Spend More Time Swimming and Less Time Cleaning With the Best Above Ground Pool Vacuums
One gets the job done in the time it takes to prep lunch.
Published Jun 12, 2022 1:00 AM
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Want to clean your pool in a reasonable amount of time without breaking a sweat? Leave it to the best above ground pool vacuums, a title that experts readily hand to robotic designs. With the most hands-off option, you can simply drop the device in the water and sit back while it gathers leaves, dirt, algae, insects, and anything else yucky that escapes filtration and settles on the pool floor. In the end, you’re left with little to no cleanup (fingers crossed!) and even more time to go for a swim or lounge poolside.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t manual options on the market that sufficiently do the job. In fact, we tapped product expert and Gadget Review founder Christen Costa to lend expertise and advice on pool vacuums of all types, including those that generate their own power or others that rely on some old-fashioned elbow grease.
- Best overall: Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus
- Best value: Zodiac Suction Automatic Above Ground Cleaner
- Best suction-side: XTremepower US Premium Automatic
- Best for tough-to-reach spots: Aquabot Pool Rover Junior
- Best manual: Efurden Handheld Pool Vacuum
Best Overall: Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus
Type: Robotic | Auto mode: Yes | Filtration system: Twin cartridges | Cord length: 60 feet
What we like:
- Works without pump or hose
- 3 auto-activation settings
- Cartridges are simple to remove and clean
- Wall-climbing feature works best on nonangled surfaces
Why we chose it: An independent, easy-to-operate vacuum that works on a set schedule.
As Costa notes, robotic cleaners are the most efficient above ground pool vacuums, and this pick from established pool brand Dolphin does that and then some. While a little pricey, it works without the hassle of a suction hose, skimmer basket, or pump. Plus it only weighs 19 pounds and has an attached handle for easy lifting, and it’s fast: The Nautilus gets the job done in just a couple of hours, thanks to its 360-degree swivel function, dual scrubbing brushes, and independent filtering system complete with collection basket (just be sure to dump out the contents regularly to keep it running smoothly). Use the vacuum’s auto-scheduling feature to choose when and how often you want to activate it; choices include up to seven times weekly, every other day, or every three days. There’s also a wall-climbing option that does its best work on vertical sides, so keep this in mind if you’re in search of a vacuum that can navigate angled inclines.
Best Value: Zodiac Suction Automatic Above Ground Cleaner
Type: Automatic | Auto mode: Yes | Filtration system: Yes | Cord length: 32 feet
What we like:
- Deflector wheel to keep it from getting stuck on steps
- Adjustable skimmer attachments
- Not recommended for soft-sided pools
Why we chose it: An inexpensive, automatic option that silently and efficiently scoops up pool debris.
Costa likes this vacuum because it’s reasonably priced and just as effective as costlier counterparts in the same category. The Zodiac has plenty of other pool-cleaning perks, too. First off, it weighs a mere 15 pounds, which eliminates any concerns about wrestling with a heavy piece of equipment. We also appreciate its pared-down design: There’s only one moving part in the form of a diaphragm, which replaces flappers, gears, and wheels; this means it’s quiet and there are fewer parts to potentially repair. The deflector wheel helps it to easily navigate corners, ladders, and steps. It’s also equipped with a self-regulating water-flow component and a disc that allows it to glide through the water and keeps it running smoothly and efficiently. Even better, the whole thing comes preassembled so you can simply attach the hose to the pool pump and start cleaning.
One note about the Zodiac, though: Manufacturers don’t recommend it for use in soft-sided pools; read your pool’s manufacturer’s guide before purchasing.
Best Suction-Side: XTremepower US Premium Automatic
Type: Automatic | Auto mode: Yes | Filtration system: Yes | Cord length: Adjustable, up to 30 feet
What we like:
- No tools needed for assembly
- Great price
- Adjustable hose length
- Not designed to pick up leaves
- Does not climb walls
- Weights help hold hoses in place
Why we chose it: A no-fuss, nonelectric alternative that won’t break the bank.
