Automation is here to make our lives easier – right? But how often have you bought a new piece of technology and discovered it doesn’t do the job as well as you used to do it by hand? If you’re going to invest in an automatic solution, you need a guarantee that you’ll be getting a good return on your money.
Pool robots fall into this category. What do they struggle with, and are they effective compared to other vacuum methods? We’ve worked through case studies, consumer reviews, and our own experience of pool cleaning robots and examined where they perform best and where they fall short.
How Does a Pool Robot Work?
Pool robots tend to have three main functions – scrubbing, vacuuming, and filtering. Some models run on battery, while others use a cord to connect to the main power. Battery-powered models are often preferred because there’s no risk of the cord knotting, although an advantage of cord power is that it’ll always be at full tilt – there’s no risk of impaired performance when the battery gets low.
Unlike handheld vacuums that typically draw debris out of the water through a hose, pool robots typically store debris in an internal bag, much like a household vacuum cleaner. As they get about by themselves, this reduces the risk of the hose becoming snarled unexpectedly. They typically have rotating brushes to scrub the floor and internal filters to siphon small debris from the water.
The suction performs a dual function – it allows them to sift and filter water, but it also helps them climb surfaces like walls and stairs. This means that blocked filters can impair their ability to climb.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s address performance.
How Well Does a Pool Robot Clean Your Pool? Case Studies
We’ve examined a couple of case studies into pool robot design and utility to help you understand more about where they perform best, where they struggle – and why.
Case Study #1: A Study for Cleaner Pool Robot Design
A 2014 study considered different aspects of pool robot design, which sheds some light on why they perform some tasks more effectively than others.
Wheel design is one of the most significant considerations, as the robot needs to be able to deal with corners. While the study is focused on redesigning robots to make them more affordable, it acknowledges that wheel design is a major issue for automatic cleaners in an environment that includes sharp corners.
The study also acknowledges the limitations of the suction mechanism, as this is used for locomotion as well as filtration. If the filters become significantly blocked with larger debris, the cleaner won’t be able to get around as easily or climb walls, which will impair its ability to clean properly.
Some pool robots partly address this by including four-wheel drive, which improves their general locomotion. However, as they still need suction to move up vertical surfaces, heavy debris presents a major issue because it will clog the filters.
Case Study #2: Fully Automatic Cleaning of Pool Bottoms
A 2022 study of a Swiss brand that was used for commercial pool cleaning found that the robots dealt very well with the typical daily debris in a commercial swimming pool. It recommended that the robot worked most effectively when programmed to clean around 3 hours after the last swimmers had left the pool. This enabled the debris to settle, and the cleaner could more effectively filter out impurities.
As the pH and debris levels are very consistent in commercial indoor pools compared to an outdoor home pool, the results of this study should be understood as equivalent to cleaning an outdoor pool every day in Spring/Summer. Fall brings heavy leaf drop, which can affect the pH balance of the pool and also creates much more debris than an indoor robot would ever have to face.
Pool Robot Case Studies: Conclusions
The case studies tend to support the idea that pool robots are well-designed for lighter cleaning and filtration. Their design features also mean that they’ll sometimes struggle to cope with corners, walls, or instances of heavy soiling.
What Affects a Pool Robot’s Performance?
The most significant issues affecting robot are:
Performance drops when the filters or bags fill up. Clogged filters are especially concerning, as these reduce the ability to cling to surfaces through suction.
Especially if they’re getting full, corners are hotspots for little eddies of debris. Square corners are also difficult to navigate using a 4-wheel drive system and so are often left slightly soiled.
Walls, Stairs & Ladders
Some models struggle to climb and clean walls, stairs, and ladders. Climbing is often dependent on suction, but the style of wheel also makes a difference – some tracks are better at gripping these surfaces than others.
Robots don’t deal so well with pH balance issues. This means that heavily soiled water should be treated manually before you set the robot to work for routine maintenance.
They also struggle to treat algae, as it clogs the filters and isn’t pleasant to remove by hand. Algae should be treated with a powerful suction hose and chemicals rather than a crawling robot.
Check the maximum range of a robot before purchase – try to get one that can comfortably manage your pool, or you’ll get unscrubbed spots.
What’s a Pool Robot Best For?
Robots seem like an excellent choice for regular cleaning and purifying water. They’ll struggle with heavier debris – having to replace the bag routinely slightly defeats the point of the “automatic” cleaner.
This makes pool robots much less effective when it comes to “big cleans”, like opening up your pool in Spring or addressing debris after a Fall vacation. Another factor affecting their performance in these situations is that fallen leaves can alter the pH of your water and allow algae growth: robotic cleaners struggle to deal with this.
If you’ve left your pool for more than a week or 2 and notice significant debris, it’s generally worth doing a quick once-over with a net to remove heavier debris before setting them to work. Otherwise, you’ll be changing bags all day and the robot won’t be able to do an effective job.
How Well Does a Pool Robot Work vs. a Manual Pool Cleaner?
We’d say that robots tend to perform very well in day-to-day filtration compared to handheld cleaners. They’re also brilliant at scrubbing, and the technology that tells them where to go is very impressive; they barely miss a spot.
Keep an eye out for your corners. Like your lawn’s edges, they may need some TLC by hand to keep them sparkling. In terms of overall performance and how much time and energy they save for regular maintenance? Pool robots perform very well compared to most handheld or manual models.
Pool robots are very good at scrubbing surfaces thoroughly to ensure they remain sparkling clean for your next swim. They filter water effectively when only small debris is present, which makes them an excellent choice for routine cleaning.
We wouldn’t task them with clearing out a pool full of leaves, and they’ll struggle to cope with heavily soiled water, e.g. water that has had its pH balance altered by rotting leaves and algae growth. You’ll need to do some manual cleaning before setting them to work if it’s been a while since the last deep clean.
So, while you may still need to occasionally pick up some manual tools after purchasing a robot, the job they do will take a lot off your plate.