Yes, pools are fun, there’s no doubt about it. But when it comes to cleaning and maintaining them? That's a different story.
Yet cleaning your pool doesn’t have to be exhausting or time-consuming. In fact, the right equipment could make a real difference between the time you spend cleaning your pool and the time you spend enjoying it.
Pool cleaners come in a wide variety of designs and capabilities, but they all do the same basic job — keeping water free of debris that isn't removed by the filter and often ends up on the pool’s bottom or walls.
The products we are referring to are automatic pool cleaners, also known as vacuum pool cleaners. Don’t confuse these pool cleaners with traditional fine mesh nets or leaf rakes that pool owners use to manually pick up debris. Pool cleaners make life much easier for pool owners, since they are self-efficient and often need little or no supervision.
Pool cleaner buying guide
Because pools come in different shapes and sizes, pool cleaners are designed to meet different needs. Some work well in both above-ground and in-ground pools; others are made for just one or the other.
There are four different types of pool cleaners you can choose from. These machines cost anywhere from $50 to $2,000, with robotic cleaners on the higher end.
Manual pool vacuums, or handhelds, are the cheapest pool cleaners, normally priced between $50 and $200. These are typically attached to telescopic pool poles so you can move them around the pool. They work similarly to cordless vacuum cleaners, catching debris and collecting it in a filter bag. Handhelds are suitable for above-ground pools, pool spas, and small in-ground pools.
Pressurized vacuums or pressure-side pool cleaners connect to the water return line of your pool’s filtration system. This allows them to stick to the ground or walls of the pool as they are cleaning. Sometimes they require a booster pump for an extra power kick.
Suction-side vacuums rely on the pool’s filter too, specifically on the skimmer or vac line. These don’t come with individual filter bags or cartridges, rather they redirect debris to the filter.
Robotic pool cleaners, lastly, are the machines that you can just let loose in the pool without much supervision. These generally feature anti-slip wheels that allow them to climb walls, scrub the waterline, and sweep the entire pool. Some have programmable timers that let you set up the day, hour, and length of time it will run.
How do you know what kind of pool cleaner to get? The following factors can help you decide:
• Pool size and shape. Most manufactures detail the pool cleaner's size range, and whether it is made for use in an above-ground or in-ground pool.
Optimal performance depends on how many feet the pool cleaner can cover, which is determined by the unit’s cord or hose length. As a general rule, the pool vacuum should have enough hose to go across and all the way to the bottom of your pool. Naturally, larger pools will require longer cords than small pools. However, if you get too much hose, there are higher chances of dealing with cord tangles.
Similarly, keep an eye on what type of debris the cleaner is designed for, and be sure that it matches your needs. A cleaner might be specialized in picking up small particles like algae, sand or dust, or medium to large chunks of debris like pebbles, leaves, or bugs.
• Cleaning Abilities. Virtually all pool cleaners tackle bottom floors without trouble. However, not all pool cleaners are capable of doing a good job covering walls, steps, and the waterline.
Some pressure-side and suction-side cleaners specialize in wall-climbing, but they are less effective around stairs and uneven surfaces. They also require some supervision because they can get stuck in corners, stairs or other tricky areas. Nonetheless they’re cost-efficient options for above-ground pools, and some small to medium size in-ground pools.
Robotic cleaners are often ideal for large pools and can effectively handle wall-climbing, waterline scrubbing and other tasks with little or no supervision. They are, however, at the expensive end of the spectrum.
• Additional Features. The extras can really make the difference between an average pool cleaner and a great one. For instance, robotic cleaners with a time scheduler allow you to plan cleaning cycles for specific days and hours, so you can leave on vacation and not worry about coming home to a messy pool full of debris.
Robot cleaners with smart scanning systems, meanwhile, can map out the shape of your pool and determine the most efficient cleaning path. Remote controllers or mobile apps are also useful features.
Best pool cleaners
1. Best overall: Polaris F9550 Sport Robotic In-Ground Pool Cleaner
The Polaris F9550 Sport may look like a toy car, but it’s packed with powerful features ideal for any in-ground pool up to 60 feet in length.
For starters, it has four anti-slip wheels and a scrubbing brush that allows it to cover floors, climb walls, and scrub waterline tiles. Using vortex suction technology, it cleans large and small debris from the bottom, while it agitates the water to attract loose debris.
