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How Do Pool Vacuums Work? A Complete Explanation

Pool vacuums help you clean the bottom of the pool, preventing algae blooms and making the water look much clearer.

There are many types of pool vacuums, all of which rely on suction or pressure to pull the debris into the vacuum. Some vacuums use electricity, while others use the pump’s PSI. But how do these different types of vacuums work?

Pool vacuums work by using the pump to push and pull water into the filter or a debris bag. Pressure-side vacuums connect to an outlet, whereas suction-side vacuums connect to the suction line under the skimmer basket. Robotic vacuums plug into a wall outlet and don’t need the pump’s pressure.

In this article, I’ll explain how the most popular pool vacuums work, how you can install them into your swimming pool, and whether or not you should get one. Let’s get started!

How Does a Pool Vacuum Operate?

Pool vacuums need pressure or suction to push and pull the debris. Some of them send the debris into the skimmer basket, pump basket, and filter, while others have a bag that grabs everything from the bottom of the pool. You can also find electric pool vacuums that are quick, modernized, and quite impressive.

Since every pool vacuum works differently, I’ll break them down into the primary four types below.

Suction-Side Pool Vacuum

Suction-side pool cleaners typically connect below the skimmer basket. These vacuums use the pump’s suction to pull any debris the vacuum goes over into the filtration system.

The only downside of using a suction-side pool cleaner is that they stop the skimmer from filtering the rest of the water. However, those with multiple suction lines don’t have to worry about this issue.

My favorite suction-side cleaner is the Zodiac MX6 Pool Vacuum. It’s a great model that uses that uses advanced tracks to climb walls and clean the whole pool. It can navigate around the stairs and ramps in the water.

You can use this cleaner with a single-speed, dual-speed, or variable-speed pool pump for maximum efficiency and quiet operation.

Zodiac MX6 Automatic Suction-Side Pool Cleaner Vacuum

Pressure-Side Pool Vacuum

Pressure-side pool cleaners rely on the pressure coming back into the pool from the pump. They have bags on top of them to catch the debris, saving the filter and pump from clogging.

Unlike suction-side cleaners, you can run the pump and circulate the whole pool while using a pressure-side cleaner. Their sole issue is that you have to remove and clean the debris bag.

If you’re looking for a high-quality pressure-side pool cleaner, I suggest the Polaris 360 Vacuum. This pool cleaner cruises around the bottom and sides of the pool. You can increase your variable-speed pump’s RPMs to make the vacuum go faster or opt for a booster pump to make it clean as quickly as possible.

Polaris Vac-Sweep 360 Pressure Inground Pool Cleaner

Robotic Pool Vacuum

Robotic pool cleaners are the most advanced pool vacuums available. They plug directly into a wall outlet, completely bypassing the pool filtration system.

Unlike any other pool vacuum, you don’t have to run the pump. Furthermore, many of them are twice as fast as other pool vacuums and contain GPS tracking for the bottom of your pool.

The Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus Pool Vacuum is a high-grade robotic vacuum that stretches up to 50 feet, climbs to the top of your pool, and cleans the steps.

It uses multiple brushes to scrub the pool and a detailed built-in filtration system to remove and collect fine particles in the water. You can also program the vacuum to run on a schedule for hands-free operation.

Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus Robotic Pool Vacuum Cleaner

Manual Pool Vacuum Brushes

Manual pool vacuum brushes come in pressure-side and suction-side variants. They have long telescoping poles for various pool lengths.

These vacuums are the most budget-friendly options because they rely 100% on you pushing them around. However, they’re perfect for small pools and above-ground setups.

The Swimline Weighted Pool Vacuum flexes with your pool’s slopes, allowing it to suction to the surface and pick up as much debris as possible.

You can connect it to as many hoses as you need and a telescoping pole. The weighted vacuum head prevents it from floating or pushing the debris into small clouds. It also has multiple wheels for smooth vacuuming.

Swimline Weighted Flex Vacuum Head

How Do You Hook Up A Pool Vacuum?

To hook up a pool vacuum, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the pump to stop the water circulation.
  2. Connect a pressure-side vacuum to the inlet (the jet where water flows into the pool).
  3. Connect a suction-side vacuum to the outlet (under the skimmer basket where the water goes into the pump).
  4. Submerge the hoses to ensure there’s no air in the lines, then connect them to the vacuum underwater.
  5. Turn on the pump to run the vacuum.

