This article compares and reviews automatic swimming pool cleaners. My goal is to help you choose the best one for your type of swimming pool (above-ground / in-ground). The pros and cons of these popular automatic vacuums are my opinions, based on my 30 plus years in the swimming pool industry.
I have read many other pool cleaner reviews on the internet, and none of them take into consideration the swimming pool surface. If you have a cement/gunite pool, you may not use the same swimming pool cleaner as you would in a pool with a vinyl liner. Also, the best models for above-ground swimming pools are not likely suitable for in-ground pools.
Many other articles/reviews that discuss the pros and cons or top-rated models are either just looking at one pool cleaner with no comparison, or have a clear marketing agenda. I am looking at all vacuums and automatic robot cleaners, and just telling you what I would do in your position, based on what I know and your pool type.
I must confess before we get into this article, that I am a sucker for shiny cool gadgets. If these guys wanted to get me to buy something, all they would have to do is chrome it out, and make it look modern. Well, if I didn’t know better 😉
I also have a marketing agenda! If you buy your new swimming pool cleaner from Amazon, I will get a small commission on the sale. But I know you are only buying it from Amazon if it makes sense. Anyway, my kickback does not affect your cost!
Regardless of motives, I think you will find the information I share both informative and helpful.
This article has a lot of information for both above-ground and inground pools, but I have since written an article specific to automatic vacuums for above ground pools. A reading of both would help for those with above-ground swimming pools, as I did not go over the exact same material.
PRO TIP* All automatic pool cleaners are designed for swimming pool maintenance, not for pools “loaded” with leaves and algae (mom are you listening?).
1st A Review of Pool Cleaner Types
There are currently three types of automatic pool cleaners.
- Suction Side Cleaners
- Pressure Side Cleaners
- Independent Robotic & Automatic Pool Cleaners
Suction Side Pool Cleaners
I am not a massive fan of suction-side pool cleaners. Mainly because for most people they have to disable their swimming pools skimmer to use one. The swimming pool surface is where the most dirt is. So disabling the surface skimmer to clean the pool-bottom makes little sense to me.
Used in moderation, they have an upside, and one unique feature none of the other pool cleaners have. Suction side cleaners will get small particles of dirt that robotic and pressure side cleaners can’t. Unlike other cleaner-types, they don’t collect debris in a basket or bag. They use suction and vacuum dirt into the filter where it stays. DE filters catch dirt particles as small as 4 microns; you can’t even see that with your eyes.
Robotic Cleaners & Independently Powered Cleaners
I just don’t see the value in these cleaners. If your handy and mechanically inclined, they could be a good fit for you, but they break down a lot. It is a rare unit that gets you a third pool season, so I say stay clear of the high priced units. The more expensive electronic robotic cleaners don’t clean any better than cheaper models, so there is no value to be had.
I am talking about the high-end TigerSharks and Dolphin Dx Models etc… All these units have a power box that you plug in. If you are going robotic, consider the cheaper Aquabot Models. They have tons of parts available, youtube videos, and user support. They are also going to break down in a year or two, but they cost half what the others do. If you’re handy, parts are simple to replace.
I say I don’t see the value, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the models that have come out in the past couple years 2016/2017 do have a new easy to clean debris basket. Kind of like a skimmer basket, you just pull it out by a handle and tap out the contents. Older models use a bag to collect debris; many liken it to cleaning a diaper.
Also, unlike the less expensive Aquabot models I recommend below, these more expensive models will climb and clean your swimming pool walls. So if you have the extra cash, you might see the benefits to the Tigershark and Dolphin models with the new basket collection design.
Pressure Side Pool Cleaners
Here we have my favorite type of cleaner. Polaris has dominated the market in pressure side swimming pool cleaners as far back as I can remember. But there are some new sheriffs in town, talking about Hayward and Pentair. Hayward has finally upped their game and came out with, dare I say it… A bad-ass new pool cleaner called the Trivac 700.
In truth, I have only seen it work in videos, but I love the concept. It is overpriced, and maybe for a year or two more, but wow. This unit cleans the walls, floor, and the surface of the pool! I will discuss the model later in the article.
