Automatic Cleaners


Different designs of automatic pool cleaner available today. Basically there are two categories of automatic pool cleaner in common use today and three other technologies which might be in use.

Electric Robot

The electric robot type are the automatic pool cleaner, are expensive and most often found on large commercial pools. It is more like a battery-powered vacuum cleaner with a bag that catches debris as the unit patrols the pool bottom.

Boosterless Water Pressure Designs

Booster Type

Some automatic cleaners work like your leaf vacuum, by sending a pressurized stream of water up into a catch bag, creating a vacuum for the unit as it patrols the bottom. The pressure is created by taking return water and boosting the pressure with a separate pump and motor. This is the boostered type of automatic cleaner.


But in the Boosterless water pressure design there is a small variation in the unit that uses the circulation pump itself as the booster, by connecting to the return line after the pump but before the filter. This style is called boosterless because it uses no separate water pressure boosting device. These units require an automated valve and control system so that the heater doesn't try to operate while the cleaning unit is in operation. This is the drawback of the system. If the cleaner and heater are on simultaneously, the cleaner receives the return water before the heater, thus starving the heater. Low water circulation in the heater will cause it to shut off or overheat. Boosterless cleaners are not popular units because you can't filter and heat the water at the same time you vacuum debris, and also additional expensive plumbing and controls are needed.

Self-cleaning Systems

The bottom of the pool is fitted with a series of jets. These jets would push the dirt from the shallow end to the deep end, each jet sweeping the dirt toward the deepest part of the pool where the main drain would suck it into the filter system. The jets are connected to a diverter at the circulation equipment area. As the water leaves the heater destined for the pool, it passes through the diverter which sends it to the floor jets on the shallow end first, then the deeper jets, and so on. In this type of system it is presumed that the dirt will come loose from the floor by these jets and not stick to the floor, and also the dirt will be only of the finer type that will not clog the main drains. Last, it assumed that these jets, would equally cover all areas of the bottom. Obviously, the jet sweeping action is greatest near the source, then gets progressively weaker as the jetstream moves outward, resulting in uneven cleaning. Some times the water pressure may not be strong enough to power such a system.

This design creates stress on the entire plumbing and equipment system. When the diverter switches flow from one set of jets to the next, the whole circulation gets restricted or closed creating backpressure and stress on the entire system, since this happens three to four times a minute.

Booster Pump Systems

As described earlier, booster pump systems take water after the filter and heater, which is already on its way back to the pool, pressurizing it by a separate pump and motor, then sending this high-pressure water stream through flexible hoses into a cleaner that patrols the pool bottom.

The Booster pump systems are of two styles first is called a vacuum head type which has its own catch bag for collecting debris, much like a vacuum cleaner. The other type is sweep head type that floats on top of the water with long flexible arms that swirl along the walls and bottom, stirring up the debris. A special basket is fitted over the main drain so that the stirred-up debris is caught in either the main drain or the skimmer and any fine dirt is filtered out normally. Let us review the details of each type.

Vacuum head type

A Vac Sweep is the best example of this type. As with other pool and spa equipment, if you understand the leading manufacturer's equipment, you will easily comprehend the operating concepts of the others.

The vacuum unit is with a catch bag and pressurized water from the booster pump enters the unit through the stalk and some is immediately jetted out the tail. This water pressure causes the tail to sweep back and forth behind the unit to brush loose any fine dirt on the bottom that is then filtered out by the pool circulation system. The remainder of the water powers a turbine that has a horizontal shaft with gear teeth to engage comparable gear teeth on the inside of the single left-side wheel and the front right-side wheel. A small right-side drive wheel transfers power to the trailing right-side wheel as the unit moves forward. Some jetted water is diverted to the thrust jet which can be adjusted up or down to help keep the unit from moving nose-up. The head float also serves this function and keeps the unit upright.

Installation of Vac Sweeps are available as preplumbed units, where the supply pipe from the equipment to the pool area is plumbed into the original pool plumbing. They are also available as over-deck models, which requires a garden hose be run from the equipment area over the deck to the pool's edge. The booster pump and vacuum unit are identical, only the plumbing between the two are different with these two models. A complete installation guide is provided with the unit when purchased.

Operation; Here are few guidelines that will help you keep the vacuum head automatic cleaner cleaning the pool efficiently. Always operate the booster pump with the circulation pump working too. The booster is not self-priming, but relies on the system circulation pump to provide water. If it runs dry, the plastic pump will overheat and may burn out the seal.

Be careful to set the booster time clock to come on at least one hour after the circulation pump and to go off at least one hour before the circulation pump does for, more than that and you are just wearing out components. This allows for slight time differences between the clocks. The vacuum head will cover as much of the pool as it's going to cover in about three hours.