Let’s face it: Pool maintenance can quickly become a budget buster. The fact that the XTremepower cleaner doesn’t require a separate power source piqued our interest, because who doesn’t want to save energy and electricity costs? Its 10 hoses allow it to clean pools up to 30 feet in length, but you can also adjust that as needed. It won’t climb pool walls or stairs, and it needs a pool pump of 1,600 gallons per hour (GPH) or 3/4 horsepower (HP) capacity to work, but in exchange for the modest price tag and the simple design, consider the XTremepower a steal.
Best for Tough-to-Reach Spots: Aquabot Pool Rover Jr.
Type: Automatic | Auto mode: Yes | Filtration system: Yes | Cord length: 40 feet
What we like:
- Adjustable axle pin expands coverage and prevents cord tangling
- Reusable filter bag
- Cleans most pools in under an hour
- For flat-bottom pools only
- 1-year full warranty
- Filter bag can be difficult to clean
Why we chose it: A quick cleaner with wheels and a powerful suction accessory—perfect for speedy pickups.
To avoid entering your pool to clean it, we suggest the Aquabot Pool Rover Jr. With a recyclable filter bag and 24-volt pump motor that supplements your pool’s filtration system, this wheeled pool vacuum is perfectly suitable for fetching anything from large leaves to the tiniest debris, algae, dirt, and sand particles. It has a two-hour automatic shut-off timer to save energy and a guidance system for maximum, precise pool coverage. Weighing in at less than 10 pounds, it’s a breeze to use: Simply plug in the power box and flip the on switch. It runs independently of the pool pump, cleaning most pools in less than an hour. A few things to keep in mind: The Aquabot is only compatible with flat-bottom pools, and the fabric filter bag requires a bit more effort to clean, so factor that in when considering this pick.
Best Manual: Efurden Handheld Pool Vacuum
Type: Manual, battery powered | Auto mode: No | Filtration system: Yes | Cord length: N/A
What we like:
- Angled brushes can access tight corners and loosen debris
- No hose or cords needed
- Works best on small pools
- Battery lasts approximately an hour
- Takes 7.5 hours to fully charge
Why we chose it: A low-maintenance unit with a telescopic pole and detachable mesh filter—a small pool conqueror.
An interchangeable brush head, a battery charger, and an interchangeable aluminum telescopic pole are just a few of the features that make this handheld vacuum stand out. For starters, it only weighs eight pounds, so transporting it from your storage space to the pool should be a cinch. And there’s no need to break out the toolbox for assembly: Just connect the vacuum to the pole, insert the vacuum head into the cleaner cover, flip the rotary switch to power it up, and you’re all set for cleaning. If the vacuum hasn’t been submerged in water after 60 seconds, it has a built-in sensory switch that will automatically power it off to maintain the motor life.
While the Efurden’s battery is rechargeable, it does take approximately eight hours to fully juice up. Make sure to check the charging hole for water after each use, then empty and dry it out with a cloth; let the unit completely dry before charging again. You’ll want to save this one for small pools and spas—its large chamber filter holds just up to two pints.
How We Chose These Products
The best above ground pool vacuum keeps your water clear of algae, bacteria, leaves, dirt, and other debris while also cutting down on the need for chemical cleaning agents. That said, we zeroed in on all the must-have features for vacuums that could take on as much heavy lifting as possible (less manual labor means more hours relaxing poolside, right?). To assist in our search, we tapped Costa for his expertise, all while taking into account energy consumption (did they work without the use of the pool’s filtration system?), cleaning time, auto-function options (timers, auto-scheduling features), assembly, and design (were they made of multiple parts that could be prone to frequent repairs?). From there, we picked pool vacuums with various price points that ticked all these boxes and more.
Our Shopping Checklist
Types of Pool Vacuums
It’s important to note that above ground pool vacuums have various performance levels and a broad price range (our picks run anywhere from $100 to upwards of $1,000). Where some automatic and robotic types may thoroughly clean a pool in a matter of hours and require an external power source, others move at a slower pace and run solely off the pool filter/pump electricity. Some are sold with the necessary hoses, while other brands require you to purchase these items separately.