Pentair’s new Kreepy Krawley Racer is catching attention too.
The upfront setup cost of all pressure side cleaners is much higher than other models, as all inground units require a booster pump. That is a pump different than the one you use to filter the pool water. But if you already have a dedicated pump and pressure line, there is no better pool cleaner type! Bar none!
Luckily there is an inexpensive above ground unit that works amazingly well and does not require a separate pump. I am of course talking about the Polaris 65; the whole system is available on Amazon with free shipping for you prime members for just $180.- Amazon Link
I will discuss this unit a bit more further on as well.
These units range from $450.00 to $1500.00. And without getting into every detail as to why I chose one model over another. I will just list the pros and cons of all of them and tell you which one I would buy.
Negatives First, the cons!
Some of these expensive robots don’t do any better job cleaning a pool than the less expensive units. Many also weigh a lot and make it a chore to get out of the water for many folks.
Units like this Tiger Shark wear out faster in cement/gunite pools, and because of there weight, are more likely to damage a vinyl liner while removing it from your pool.
They run on electricity, and so require another power source. Instead of using the suction or pressure already being created by your pool pump.
The Positives, The Pros
You don’t have to disable your skimmer to use these types of cleaners. If you have a large swimming pool with a small skimmer or only one skimmer, it is a good idea to buy a pool-cleaner that does not require you to disable the only surface cleaner you have.
Being independent of other systems, you can run this even when the pool pump is not in operation. Also, it will not interfere with other cleaning systems so that it will do its job more efficiently.
My Top Pick For “Independent” Robot Cleaners Of Inground Pools
- Aquabot pretty-much invented the industry
- Low Cost / Price Lowest on Amazon (click here) ($403.28)
- Works as good as any other robotic independent cleaner
- Wheels over tracks – Good for all pool surface types
- Parts are cheaper and more available
Top Pick For Above-Ground Swimming Pools
If you want an “independent robotic” cleaner for an above ground pool, go with the Aquabot Pool Rover Junior. Also least expensive right now on Amazon (click here) ($259.98).
An excellent choice when buying for large above ground pools. The Aquabot comes with a 40-foot cable expanding its cleaning area ability.
Negatives: These units do not crawl the swimming pool walls, also use the older more familiar style debris collection bags.
Suction Side Swimming Pool Cleaners
There are only a few suction side pool cleaners available on the market. The power to operate these units comes from the suction created by your swimming pool pump. So they work by hooking up to your pool’s skimmer, or dedicated suction line found on some in-ground swimming pools.
The first four names in the list below are the same cleaner with a different shell/mask on it.
Suction type pool vacuum:
- Diver Dave
- Lil Shark
- Lady Bug
- Wanda the Whale
- The Pool Cleaner/Poolvergnuegen
- Kreepy Krawly
Because most use the skimmer to operate, pool surface cleaning is disabled while using it. Also, they can only handle a small amount of debris without an extra debris canister.
The first four suction side models listed above require a flat pool bottom and should be used only on above-ground swimming pools. Also, they just clean the bottom, no walls.
- Catches smaller debris than other cleaners
- Runs off the suction created by existing pump, so it requires no extra energy cost
- Least expensive
Top Choice Suction Side Cleaner for Inground Swimming Pools
For pools up to size 16 x 32, we recommend the Hayward Aquanaut 200. For Larger Pools, we Recommend the Aquanaut 400.
This cleaner was known as the Poolvergnuegen. When Hayward bought the company, they kept a legacy model (Poolvergnuegen), while also rebranding it as “The Pool Cleaners.” This year they have given it a new look, and the model’s third name is The Aquanaut. They still have the two-wheel and four-wheel models, choose your model based on pool size.
This unit will clean swimming pool walls too!
Top Pick For Suction Side Above Ground Cleaners
These units are available on Amazon for about $130.00 which
includes the cost of shipping (Click Here). They come complete with a hose and everything you need to use it right away.
I do recommend using a leaf canister with any suction side cleaner. Also available on Amazon for short money, Click Here. It keeps you from having to clean leaves out of your pool pump basket.
