by Rob Cox May 16, 2014
This guide is for the inground pool owner who has never owned an automatic pool cleaner, and is in the discovery, information gathering and research phase of possibly someday - buying a pool cleaner.
Selecting the best automatic pool cleaner sounds easy enough, how hard could it be? Well, I just did a count of the number of pool cleaner models for inground pools in our pool store, and we have 75 inground pool cleaners to choose from.
75?!? Hence the obvious need for a blog post to explain some differences between inground pool cleaners -specifically, in the levels of control, convenience and cost.
Within the category of pool cleaners, there are some maxims to observe, or things to keep in mind:
Your Pool Plumbing: If you have a dedicated cleaner line, or a pipe underground that is used specifically for a pool cleaner, this makes the choice easier. A cleaner line can be either suction or pressure, or one that pulls water from the pool, or one that pushes water to the pool. With plumbing modifications, suction cleaner lines, aka vacuum lines, can be converted to a pressure line, by moving the pipe from the suction side manifold, to the return side manifold. This allows the line to be used with a pressure cleaner.
If your pool does not have a dedicated cleaner line, you can connect a suction cleaner into a skimmer, but if you have only one skimmer, you lose all surface cleaning while the cleaner is connected. For a pool that has limited plumbing options, such as one skimmer and two returns - a robotic pool cleaner may be the best choice, especially for a pool with a heavy debris load.
Suction cleaners are those that attach to the pool skimmer line, or a dedicated suction line (vacuum line). They are designed to operate (move and vacuum) with the suction created by your filter pump. Good: suction cleaners are easy to buy and easy to install. Bad: Clean slowly, the cleaner throat clogs easily and compromises filtering, as it brings all of the debris into the pump basket, which clogs up fast.
Pressure cleaners are those that attach to the pool return line, or a dedicated pressure line. The most popular (and efficient) models operate with the pressure created by a booster pump. Good: Fastest cleaners you can buy, and very effective on all types of debris, which it traps in it's own bag. Completely independent of the filter system. Bad: Expensive to buy, and very expensive to install, if you don't already have a dedicated cleaner line. There is a sub-group of pressure cleaners (Polaris 165 and 360, Legend II) that can connect to a regular wall return fitting, no booster pump required. They don't move as fast, aren't on their own timeclock, and they add resistance to the filtration, when connected to a regular wall return. However, low-pressure cleaners do big work for a small price.
Robot cleaners don't attach to any pipe, they are completely self-contained. Just plug in the power supply (low-voltage transformer), drop the cleaner in the pool, and plug the floating power cord into the power supply. Good: Medium speed cleaner has excellent coverage, and traps debris in its own bag, which also filters the water. Auto timer and shut-off features. Bad: Price used to be a factor, but robots have come way down in price over the years. Repairs can be costly if damage occurs to the onboard motors.
Debris Handling Ability: The best cleaners for heavy leaf debris, including acorns, twigs and large leaves are pressure side cleaners, which have the largest throats. Robotic cleaners tend to be next best in terms of handling lots of debris, but can become clogged more easily. Suction cleaners can also become clogged at the cleaner head, and because debris is brought into the pump basket, can quickly clog at the pump, unless an inline debris trap is used.
Prices for Inground Pool Cleaners? All over the place. I just sorted our 75 pool cleaners by price, and excluding commercial cleaners, inground pool cleaners range in price from $99 to $1599! Huge price range.
Suction cleaners are on the lower end of the price range, from $99 for the Mamba to $499 for the Baracuda MX8. The more expensive suction cleaners have features like greater speed, agility and vacuum power. The more expensive cleaners are built to be more durable, and last longer.
Pressure cleaners, like the Polaris 380 cost $699 and the Polaris 3900 Sport will set you back $899, plus you need the booster pump, timeclock, breaker and wiring - tack on another $500. With installation of a dedicated cleaner line, a pressure-side cleaner could certainly be the most expensive pool cleaner to own, unless installed by the homeowner.
Robot cleaners range from $399 for the SmartKleen, $599 for the Aquabot and $799 for the Breeze. But they go up from there, all the way to $1599 for turbo speed pool robots with remote control operation or underwater lights. No installation is the best part about a robotic pool cleaner. Drop it in and go!
All Pool Cleaners are Fragile. They can all be damaged if left in the pool while swimming or shocking the water. Leave it out of the pool, under the hot sun for too long, and plastic parts begin to break down and weaken. Pull it out of the pool without gentle care, and expensive parts can snap or twist. Place it in the traffic pattern of kids and dogs, and it's sure to be trampled.
Suction cleaners usually require very few repairs. At least one touts that their cleaner has 'Only One moving part!', which is notable. They can clog often in pools with large debris, but are easily unclogged, when you notice it's not moving. Replacing the skirt and footpad may be needed every few years, expect about $20 in annual repair costs.
Pressure cleaners probably require the most repairs and maintenance. Definitely more than one moving part, there are many wearable parts in contact with the pool, or internal parts that can stretch or wear themselves thin. New tires, wheels, belts and debris bag are common every few years, expect about $50 in annual repair costs.
Robot cleaners are just as complicated as pressure cleaners, and may require just as much maintenance or repair - or not. It depends on how well they are treated, and how often they are used. There are belts and tracks and pulleys and pins that can come loose, and this can cause damage if the cleaner is dragging itself around the pool. Expect about $50 in annual repair costs.