Automatic Pool Cleaner Pros and Cons

Owning a pool comes with several responsibilities, and many pool owners have a lot of questions in the beginning. From everything to do with water balance and chemicals, to which maintenance products to use. However, there is one question that almost every customer asks.

Which Pool Cleaner is the Best?

The short answer – it depends on your situation. It’s all going to boil down to which features you want, what your current pool set up is, how much you are willing to spend now and in the future, and how much of an effort you want to put in to using the cleaner. There are 3 main types of automatic pool cleaners: Pressure Side, Suction Side, and Robotic. Let’s go deeper into each one.

Pressure Side Pool Cleaners

Polaris 3900 Pressure Side Cleaner

There are two types of pressure side pool cleaners, one requires a booster pump in order to work, the other runs strictly off of your main circulation pump. There are many different manufacturers of pressure side cleaners, the most common ones being Polaris and Pentair. Hayward recently released their pressure side cleaner the Trivac, and a company called Red Leopard makes the Mercury pressure side cleaner.

Polaris has a full range of pressure side cleaners, from entry level to top of the line. Most manufacturers will offer pretty significant rebates during the summer season, and will sometimes offer extended manufacturer's warranties (Standard warranty 1yr) when purchased through a local brick & mortar pool supply store, like The Pool Boys in League City, TX.

Pressure Side Cleaner Pros

  • All cleaners should be taken out of the pool when shocking, as well as periodically to rinse off chemical water. The reality is that no one takes these steps and generally leave them in the pool 24/7 to run their daily schedules. This means you aren’t messing with the cleaner very often, other than to empty debris out of the bag.

  • Pressure side cleaner parts are usually less expensive when it comes to repairs. If you take care of your cleaner and get things repaired when needed the upkeep is fairly inexpensive. If you let problems go unattended it will generally lead to more problems and costly repairs.

  • Parts are widely available.

  • Some manufacturers offer large rebates and extended warranties.

  • Cost of a pressure side cleaner is usually less expensive than a robotic cleaner. (Although, when you add in the cost of a pressure pump to run it, they start to compare to robotic cleaner costs).

Pressure Side Cleaner Cons

  • Most pressure side cleaners require a separate booster pump which increases your monthly electricity usage.

  • When your pressure side cleaner requires a separate booster pump to operate, you will be required to bear the cost of a new pump when your current one eventually wears out.

  • Additionally, a separate time clock is used (or relay with automation systems) which add to the list of things to potentially go wrong.

  • Pressure side cleaners that work off of your main circulation pump (don’t require a separate booster pump) require a lot of water to be pushed to them in order to work. This takes quite a bit of circulation away from the pool filtration system, and pool returns, which is necessary to keep the pool crystal clear.

  • Cleaners aren’t meant to stay in the pool 24/7. This is true for all cleaners. Pressure side cleaners run on a schedule every day so why take it out? Leaving the cleaner in the pool 24/7 increases its exposure to corrosive chemicals in the water, such as chlorine or shock. Over time, these chemicals break down parts in the cleaner and discolor the cleaner. The truth of the matter is – everyone leaves them in the pool, pretty much all the time.

  • More “wear items” on pressure side cleaners. This means that there will be required maintenance/tune-ups necessary to keep the cleaner functional. Things such as tail scrubs, wear rings on the tail, bearings, and tires will need to be replaced periodically.

  • Pressure side cleaners create suction to pick debris up, they are not pressure cleaning the pool surface. Therefore they are not doing anything to “scrub” your pool’s surface.

  • In most cases, these cleaners will not climb all of the way up the walls and won’t get the tile line.

Suction Side Pool Cleaners

Zodiac mx6 SL1000 Suction Side Cleaner

Suction cleaners are becoming less popular, at least here in Gulf Coast market. It seems to be an “old school” setup, even though some builders are still putting them in. Hayward, Zodiac, and Pentair all have their different versions of suction cleaners. These cleaners use the suction created by your main circulation pump to “suck up” debris from the floor of your pool.

Suction Side Cleaner Pros

  • Suction pool cleaners do a good job of keeping your pool floor clean, especially since they sit so close to the surface.

  • They are generally less expensive than pressure side and robotic cleaners, although there are some higher priced models.

  • These cleaners run off of the suction from your main circulation pump and don’t require additional equipment, which means there is no real increase to your household electricity usage.

  • Suction cleaners are easy to repair and parts are fairly inexpensive.

