In Floor Pool Cleaners vs. Automatic Pool Cleaners

In-Floor pool cleaners, in case you haven't heard of these, is a system of pop-up heads on the floor of the pool that rise and spray in sequence. A manifold or distribution device changes the flow of water across banks of jets located in the steps and floor of the pool. The succession of jet banks directs debris towards the deep end, where it can be sucked up by the drains and skimmers.

They are sold as an option to the more common type of pool cleaner that rolls around the pool floor, and vacuums debris into an attached bag, or in the case of suction cleaners, sucks it into the skimmer or pump basket.

So, it was thought that they should be brought together in the forum - a cage match between two old rivals. Toe to toe, mano a mano - let's welcome the two challengers! In-Floor Pool Cleaners and On-Floor Pool Cleaners!

In-Floor Pool Cleaners

They're not new, and have been around since the 60's, pioneered by companies like Paramount, A&A and Caretaker. In-floor really came into greater adoption in the 80's however, when large builders like Anthony and Master began offering in-floor cleaners as an option to the floating pool cleaners of the day (which were not as effective as they are now).

BENEFITS: The main benefit of an In-Floor pool cleaner is "no hoses, no equipment" in the pool. That can be a big selling point for the person who hates to see any kind of clutter. It's "Virtually Invisible" as one manufacturer states. It also improves circulation dramatically, mixing heat and chemicals throughout the pool, but perhaps no more than other pool cleaner types.

HOW IT WORKS: Also an option for vinyl pools, in-floor pool cleaners are primarily installed on concrete pools, where 15 to 25 pop-up heads are secured tightly into the shell of the pool. Pipes run from the distribution manifold to 4-6 banks of pop-up heads in the floor and on some steps or swimouts. More recent models also have one or two dedicated drain traps in the deep end of the pool, which is plumbed to a larger leaf trap cylinder housed in the pool deck, under a skimmer lid. Reach in and pull out the long bag or basket for emptying debris.

DRAWBACKS:  The main concern of an In-Floor cleaner could be that it may not get all debris, and manual vacuuming may be needed. For desert pools with few leaves, pools without nearby trees or pools with automatic covers - this may not be a concern. A larger concern may be cost; in-floor systems will add a few thousand bucks to a pool installation, and cannot be retrofitted to an existing pool.  For those with a high budget, the added cost may not be a concern. If you are concerned about winterizing, don't worry, in-floor systems can be easily winterized, and manifolds should drain down when not in use. Oh, and if you didn't install this when you built the pool, well...

On-Floor Pool Cleaners

"On-Floor" is just my made up name for everything else that isn't the in-the-pool-floor type of pool cleaner. The first automatic pool cleaner patent is held by Andrew Pansini, founder of Jandy products. It was an octopus-like, many tentacle creature. He had many other pool product inventions, including the omnipresent Jandy valve, chlorinators, and most notably pool cleaners. Pool cleaners evolved to a suction type pressure cleaner, and a robotic pool cleaner was invented by Bob Myers in 1967. In 1972, Melvin Henkin invented the Polaris pool cleaner, giving us pressure side pool cleaners.

BENEFITS:  Fast and efficient, today's automatic pool cleaners can clean a pool in just a few hours, and most will capture leaves and debris into an on-board debris bag. Robotic and suction cleaners can be installed in just minutes, retrofitting to nearly any size and type of pool. Pressure cleaners which use a timer clock and a separate booster pump can operate truly automatically, needing only the occasional debris bag cleaning. Robotic pool filters can filter water as they vacuum the pool, and all types of automatic pool cleaners will help improve circulation in the pool.

HOW IT WORKS:  Suction, robotic and pressure pool cleaners all work differently, but basically...Suction Cleaners work by attaching to a suction port like the pool skimmer or vacuum line. Basic models use a diaphragm or pulse device to create a temporary blockage of suction which causes the cleaner to bounce around the pool. Hayward models use feet and wings to sort of hobble around the pool and models by Polaris use more advanced tracking techniques.

Low voltage robotic pool cleaners use a drive motor to power the wheels and a pump motor to draw water and debris up through the filter bag, and also give it suction to the pool walls. Newer, less expensive Jet propulsion robots have reduced hardware, parts and cost for robot cleaners.

Pressure cleaners use the power of water, pumped to it by a booster pump, or a filter pump, to drive the wheels and move it around the pool. The water is also used to create venturi suction for vacuuming, and there's enough left over to power a thrust jet and a sweeper tail.

DRAWBACKS:  There are several, such as having to remove the cleaner to remove the pool, or cleaning the bag, or servicing. An automatic pool cleaner will likely need more repair and maintenance than an in-floor cleaner. A broken pool cleaner means a dirty pool. Replacement or extensive repair is likely every 5-10 years.

Who Wins? In-Floor or On-Floor?

They both have advantages and disadvantages, however if you weren't offered an in-floor pool cleaner when you built your pool, it's kind of too late now anyway. If you are planning to build a pool, looking into an in-floor pool cleaner system may make sense for you. Personally, I love all pool cleaner systems - anything that reduces the work is great. I would love an in-floor system, but it's too late for me - maybe on my next pool!

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