Types of Pool Cleaners: What’s the Difference?

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

We’ll walk through the benefits and drawbacks of each type of vacuum and also recommend some of my favorite ones. First up, robotic cleaners.


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 that are plugged into an electrical outlet. They may have fancy software that allows them to map your pool and make sure the entire surface is cleaned. Many of them can climb the walls up to the water level.

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 Junior ABJR Automatic Robotic Inground Pool Cleaner is very popular. It cleans floors and lower walls with scrubbing brushes, has a long cable for even large pools and picks up almost all debris.

Aquabot Junior Automatic Robotic In Ground Pool Cleaner
  • DESIGNED FOR ALL IN-GROUND POOL shapes and sizes. Safe for all surfaces including vinyl - Long 50 ft. cable
  • Package Weight: 15.5 kilograms
  • Long 50 ft. cable
  • At Aquabot we believe in crystal clear water with fewer chemicals and a healthier clean.

If your budget is a little larger, the Dolphin 99996356 Dolphin Triton Robotic Pool 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 99996356 Dolphin Triton Robotic Pool Cleaner with Caddy Swivel Cable, 60-Feet
  • Cleans pool floor, cove and walls
  • Recommended for in-ground residential pools up to 50 ft. in length
  • The Dolphin Triton is an advanced robotic cleaner with exceptional features and patented technology at an affordable price

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


Pressure-side vacuums attach to the pressure side of your filter pump and move around using the water pressure for force. They often require the use of 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.

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. All that is required once the vacuum is attached to the pump is to test the wheel speed and adjust the jet on the back for optimal wall climbing. Installing the booster pump should be done by a qualified technician.

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 LL505G Kreepy Krauly Legend Pressure-Side Inground Pool Cleaner, Grey Top, White Bottom Cleaner for Lighter Colored Pools
  • Front-wheel drive and treaded tires for maximum traction on inclined surfaces for total pool coverage
  • Four wheel design prevents tipping (common with 3 wheel cleaners) for uninterrupted and unattended performance
  • Large intake throat and high-capacity bag handle large debris with ease
  • Available with gray or white housings

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, Triple Jet Powered, 31ft of Hose with a Single Chamber Debris Bag
  • CLEANS IN 3 HOURS: Powered by a separate Polaris booster pump, 3 venturi jets create exceptional vacuum power to quickly clean any in ground pool in 3...
  • FOR IN-GROUND POOLS: Safe for all pool shapes and surfaces including vinyl, fiberglass, gunite, pebble, & tile.
  • Complete Coverage: The Vac Sweep 380 moves fluidly as it sweeps & scrubs the floor and walls of your pool- while its large 2.25" inlet picks up large...
  • CAPTURES LARGE DEBRIS: The pressure cleaner is equipped with a single chamber filter bag that captures small and large debris such as leaves, acorns,...
  • WHAT'S INCLUDED: Polaris Vac Sweep 380 Pressure-Side Pool Cleaner, 31-feet of feed hose, & single chamber filter bag for capturing all types of common...

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


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 who have a limited budget and no time to do the job manually, a suction-side system will often suffice in a small pool.

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 that the flow is in the desirable range.

Recommended Suction-Side Vacuums

The Baracuda G3 W03000 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 for In-ground Pools
  • Quiet, powerful suction cleaner; works with low-speed pumps for maximum efficiency.
  • Devours small and medium-sized debris and cleans floor, walls and steps of your entire pool.
  • FlowKeeper Valve automatically regulates water flow to maintain peak cleaning performance even with lower horsepower pumps.
  • Wheel Deflector for movement around tight corners.
  • Scuff-resistant Long-Life Hoses eliminate scuffs on all pool surfaces.

The Hayward Aquanaut 200 is also popular with pool owners. A little more expensive than the Baracuda, it also has good longevity and cleaning power.

Hayward PHS21CST AquaNaut Suction Pool Vacuum (Automatic Pool Cleaner)
  • HANDLES LARGE DEBRIS WITHOUT CLOGGING: Patented V-Flex variable vane turbine technology eliminates clogs and maximizes power at almost any flow
  • EXPERTLY NAVIGATES ANY SURFACE: Patented high-traction tires with rugged treads provide superior climbing power and motion on all surfaces
  • MAINTAINS CONSTANT SUCTION: Patented adjustable roller skirt maintains optimal suction on uneven surfaces.
  • ADVANCED STEERING CAPABILITY: Multiple pre-programmed steering sequences ensure complete pool coverage
  • OPTIMAL SUCTION AT VARIOUS FLOWS: Three easily interchangeable throats improve debris passage and suction performance, making it ideal for use with...

Related: 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 that is held by the user outside of the pool and driven 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 how to use one.

Wrapping Up

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 of my recommendations and my pool supplies guide for other stuff you need. I also write frequently about pool cleaners if you need some extra help with yours. I linked some of my most popular guides below.

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