These instructions also apply to manual pool vacuum brushes. You’ll have to attach a pool to the vacuum to push it around the bottom of the pool. Make sure you empty the bag and clear the hoses if they’re clogged to prevent pool pump circulation issues.

To hook up a robotic pool cleaner, follow these instructions:

  1. Connect the cleaner to the nearest wall outlet.
  2. Place the storage dock near the edge of the water.
  3. Set the cleaner’s schedule, so it knows when to turn on and go into the pool.
  4. Clean the filters whenever they’re filled with debris, or the vacuum slows down.
  5. Clean the brushes under the vacuum to remove excess debris and algae.

How Does An Above-Ground Pool Vacuum Work?

Above-ground pool vacuums work by using connecting to the skimmer. The pump pulls water through the vacuum, collecting anything around it.

You can use an automatic or manual vacuum in an above-ground pool. However, these pumps are too weak to use a pressure-side pool cleaner.

Most above-ground pool pumps are less than 1.5HP and don’t have advanced filters. You’ll have to clean the filter or backwash it (for sand and DE) after vacuuming the pool or once it reaches 25 PSI.

Make sure you remove the vacuum from the suction line when you’re done using it since the pool can’t circulate with the hose connected to the skimmer.

Hallmark Pool Supplies provides a handy step-by-step video guide to show you how to use an above-ground pool vacuum here:

Do You Leave the Skimmer Basket in While Vacuuming the Pool?

You leave the skimmer basket in while vacuuming the pool with a pressure-side vacuum or robotic vacuum.

However, the skimmer basket needs to be removed to connect a suction-side pool cleaner. These vacuums rely on the pump’s suction to pull the debris into the filter, so the basket would be in the way.

Don’t forget to put the basket back into the skimmer after vacuuming the pool. Failure to do so will make the pump rattle, grind, and clog.

Large debris can get caught in the impeller, jamming and overheating the motor. Furthermore, the debris can clog the plumbing and reduce the pump’s ability to move the water.

I recommend dumping the pump basket before and after vacuuming. This step prevents excess debris from falling into the plumbing system. It also stops the basket from getting algae when it’s not in the pool. You can place the basket in the skimmer, whether or not the pump is running.

How Often Does a Pool Need to Be Vacuumed?

A pool needs to be vacuumed once per week or whenever there’s an algae bloom.

Pool vacuums can remove quite a bit of algae, which means you don’t have to use as many chemicals. However, you can set a robotic vacuum to run daily since they use minimal electricity and don’t need the pump to run.

I recommend vacuuming your swimming pool after a windy day since it can blow debris into the pool. This natural debris often contains phosphates, which is one of the algae’s primary food sources.

Furthermore, it can make the water look cloudy if it’s not vacuumed. Excessive swimming or pets in the pool often calls for additional vacuuming.

If you don’t vacuum the pool, the pump and filter will clog, and the pump will overheat. Below, I’ll discuss a handful of signs that it’s time to vacuum the pool.

  • There’s debris on the bottom of the swimming pool.
  • You recently had a big pool party or let your pets swim in the pool (dogs bring tons of phosphates from their dander, drastically increasing the chances of algae blooms).
  • The water looks cloudy (which is often caused by shock treatments and dead algae blooms).
  • The bottom of the pool feels chalky or slimy (these are often signs of algae blooms and acidic corrosion).

Keep in mind that suction-side cleaners send all of the debris into the pump basket and filter.

I highly suggest emptying the pump basket after using a suction-side vacuum. You should also clean the filter once it gets between 20 to 25 PSI (or as recommended by the manufacturer).

Regardless of which type of pool vacuum you choose, vacuuming is an irreplaceable part of owning a swimming pool and preventing algae growth.


  • Jonah Ryan

    Jonah has worked for several years in the swimming pool industry installing and repairing equipment, treating pools with chemicals, and fixing damaged liners. He also has plumbing and electrical experience with air conditioning, ceiling fans, boilers, and more. When he's not writing for Temperature Master, he's usually writing for his own websites, and

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