Pool School 110 Automatic Pool Cleaners Suction Side Cleaners

Polaris 340 Available at Aegean Pools

Polaris 340 Available at Aegean Pools

In the last class we talked about automatic pool cleaners that operate on the pressure side of the filter system, this class we are going to discuss cleaners that operate on the suction side of the system.

Most people don’t realize that there are two sides to your filter system; there is a suction side (also known as vacuum side) This side of your system starts at the pump and goes back to the pool.  Your skimmer(s) and main drain are connected to this side of the pump and the water is drawn into the system by the pump.  All plumbing after the pump is considered the pressure side of the system because the water is being pushed out of the pump from here.

So these styles of cleaners connect to either the skimmer on the side of the pool or a port on the side of the pool called the vacuum line.  Most connect to the skimmer.  Just like all automatic pool cleaners they have their pluses and minuses.  Before we get into the details lets take a look at the history of this type of automatic pool cleaner.

Back in the late 1970’s Kreepy Krauly was introduced to the U.S. Market, this was the first suction side automatic pool cleaner.  As I understand it the cleaner was designed by a South African auto repair technician for his son who cleaned pools for a living.  The design was very simple, so simple in fact that it only had one moving part!  It has a hammer that causes the cleaner to jump slightly, when it jumps it moves backward following the weight on the hose.  The trick with this cleaner is finding the right balance of weights on the hose that will cause the cleaner to move in a random pattern.  After the turn of the century Pentair made an agreement with Kreepy Krauly to buy the company and sell Pentair’s entire cleaner line under the Kreepy Krauly name.

Not long after the successful introduction of Kreepy a competing cleaner arrived on the market under the name Baracuda.  Baracuda looks similar to Kreepy, however instead of using a hammer it uses a diaphragm that constricts the flow of water achieving the same effect as the hammer in the Kreepy.  Zodiac Pool Care owner of the Polaris Vac Sweep eventually bought out Baracuda.

After the success of these two cleaners, Arneson Pool Vac created the Pool Vac.  This new style cleaner uses an “A” frame technology with a turbine and an off center cam that causes the cleaner to walk around the pool.  Arneson Pool Vac also made the Pool Sweep, which was mentioned in the last class as a pressure side cleaner.  Arneson later sold it’s designs to different companies.  Hayward bought the Pool Vac design and added additional versions including; Navigator, AquaBug, Pool Vac Ultra, Diver Dave and Wanda Whale.

Then came along the Polaris 340.  This was Polaris’ answer to the Florida suction pool cleaning market.  It uses a turbine drive mechanism but instead of being off centered it drives wheels and rolls around the pool like the Polaris pressure side cleaners.  Like other suction side cleaners it does not handle large debris well.  This cleaners name was later changed to Polaris ATV and finally discontinued.

I mention these four cleaners because they are the basis for all the later designs by other companies after patents ran out.  There are lots of different manufactures making all kinds of suction side cleaners today.  Just about anybody making an automatic pool cleaner has a suction side cleaner.  The reason for this is it is a very popular type of cleaner in the Florida swimming pool market.  In Florida pools are almost as common as cars, and a large percentage of pools in Florida are screened in.  The screening filters out large debris from falling into the pool so the automatic pool cleaner is not burdened by a lot of large debris.  This style of cleaner is less expensive than other types of pool cleaners and does not require a second pump to power it allowing a much lower price point than a pressure side cleaner.

What are the advantages of a suction side cleaner?  The most important advantage is the price point, these cleaners range anywhere from $150 to as much as $600 depending on the model and features.  Plus, this type of cleaner does not cost any more to operate because it runs off your existing pool pump.  If you don’t get a lot of large debris in the pool and the bottom of the pool is in good condition this cleaner will perform well.

What are the disadvantages of a suction side cleaner?  Like any automatic pool cleaner this style is not perfect, it will miss spots around the pool because it goes in a random pattern.  If the cleaner has hose weights that need to be adjusted to find the right balance to make it go in a random pattern (each cleaner is different and is effected by the pool shape and surface so there is not a standard setting) it can be madding trying to find the correct balance.  Word of advice if you have this style cleaner and you achieve the perfect balance DO NOT MOVE ANYTHING, or you will spend hours trying to find that sweet spot again.  This style of cleaner does not handle large debris well because of its clearance to the pool surface.  The suction port is on the bottom of the pool, if it should draw large debris into the unit it can get clogged in the head, if it does make it through the unit it will end up in the skimmer basket.  If you have a lot of debris in the pool the skimmer can get clogged starving the pump for water, which would be a big huge problem for the pump.  This is one of the reasons this cleaner works well in a screened in pool because the screening eliminates a lot of large debris and there wouldn’t be any skimmer clogging issues.   Also, since these cleaners require you to restrict your suction down to the skimmer you are hooking the cleaner to you have now stopped skimming the surface of the pool.  This is not a problem with screened in pools but a problem if the pool is surrounded by lots of trees.

One other big issue with this type of cleaner is that it is bottom dependant.  In concrete and fiberglass pools that dominate the Florida market it generally was not a problem, however in vinyl liner pools where you can have imperfections (wrinkles and sink holes and perfect angles) suction side cleaners can get hung up and may need a kick to get going again.  At this point it goes from being an automatic pool cleaner to being a semi-automatic pool cleaner.  The Polaris 340 (ATV) did not have this issue because it operated with large wheels that just rolled over any problem area.

Over all this style of cleaner works well but they are really best suited for screened in pools or pools that do not have a lot of debris falling into it from surrounding trees.  Just like any automatic pool cleaner if it works in your pool you will love the fact you don’t have to clean the pool and like all automatic pool cleaners they tend to have their own personalities and their owners end up naming them just like the would name a pet.

That is it for this class next class we will talk about robotic pool cleaners and wrap up our semester until next spring, so don’t be late for the next class!


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