Diver Dave, Wanda The Whale, Lady Bug, and Lil Shark requires that your pool bottom not be overly bumpy. Most above ground swimming pools have a sand bottom, just make sure yours is smooth and flat if you are going with this model and you should be fine.
If your above ground swimming pool bottom is not smooth and flat, and you want another inexpensive alternative, I would recommend the Kreepy Krawley cheaper brother (click here).
Pressure-Side Swimming-Pool Cleaning Brands
- Zodiac (better known as Polaris)
Pressure Side Cleaner Negatives/Cons
- Set up and equipment cost are high
- Requires a dedicated pressure line
- Cleaning the debris bag is slightly ickier than the newer electric pool cleaning models.
Inground models climb pool-walls well and have a whip that helps with scrubbing and cleaning. They are reasonably light-weight. They catch a significant amount of large and small debris.
Polaris has many models; I like the Polaris Vac-Sweep 360. It has been around for years, there are lots of parts available, and they last a long time.
Polaris always dominated the pressure side cleaner market. Most high-end in-ground swimming pools were designed and built with Polaris systems. Not sure if Pentair bought Polaris, but the Pentair new pressure side cleaner, “The Pentair Kreepy Krawley Racer” is the new standard, and works fine with the old Polaris equipment, so there is no need to upgrade.
The Pentair Kreepy Krawley Racer is better than Polaris in every way. 1st they increased the hose diameter and strength, increasing the volume of water translating into more power. 2nd they made the collection hole three times as large as the old Polaris models. It can now capture larger leaves and debris! 3rd They not only made the debris bag much much-bigger, but they also made it easier to clean. 4th they gave it a handle to get it out of the pool. You had to pull the Polaris to the side by the wimpy hose and then most people used it to lift the cleaner out. Finally, they gave this new cleaner brushes for better scrubbing.
Hayward offered two new models late in 2016, but only one has made it into my 2018 pool cleaner reviews and given me pause, the Trivac 700. There are a couple knocks on this product. 1. It’s high ticket price, and 2. It is not available for online purchase. It is only available in stores. If you send me $850.00, I will mail you one.
What makes this unit unique is the fact that it can clean the surface too. What? Yup, check out this video
Top Pick Pressure Side Pool Cleaner for Inground Swimming Pools
If my pool already had a booster pump and a dedicated pressure line, there is no doubt I would buy the new Kreepy Krauly Racer model (seen here). It is better than the old Polaris pool cleaner models, which were the best for a long time.
It is also the coolest looking thing I’ve seen in a while. Like I said at the beginning, I am a sucker for modern and shiny. Guess what else? It has led lights for night cleaning.
At the time of the writing of this article 2015, this unit was available on Amazon.com (click here) for $615.00.
Top Pick For Above Ground Pressure Side Cleaners
Of all the above ground automatic pool cleaners, my top pick is the Polaris 65. Seen here below (looks like a kite). I like it better than the Diver Dave Suction cleaners, and even the pool rover junior.
It does not get jammed up with leaves and dirt because instead of sucking dirt through a small hole/orifice it scoops up particles and leaves with a bag that trails behind it.
Operating off the pressure/ return water side of the system, so the skimmer is still free to catch debris on the surface, and it does not require an additional power source like the Pool Rover Jr.
This thing is mesmerizing to watch too. It is like watching a fish tank, as it glides through the water catching its prey. It is usually on Amazon for like 169.00 (click here) It comes with everything you need.
If I were buying a new pool cleaner for an above ground pool, I would buy the Polaris 65. Or maybe two cleaners, A Ladybug for one a month and the Polaris 65 for an hour or so a week
For inground pools, If I had a booster pump, and a dedicated pressure line, I would buy the new Kreepy Krauly Racer (click here).
For inground pools without a dedicated pressure line and booster pump, I would buy a booster pump and rig it to work without the dedicated pressure line and buy the Pentair Kreepy Crawley Racer anyway.
Dollar for dollar over a five year period the Pentair Racer pool cleaner is the least expensive.