The F9550 is easily controllable and programmable. In the settings panel, you can select among different speeds, pool shapes, and cleaning cycles. It can also be scheduled to clean on specific days and hours, a function that’s certainly useful if you’re going to be away from home.
The F9550 conveniently features a unique lift system — a touch button that tells the robot to surface in the desired location — so you can remove it from the water without having to pull the cord.
Additionally, it comes with a motion-sensing remote control, so if for some reason it misses an area, you can guide it to the dirty spot. The controller, however, only responds to hand motions; it doesn’t have directional arrows, a detail some customers find a slight hassle.
The model is backed by a two-year limited warranty and comes with a convenient caddy for storing and carrying the robot.
2. Editor’s pick: Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus Automatic Robotic Pool Cleaner
The Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus is a top-rated robotic pool cleaner that stands out for its distinctive CleverClean technology — a navigation system that allows it to scan the length of the pool, create an efficient cleaning route, and avoid obstacles on its way.
Unlike our Best Overall selection, the Nautilus CC Plus doesn’t scrub the waterline, but it does sweep floors and walls. Additionally, its 60-foot cable allows it to handle pools up to 50 feet long in about two hours. Dual scrubbing brushes and two ultra-fine inner filters ensure that it collects dirt, dust particles, and larger waste such as insects.
The Nautilus has a built-in programmable weekly scheduler, so you can set it to clean your pool on a recurring basis. It can even be kept inside the pool for a week, though emptying and rinsing the filter after every use is highly recommended.
One potential drawback is that it doesn’t include a caddy, though you can buy one separately for about $140.
3. Best for low prices: XtremepowerUS 75037 Climb Wall Pool Cleaner
Often on sale for about $80, the XtremepowerUS 75037 is a highly efficient and budget-friendly pool cleaner for small and medium pools of up to 16’ x 32’ (544 square feet).
Like all suction-side pool cleaners, the XtremepowerUs uses the pool filtration system — line vac or skimmer — to operate. It doesn’t require electricity, using instead a pool pump with at least 3/4 horsepower, and it has enough capacity to handle 1,600 gallons per hour.
The pump suction allows it to move through the bottom surface and remove small debris like dirt, dust, algae, and bugs. (Note that larger debris such as leaves or seed pods will most likely get stuck.)
The 75037 comes with a 10-hose set that you can adjust to the proper length for your pool, along with three weighted stabilizers that provide balance when it is cleaning. The unit’s regulator valve controls the suction power.
Do note that, as with most suction-side cleaners, it may get stuck in corners or stair areas while cleaning. This means you may have to monitor it and help it get unstuck from time to time.
4. Best for large debris: Polaris Vac-Sweep 360 Pressure Side Pool Cleaner
If you want a pool cleaner that exceeds at cleaning large debris, check out the Polaris Vac-Sweep 360.
The Polaris only uses the pressure of the pool’s filtration water return line as power, which makes it a cost-efficient option for scrubbing and sweeping bottoms and walls in most in-ground pools.
Unlike most other pressure-side pool cleaners, it doesn’t need an extra booster pump to work. This vacuum also stands out for its auto-backup, a valve that helps it get out of trouble when it gets stuck in tricky corners and ensures it cleans uninterrupted.
While the Vac-Sweep 360 can handle some debris like sand or dirt, it is more efficient at cleaning algae and medium to large lumps of debris, such as pebbles or leaves. Be aware that some reviewers have complained about the cord getting tangled or coiled, although, according to Polaris, this can be fixed by laying the hose out in the sun.
5. Best for small pools: Pool Blaster Max Li Cordless Pool Cleaner
If you have a small above-ground pool, spa pool, or hot tub, a cordless handheld pool cleaner like the Pool Blaster Max Li is a great option.
This pool vacuum cleaner features a 10.5” head attachment with five wheels and brushes, high-flow suction, and a multi-layer filter bag. It can be used for picking up fine and large debris from the surface and bottom of your pool, including acorns, leaves, twigs, and sand. Additionally, you can remove the attachment and use its cone nose to reach hard areas, if needed.
The Max Li is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery designed to run for a full hour. According to the manufacturer, it takes about four hours to recharge.
To reach all areas of your pool, simply attach the Max Li to any standard telescopic pool pole. If you don't already have such a pole at your pool, one can be purchased with this pool cleaner model for about $30 extra.