, but they create additional wear and tear on your filter and do not always do the best job. However, for pool owners with a limited budget and no time to do the job manually, a suction-side system will often suffice in a small pool.

Pros

  • Most affordable type of automatic pool filter.
  • Saves pool owners time as they will move around the pool automatically.

Cons

  • Put extra strain on your filter since the debris goes directly through your filtration system.
  • Randomly moves around the pool, so may not be the most effective cleaner.

How to Install a Suction-Side Vacuum

Suction cleaners have the advantage of being easy to install. Essentially, you flood a hose, attach it to the suction side of your pool pump, and attach the flooded suction cleaner. Valve adjustments may be necessary to ensure the flow is in the desirable range.

Recommended Suction-Side Vacuums

The Zodiac G3 is well-liked by users for thoroughness and longevity. It is a medium-priced option that has individually replaceable parts.

Zodiac G3 Automatic Suction-Side Pool Cleaner Vacuum

In my opinion, this is the best value suction-side cleaner on the market.

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The XtremepowerUS Climb Wall Pool Cleaner is also popular with pool owners. A little less cleaning power than the Zodiac option above, but it is incredibly affordable.

XtremepowerUS Climb Wall Pool Cleaner

XtremepowerUS makes the best budget option based on my testing and research.

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View all of my top picks for the best suction-side pool cleaners.

Manual Cleaners

A manual pool vacuum is attached to a long pole the user holds outside the pool and drives over the surfaces to be cleaned. It is attached to the suction side of the pool filtration pump and is the cheapest option. However, it requires regular manual labor and puts much the same drain on your filter as a suction-side pool cleaner. You can read my article on how to vacuum a pool for instructions on using one.

In-Floor Cleaning Systems

In-floor pool cleaning systems are the Ferraris of pool cleaners. These are high-end solutions that keep your pool consistently clean, so you won’t need to use any manual effort. These pool cleaning systems are integrated into your pool’s structure, featuring discreet cleaning nozzles strategically placed on the pool floor. These nozzles are connected to your central pump and filtration system and use water pressure and targeted jets to clean the pool’s surfaces and push debris toward designated drains. 

In-floor pool cleaners can work with essentially all types of inground pools and are a great choice if you have the budget for them. If you invest in an in-floor system, you’ll save tons of time and energy spent manually cleaning the pool. That said, they are costly and are definitely not a realistic choice for most pool owners.

Pros

  • A fully automated system that will keep your pool clean with very little human intervention.
  • Can cut down on chemical usage.
  • Saves you time and energy.

Cons

  • Very expensive.
  • Complex installation process that takes a lot of time.

How to Install an In-Floor Cleaning System

In-floor cleaners are complicated pieces of equipment with a pretty involved installation process. You will need to essentially dig up parts of the pool floor, install more plumbing lines, and connect the nozzles to the rest of your pool system. So, I recommend leaving the installation to the professionals.

Recommended In-Floor Cleaners

I recommend the Paramount In-Floor Pool Cleaner. This system is very high quality, with nozzles that rotate 360 degrees, a UV system that cuts back on chemical usage, and several upgrades that can further improve your automated pool cleaning system.

Which Type of Pool Cleaner Is Best for Your Pool?

As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing the best type of pool cleaner. It all boils down to the type of pool you have, your budget, and your pool size.

If you have a high budget and are looking for a cleaner that requires the least maintenance, I recommend a robotic pool cleaner or even an in-floor pool cleaning system

Pool owners who want to cut costs as much as possible and don’t mind using a bit of elbow grease can use a manual vacuum and a pool brush. There is nothing wrong with the old-fashioned way!

If you are willing to spend a bit of money on automation but don’t want to shoot the moon with a robot cleaner, you can opt for a suction or pressure-side pool cleaner.

Keep Your Pool Sparkling!

The right pool cleaner for you really just depends on the overall size and shape of your pool and how much of a budget you have. Check out my guide on the best pool cleaners (of every type) to get all my recommendations and my pool supplies guide for other stuff you need. I also frequently write about pool cleaners if you need extra help with yours. I linked some of my most popular guides below.

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