Vacuuming your salt water pool is a necessary and regular task that not involves some work on your part but also some familiarity with your pool system. When you look at your pool system for the first time – ok, maybe each time you look at it for the few weeks or longer – you might be confused by the pipes, valves, and other equipment and wonder which part is and what each part actually does.
Vacuuming your pool depends on what sort of system you have set up. Generally, you don’t have to adjust your pump unless it has a speed setting in which case you want the pump set to the level that provides for a strong enough suction for your vacuum as recommended by the manufacturer. It’s actually your filter system and valve settings you need to worry about for vacuuming.
If you use a sand filter, you can leave the setting on Filter for regular vacuuming jobs and set it to Waste for larger cleanups. For cartridge filter systems, you just have to focus on the pool valves. Your pool system most likely has two main valves to be familiar with: the main drain and the skimmer. The main drain is at the floor of the pool and thus draws water from the very bottom like a bathtub drain. The skimmer is off to the side at the top of the pool and thus skims water from the surface, pulling floating debris out of the water. When vacuuming, the pool hose is attached to the skimmer so suction should be focused there. You accomplish this by closing the main drain valve completely or at least enough to focus pressure on the skimmer. If the skimmer suction is too strong, you can either close it off slightly or simply reopen the main valve a bit.
I’ve had occasions – especially when my filter cartridges are new and working at peak performance – that the suction from only operating the skimmer was so strong that the pool vacuum almost stuck to the floor of the pool. In this instance, I slightly opened the main drain to lower the pressure to the skimmer and thus the vacuum head.
Pool Water Valves 101
The water flow from pipes that have valves like this photo are easy to figure out:
Open valve: The valves that are parallel with the pipes (the 5 red valves that look like they are lying flat) are open and thus allow water to flow through.
Closed valve: The 1 red valve that is pointing up and down is closed and thus is not allowing water flow.
When water valves are open and allowing water flow into the system, they will appear to lie flat and will sit in the same direction as the piping. They’ll essentially be parallel with the pipes indicating that they are open. Just like the 5 red plastic valves in the picture above.
When water valves are closed, they will be like the 1 red valve at the bottom left of the picture, closest to the top of the man’s left shoulder: This valve is pointing up and down and is closed. It is blocking water flow. Think of this valve as being like a person holding their hand up in the STOP position. It is refusing water flow.
When vacuuming your pool, you generally want as much water suction coming from the place where you have your vacuum hose attached this. This is generally the skimmer, which is where most pool users will put the end of their vacuum hose in. Thus, when vacuuming your pool you would close the main drain valve at the bottom of the pool and stop water flow from it and ensure that the skimmer valve is wide open. This concentrates water suction on the skimmer and thus the vacuum.
Automatic Pool Cleaning
While vacuuming a pool takes work, it is of course a necessary part of pool ownership. Leaves, bugs, twigs and other debris fall into the pool. We have a landscaped backyard with many bushes, shrubs, plants, trees and soil and some of it ends up in the pool one way or the other.
Using a robot or automatic vacuum cleaner is one way of decreasing the time you spend vacuuming and cleaning a pool. Often referred to as a creepy crawler due to a product with that name, the automatic vacuums generally work in several ways. Some are connected directly to your pool hose and skimmer in the same way that you operate your manual pool vacuum.
The most expensive robot vacuums are self-contained and only require the unit to be plugged in to an electrical outlet to operate and provide suction through its own motor. So the skimmer and hose isn’t used. Many of these high end models are capable of scrubbing the pool walls and floors, too.
Robot vacuums tend to range in price from about $500 – $2000 for the highest end, heaviest and most automated ones. It should be noted that a true robot vacuum is one that you just pop into the pool and leave it to clean on its own with no additional work on your part. The highest end vacuums have multiple scrubbers, can climb pool walls to clean and may take 1 – 2.5 hours to fully clean your pool, including both shallow and deep ends.