Then install the catch bag to capture fine dirt and sand. Empty the catch bag as needed. Make sure the openings on the bottom and through the center of the unit are not clogged with large leaves so there is always a clear path for the debris to get into the bag.

Repairs; Perhaps the simplest way to explain the few repairs needed by these cleaners is to list the symptoms of the problems you might encounter.

If water is not flowing out one or more of the jets in the vacuum unit, it may be because the jets inside the unit are small and grains of sand can clog them. To catch these particles that get through the filter, install a fine-mesh strainer at the point where the plumbing connects to the feeder hose. Sometimes dirt or sand can, however, be picked up by the unit and clog any of the internal jets. If this happens, there is probably sand or dirt in other parts of the unit as well. Disassemble the unit carefully note how the unit comes apart so that you will know exactly how to put it back and clean each part thoroughly. Use a thin wire to clear out the jets. Follow the path of the water and simply clean it all out.

If vacuum head does not pick up debris, the water pressure supplied to the vacuum might be too powerful for normal operation. This happens when the return pressure is very strong. Special pressure reducing washers can be added at the vacuum hose connection. These washers are smaller in diameter than the plumbing so they restrict the amount of water that flows to the vacuum head.

If wheels are not turning, it is because over the period of time the metal drive gear wears out the plastic drive gear inside the wheels. Check to make sure the gears are meshing and that there are enough teeth on the inside of each wheel. If they do not engage properly, replace them. If the wheels are sloppy, they will also fail to properly engage with the drive gear. Replace the wheel bearings, which simply pop in place like a pump seal. Sometimes the wheels are not turning because the vacuum unit is not performing well then the booster pump is not getting enough water because of restrictions in the main circulation system. Clean the filter and circulation system and you will usually find that the automatic pool cleaner works better.

If vacuum unit falls over, remove the head float by pulling it off of the stalk, taking care not to break the stalk. If it is full of water, it is not floating the unit upright, replace it.

The screws that secure the wheels are made of plastic. Over tightening will snap them, breaking the screw. If this happens, replace the screw.
The tail assembly will be the first thing to wear out because it is constantly sweeping the pool bottom and sides. Water will squirt out of parts of the hose where it shouldn't, making the tail swing wildly. To help prevent this, the tail is fitted with rubber rings that absorb the wear, so as you see these rings wearing down, replace them before the tail goes.

Wheels seize up. Sometimes the drive wheel gets hung up and actually prevents the wheels from turning. Since the tension for the drive wheel is spring loaded, the tension will either be too much or too little, as the spring wears out. Remove this drive wheel completely from the units. The turbine powers the front wheel on the right side and the single wheel on the left side with the rear right-side wheel just trailing behind. The unit works fine and the wheels never seize up. Try it.

Unit gets caught in ladder, corner, or steps. The irregular-shaped pools that are popular today are the automatic pool cleaner's nightmare. if all adjustments and hose lengths are correct but you still have problems, a backup valve is the answer. This valve shuts off the water supply to the vacuum unit about every five minutes, shooting the water out of the valve to act as a jet to pull the unit backwards. Read the directions that come with the backup valve for installation and servicing instructions. They work very well.

If unit runs too fast, just skipping over the dirt, simply follow the simple instructions provided and test the pressure at poolside to determine if pressure-reducing washers are needed. On some pool systems the return water pressure is very strong, and the vacuum head pressure is too great for normal operation. If so, this simple reduction technique employs a washer with a smaller diameter than the plumbing, thus restricting the amount of water that can flow to the vacuum head.

This pressure tester is a valuable tool to use when you suspect inadequate pressure might be the cause of sluggish operation. Pressure values and test techniques are explained in the installation booklet or test kit instructions.

Sweep head type

The Sweep head type is a booster pump that floats on the water and has long ,flexible, swirling arms that stir up the debris found along the pool walls and bottom. The main drain uses suction to pull the agitated debris into its basket which is removed and emptied when full, the finer dirt getting caught in the filter.

If you service a pool with one of these units, they are not hard to maintain or figure out. Installation, operation, and troubleshooting guidelines are very much as described previously.

Suction-side Systems

Suction-side automatic pool cleaners uses the suction from the pool's skimmer. In this design, a standard vacuum hose of 1-1/2 inch diameter is connected between the skimmer suction opening at one end and a vacuum head that patrols the pool bottom at the other end.

As the vacuum patrols the pool it collects leaves and other debris and sends it to the pump strainer pot. When the pot fills with obstructions, suction is dramatically reduced, causing the cleaner to become inefficient. To prevent this keep the strainer pot clean or add a leaf collecting canister to the vacuum hose. A simple in line canister is easier than the pump strainer pot and can be purchased at a pool supply store. Troubleshooting will usually find leaves and debris clogged somewhere in the system or the inability of the circulation pump to generate enough suction to make the vacuum effective.

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