  • As with pressure cleaners, suction cleaners should be taken out of the pool when shocking as well as periodically to rinse off chemical water. The reality is that no one takes these steps and generally leave them in the pool 24/7. This means you aren’t messing with the cleaner very often.

Suction Side Cleaner Cons

  • These cleaners use the suction from your main circulation pump to run. This means that you are taking suction away from your pool skimmers and main drain that is necessary to keep your pool water clear.

  • Your pool needs to have a dedicated line for suction cleaners. I have been to many pools where the customer previously purchased a suction cleaner because of the lower price, but did not have a dedicated line in their pool. Instead they plug the cleaner into the pool skimmer line, completely eliminating the skimmer from the pool circulation. Skimmers are important due to the fact that they circulate water efficiently and skim debris off of the pool surface.

  • They require A LOT of suction to work. This means that most customers are cutting off 75% of the suction from the skimmer/s and main drain to make their suction cleaner work well.

  • You should always use a leaf canister to catch debris before it enters the underground plumbing. Without a leaf canister you increase your chances of clogging an underground line. These canisters usually have to be purchased separately, increasing the cost of your cleaner setup.

Robotic Pool Cleaners

Maytronics Dolphin S300i Robotic Pool Cleaner

If you ask me, these are the best pool cleaner you can buy, especially in regard to the job they do cleaning your pool. Robotic cleaners come with a high price tag, but do they really? When you factor in the additional pump for a pressure cleaner, the necessary leaf canister of a suction cleaner, and the more frequent repairs that are needed for both suction and pressure cleaners you really start to close the gap on pricing.

These cleaners do the best job of cleaning the pool due to the fact that they climb walls, clean the tile line, usually have brushes built into them, are stand alone and don’t use your pool system to work, etc. There is a wide range of brands and prices for robotic cleaners. For this article I am going to focus on the Maytronics S Series and M Series Robotics.

Robotic Cleaner Pros

  • Your top manufacturers of robotic cleaners generally have longer manufacturer warranties, sometimes as long as 3 years.

  • Robotics do not use suction or pressure from your pool system, they are standalone cleaners. This means your pool system can still function to the best of its ability.

  • They clean the floor, walls, and tile line.

  • Some models have Bluetooth app capabilities where you can navigate the cleaner as well as set the cycle times

  • Most models have brushes that simply spin with the movement of the cleaner. Some Maytronics models have an “active brush”** which is motor driven, spinning the brush at a faster rate than the cleaner is moving. This means that the cleaner is actively scrubbing your pool surface, opposed to just vacuuming.

  • A lot of models come with a caddy that you can coil the power cable on, mount the cleaner, and holds the power supply, allowing you to easily move and store the cleaner in a cool shaded area.

  • There are models of robotic cleaners that have top-loading canisters or cartridges. This may not sound like much, but after a few times of flipping a robotic cleaner upside down to empty it you will understand the beauty of it.

  • There are just 3 main parts that can have problems – Power Supply, Cable, and Motor. That being said, there are other parts on the cleaner that may need to be replaced, usually do to old age or lack of maintenance.

  • You can run them as long as your house has power, even if your pool system goes down.

  • Save on energy cost over pressure cleaner and pump setup.

Robotic Cleaner Cons

  • Robotic cleaners are not designed to run on a repeat schedule every day. Some of the premium models will come with a 7-Day Programmable Timer that comes in handy if you go on a short vacation. Other than that the cleaner will need the cycle time set at each cleaning session.

  • Robotic cleaners require more effort from the user. These cleaners absolutely need to be removed from the pool, rinsed off, and stored in a shaded cool area out of the elements - ideally after every use. This will greatly extend the life of the unit.

  • Higher up front cost than a suction or pressure cleaner.

  • Repair parts tend to cost more and usually take 1-2 weeks to get in stock.

Choosing the Right Automatic Pool Cleaner

Choosing the right cleaner is really going to depend on your situation. The popularity of robotic cleaners is steadily increasing in our market. I strongly recommend that you don’t go with cheap models or generic brands. No doubt you will spend less money at the time of purchase, but you will find that cheap generic cleaners usually work poorly and require a lot more repairs and maintenance.

If you're in the League City area, you can try out our Maytronics M400 demo cleaner in your pool today, just give us a call. The Pool Boys are located at 400 Hobbs Rd. ste. 105, just off FM 518 and I-45 in League City, TX and you can reach us by phone at 832-473-5715.