Having had a cheaper automatic vacuum cleaner that came with the house and pool when we bought it, I can tell you this style isn’t much use to us. It is not a robot vacuum as it has no motor or scrubbers and uses the pool pump for suction. It plugs into the skimmer with the pool hose so if suction isn’t very strong, it won’t work well. It easily gets stuck on elevated areas, doesn’t clean the walls and gets easily blocked with twigs and sometimes a mass of leaves. I don’t use it anymore as quite frankly it’s a waste of time. New, it probably cost close to $200 so had I purchased it myself at that price, I’d be disappointed.
I basically have to babysit it and watch while it works as it tends to get stuck or clogged quite easily as mentioned above. If you’re going to invest in a robotic pool vacuum to completely eliminate your pool cleaning work, you will have to spend money to get a quality product that doesn’t need to be supervised like the cheaper non-robotic one we inherited from the previous home owner.
One final note on robot vacuums: They are generally good for light, regular vacuuming. But if you wait too long and there is a significant amount of leaves, twigs and other debris at the bottom of the pool, you may find that the vacuum clogs and simply pushes the garbage into a pile and drags it along as it’s moving.
Salt Water Pool Settings
Swimming pools tend to be complex when you take the piping, valves, pump, filter, sensors as well as optional items like a heater. A salt water pool additionally has a chlorinator system including a salt cell which are very complex and expensive parts. All of it together can be overwhelming.
When we first bought our house with an existing pool, I was a bit overwhelmed given that I had never owned a pool and neither had my wife. I do like machinery and processes though and I like learning how things work. So I got to know our pool system, started figuring each part out, playing around with stuff in a responsible way and asked lots of questions of the pool company that the previous home owner used, since they also built the pool and installed everything.
I started by figuring out maintenance that simply need to be done. Cleaning skimmer and pump baskets, using the pool strainer to clean leaves, etc off the pool surface, vacuuming, monitoring water chemistry.
Then I started to learn little quirks and things that you don’t know unless you already know! Or unless someone – our pool company in most cases – told me. You figure stuff out using common sense or because someone tells you how to do it. I learned that before vacuuming a pool, you put the hose in the pool and submerge it to completely fill it with water. You need to push all the air out first. Air in a liquid pump causes an airlock which prevents the pump from working.
Alternatively, you can attach your vacuum head to the telescopic pole and fill the hose with water to push air out by holding the other end of the hose in front of the nearest water return jet. The other benefit of this method is that if the hose happens to have a blockage, the force of the water will most likely dislodge it.
You figure some stuff out by trial and error and through experience. And in my case, having a pool company to offer tips and advice here and helped, too.
In my experience vacuuming up algae that is stuck on the walls and floor of the pool is difficult. Before vacuuming algae, you really need to treat the algae with a few steps depending on if the algae is green algae or yellow or black. You will have better success if you treat the algae and brush the walls and floor of your pool first to loosen algae and then vacuum it up. Follow the steps in these two links first rather than simply vacuuming it.
Before cleaning up algae, you need to fix the root of the problem. Simply vacuuming algae is akin to putting a bucket on the floor to address a leak in your roof and thinking you have the problem fixed. Once you get to the root of the algae problem and eliminate it, you can then clean it up.
Unless you have a pool pump with variable speed settings, it’s not the pump you need to adjust for pool vacuuming. Follow manufacturer instructions but variable speed pumps tend to be used on the highest speed for vacuuming so that the maximum force is offered which aids the cleaning process.
For most pool owners who don’t own a variable speed pump, you need to ensure you have the filter setting to Filter (for regular vacuuming jobs) or Waste (for larger vacuuming job) when you use a sand filter. If you have a cartridge filter you don’t need to worry about this as there is no setting to adjust.
For all pool owners who use a vacuum attached to the pool skimmer, you want to focus maximum suction on the skimmer by closing off the main drain valve for the duration of the vacuuming process. By restricting water flow from the main drain, you are concentrating the suction on the skimmer and thus on the vacuum.