Automatic pool cleaners can simplify pool maintenance, but only when they are functioning properly. Thankfully, most pool cleaners work well most of the time. Occasionally, however, a pool may not be as clean as the owner would like, so it is important to know a few things about ensuring the long-term successful use of these relatively simple machines.
Before moving on to other potential issues, first ensure the system was installed correctly. Each cleaner type—suction, pressure and robotic—can and should be adjusted at the time of installation.
For suction and pressure cleaners, hoses must be the correct length and free of bends or kinks. To ensure proper positioning of the cleaner, suction cleaner hoses require weights (to make the hose sink), while pressure cleaner hoses have floats (to keep the hose at the surface).
Robotic cleaners and their accessories may require assembly and adjustments. These will vary by cleaner type and model; the owner’s and/or installation manual will provide the necessary details.
Routine maintenance is key
Once it is verified the cleaner was installed properly, if possible, try to determine when it was last inspected for general wear and tear. This is among the things that should be done regularly—annually in most cases, but more frequently depending on the cleaner’s use patterns.
When operating correctly, pressure and suction cleaners should move throughout the pool. Some cleaners have programmed cycles, while others operate in random patterns. Both approaches should enable the cleaner to cover the entire pool. If the cleaner occasionally stops or misses particular areas, it may require some adjustment. Some of the things that may require fine-tuning are flow and/or pressure (suction or pressure cleaners), thrust jets and backup valves (pressure).
To adjust the flow on suction cleaners, turn the pool pump off. Remove the cleaner head and connect a flow gauge to the end of the leader hose, keeping the hose submerged to prevent air from entering. Some suction cleaners have inline vacuum gauges inserted in the hose between the first section from the skimmer and the next hose extension. With these models, an ancillary flow gauge is not required. Then, turn the pump on. As it is running, adjust the regulator valve (on equipped models) until the indicator settles between maximum and minimum flow. (Refer to the manufacturer’s manual for proper vacuum ranges.)
When satisfied with the flow setting, turn the pump off again, remove the flow gauge and reconnect the cleaner to the hose. Again, make sure to keep the hose submerged to prevent air from getting in the line.
Keep in mind, optimizing the water flow in this manner does not necessarily maximize flow through the cleaner itself. In fact, less suction may better enable a random cleaning pattern.
If a pressure cleaner’s backup valve is not cycling, its random cleaning pattern may be compromised. To check this, hold the valve out of the water. The jet should come on for about 30 seconds and then rest for about 3.5 minutes. If this is not the case, the backup valve may need to be adjusted or replaced.
Parts of the story
Other cleaner parts that require inspection, in addition to possible adjustment or replacement, is the cleaner’s bag or filter (pressure and robotic models), hoses, swivels and floats (pressure), weights (suction), drive belts (robotic) and the points of contact between the cleaner and the pool surface (e.g. feet, tires or pads).
During inspection, look for obstructions, such as lodged debris. Make sure moving parts, such as wheel bearings on pressure cleaners, in addition to gears on pressure and suction models, are freely moving. Check for general wear and tear, especially leaks in hoses and the treads on pressure cleaner tires. Furthermore, tires should be rotated or replaced when worn.
Robotic and pressure cleaners have bags that must be emptied and cleaned. For most robotic models, it is best to clean the bag after every cleaning cycle. To do this, remove the unit from the pool using the handle (not the cable) and allow as much water as possible to drain from the unit. Lay the cleaner on a smooth surface and remove the filter bag. Turn it inside out and rinse the dirt off with a hose or in a sink. Most bags can be machine washed in cold water without using detergent.
For pressure cleaners, the debris bag must also be emptied and cleaned periodically. If the cleaner is falling over, the bag may be too full. Various bag designs release differently, but all should be easy to remove and open. The bag may be easier to empty when it is dry, if that option is available. Pressure cleaners tend to perform better when their debris bag is less than half full.
Another pressure-cleaner tip is to check for a filter screen inside the wall fitting where the cleaner is attached. To clean the screen, simply pull it out, rinse and replace. If the screen is plugged or dirtier than expected, there may be problems elsewhere in the filtration system.
Pressure cleaners also have roller rings, which protect the sweep hose. These rings should be replaced or rotated if they show signs of wear.
Robotic cleaners typically have brushes or rollers that can also wear out. Worn out brushes should be replaced, as they can impede scrubbing, wall climbing and overall performance.
These cleaners also have a cable that can become twisted over time, similar to a telephone cord. Unlike a telephone cord, which can be untwisted by simply dangling the phone in the air, a robotic pool cleaner should be operated in the reverse direction to allow the cable to uncoil itself. This is a good practice to follow each time the cleaner is used to avoid the cable from becoming twisted. Some models also have a device on the coil itself that enables it to be manually straightened. Preventing excessive twisting and tangling is important, as this minimzes potential damage to the cord.
It is also important to check other variables in the pool, rather than just the cleaner. For example, if water is circulating at the surface of the pool, a suction cleaner’s hose may be pushed around, throwing off the cleaner’s ability to randomly cover the entire pool floor. This could also explain why the cleaner routinely gets ‘stuck.’ The circulation pattern can be adjusted by redirecting eyeball returns toward the pool floor if they are not set this way already.
When returns send water straight out into the pool, the result may be surface circulation. A more balanced circulation is better, not only for pool cleaner performance, but also to minimize evaporation (therefore conserving heat and chemicals).
For suction cleaners, it is also important to empty the skimmer and pump strainer baskets, as this is where debris collected by the cleaner accumulates.
To deal with complaints regarding loud booster pumps on pressure cleaners, check the wall fitting to ensure it is properly mounted and connected. The pool’s filtration system should also be inspected. If water seems to be moving as expected, the booster pump may need to be serviced or possibly replaced.
Also keep in mind the impact routine filter maintenance (e.g. backwashing) has on a pool cleaner. Some pressure cleaners, for example, rely on a wall-fitting screen, which should be removed when the pool filter is being cleaned or repaired. If it was not removed, it may be clogged or damaged and need to be replaced. Furthermore, the cleaner’s dedicated line should be flushed out after filter maintenance and prior to reattaching the cleaner.
Environmental factors should also be considered. Sometimes a cleaner or its hoses may suffer damage from ultraviolet (UV) light or chemicals. Whenever possible, make sure cleaners are not left or stored in direct sunlight.
Lastly, cleaners should be removed from the pool when shock treating or adding chemicals, as they are not typically designed to withstand elevated sanitizer or acid levels.
Up to speed
Many cleaners are equipped with self-adjusting regulators to optimize their speed. The ideal setting is not too slow (so it will get the job done as quickly as possible), but also not too fast (which would be equivalent to running with a vacuum cleaner through the house). A pool cleaner that operates too fast may not effectively pick up debris, and will experience accelerated wear and tear. If the pool is clean, it is a strong indication the cleaner is running at an optimal speed.
This article was written by Sue Robach and originally appeared on Pool & Spa Marketing [link].