Mike the Poolman

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Suction side pool cleaners- Why they don’t work

May 30, 2020

Suction Side Pool Cleaners.
Let’s be very clear: I am not a fan. Why? Because in our area they don’t clean effectively, they waste time, they create drama, and in turn, we lose customers’ and money. Suction Side Pool Cleaner

First of all, what is a “Pool Cleaner”?

From Wikipedia: “An automated pool cleaner (also known as a pool sweep) is a vacuum cleaner intended to collect debris and sediment from swimming pools with minimal human intervention”.

How many types of Pool Cleaners are there?
There are two types of pool cleaners: Suction side and Pressure side.

What is the difference between a “Suction Pool Cleaner” and a “Pressure Pool Cleaner”?

(for a detailed explanation, see my 2017 article: Pressure Side vs. Suction Side pool cleaners)

Suction cleaners literally suck water to the pump. They have a “throat” mechanism that allows dirt, Clogged Suction Side Cleanersand, and dust to pass through it. The throat is a round hole of limited size so it clogs when larger debris gets sucked into it. Suction cleaners are made for areas with sand and silt and are adequate in these conditions but perform poorly if any leaves or sticks exist.  

Pressure cleaners push water to the cleaner, propelling it along the pool floor and occasionally up the walls. The pool is cleaned by the venturi vacuum the pressured water creates. The venturi effect forces leaves and debris up into a catch bag. In addition to collecting leaves, sticks, etc., a tail is present that “scrubs” the floor and kicks up any dirt. This tail is very underrated! In fact, the tail is one of the pressure cleaner’s major attributes.

Where is “our area”?

Our market is the Greater Sacramento Area. Sacramento and its surrounding areas are lush with trees, hedges, bushes and agriculture. We specifically service pools in Folsom and El Dorado Hills, California.

Why aren’t suction side pool cleaners effective in our area?

Leaves. Throat of Suction Pool CleanerSuction side pool sweeps struggle with leaves because leaves, twigs, flowers get caught in the throat. When leaves get caught in the throat the cleaner can’t suck water and chokes on the leaves and stops wherever it is in the pool. It remains this way until a human comes along, pulls the cleaner out of the water and picks the leaves/ debris out of the throat. The cleaner will start moving again until it sucks up more leaves and chokes again. Essentially, if you have a suction pool sweep and you want it to work, make sure you manually scoop all the leaves out of your pool!

So why do suction side pool sweeps exist?Suction Side Pool Sweep

Suction side pool sweeps exist because they are a cheaper alternative to pressure side pool sweeps. Pool builders need to put some kind of a cleaner in the pool to complete it and they make more money if they install a less expensive pool sweep.

What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing!
Say it again y’all!
Absolutely nothing!
Ok, I’m exaggerating but I couldn’t help but think of Edwin Starr’s classic song 🙂 .

Suction side pool cleaners can be somewhat effective in areas without leaves (e.g. Phoneix where there is primarily dust and dirt blowing into the pool) but they are still inferior in performance to pressure-side pool cleaners that work in all areas.

Why don’t Suction Pool Cleaners work?

1- They clog easily. When they clog they stop moving.
2- They require constant valve adjustment to regulate their movement around the pool.
3- They require suction which steals water from being sucked into the skimmer. The less water that flows into the skimmer the less effective the skimmer is and the more debris that sinks to the bottom of the pool.
4- They don’t scrub or polish the plaster. It’s common for pools with suction side cleaners to have a dull plaster finish. Because they don’t scrub the floor the plaster loses its luster. It’s not a coincidence that the plaster looks better in pools with a pressure cleaner !
5- When the pool is dirty, we get blamed. It’s not our error if the poor-performing pool sweep performs poorly but we get the criticism. When we get blamed the customer fires us. When we get fired we lose money. I dislike suction pool sweeps so much that many times I won’t take on a pool for weekly pool service if it has a suction side pool sweep. It’s a calculated business decision. I know I’m going to spend more time at that pool than I would at a pool with a pressure cleaner. I know the pool won’t look as good. I know the pool will be more work and less profitable. I know there is a MUCH higher possibility of the customer letting us go. If there are a lot of leaves in the backyard and there is a suction side sweep I don’t even think about it, I just thank the prospect for the opportunity and politely decline to take the pool on.

Is there an alternative pool sweep?

Pressure Side Pool Cleaner

Pressure Side Pool Cleaner

Yes! Yes! Yes!
Pressure side pool cleaners are considerably better.
The downside?
The upfront cost.
What needs to be done?
1- You will need to have your system converted from a suction-side system to a pressure-side system.
This isn’t overly difficult. We replumb at the equipment pad so the pipe that used to suck water now gets water returned to it. It’s done with a three way valve. Most often we install the valve after the filter and adjust the valve to divert the appropriate amount of water to the pool cleaner. Depending on the existing plumbing, we charge anywhere between $200-400 to convert the system from suction to pressure.
2-You will need to but the pressure side pool cleaner. The most popular models are made by Polaris and Pentair. I like the Polaris TR36P or Polaris 360.

If you are tired of your suction pool cleaner, ask your pool service professional to replumb your equipment from suction to pressure and install a pressure pool cleaner. You’ll be glad you did!

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