Manual: Above ground pool vacuums typically consist of a vacuum head affixed to a telescopic pole, which is home to a skimming basket and vacuum hose. They’re generally the least expensive, and although they can be battery powered, you should expect to physically guide the vacuum. On the plus side, manual pool vacuums are superhandy for spot cleaning. Some automatic types may move past or struggle to reach the area you want them to clear, and manual pool vacuums offer you a bit more control over the task and the area you’re cleaning.
Robotic: The most prominent feature of these vacuums is their automated settings. They’re self-powered, which means they work independently of your pool’s pump or filter. The options we selected are lightweight (the heaviest weighing in at 20 pounds), and setup is generally simple; you can schedule them to clean at your convenience, and they reduce the need for chemical cleaners.
Pressure-side: These vacuums function one of two ways: They have wheels and move around the pool with the help of a dedicated booster pump, or they run off a standard return line. Above ground pools don’t have return lines, so you’ll likely be looking for the former, like the Aquabot Pool Rover Jr. It catches sediment in a filter bag that’s attached to the top of the vacuum, but the machine also loosens up debris that may be attached to the pool walls or floor, allowing it to flow into the pool’s filtering system.
Suction-side: As the name suggests, these devices take in water while cleaning out bugs, leaves, and other debris, which helps to reduce clogging. Unlike pressure-sides, they don’t have a filter bag. Instead they attach directly to the pool skimmer or a suction line, and use the water pressure to collect sediment and debris from the pool. From there, the dirt travels through the pool’s filtration system into the filter basket, which you then have to remove, dump, and clean.
Pool Shape and Dimensions
Some pool vacuums have climbing capabilities that limit them to flat surfaces. Others don’t navigate steps. And cord length varies, so be sure to choose one that can efficiently navigate your pool and has measures in place to prevent tangling.
Installation and Setup
Again, this varies by type. Robotic cleaners, by far, tend to have the most low-maintenance installation and setup requirements. Many are equipped to run without the pool’s filtration systems. On the other hand, automatic versions can come preassembled and only require the use of hoses (typically included) to connect to the pool pump. Check the manufacturer’s setup instructions before investing.
Robotic pool vacuums and some automatic and handheld versions run off batteries or plug into a power outlet with a waterproof cord. Other manual types, such as wand vacuums, are fully hand-operated, fueled by a pump that pulls in debris. Lastly, suction and pressure vacuums rely on electricity from the pool’s filtration system.
Another important shopping tip for suction pool vacuums: Check the capacity of your pool pump to make sure that it’s compatible with the vacuum you choose. This is typically measured in gallons per minute, or GPM.
Before operating a pool vacuum, make sure your pool is empty—we’re talking people, pets, and floaties. Use a skimmer to clear out any other large objects like branches or huge clumps of leaves before pressing start. Double-check that all hose connections are secure to avoid any suctioning mishaps.
Contrary to what you might think, you shouldn’t completely drain the water from your pool. Depending on how efficient a job the vacuum does, you may need to backwash afterward and you need at least a foot of water to do so. Finally, measure any hoses to accommodate the size of your pool.
Q: How do you clean the bottom of an above ground pool?
If you have a filter, switch it off and use a plastic rake or a brush with nylon or soft rubber bristles to clear away debris from the pool bottom without tearing the vinyl lining. If this doesn’t fully do the trick, try cleaning the filter (it may take more than one time) until the water is completely clear. Use a pool-cleaning mitt for more hard-to-reach spots like behind the stairs or around the ladder. Sticking to a weekly schedule will prevent excess buildup and give you more time to enjoy your pool (which is the entire point, right?).
Q: Can you use a pool vacuum on an above ground pool?
Absolutely. As our picks demonstrate, you can choose between manual, robotic, pressure-side, or suction-side. What option you choose depends on the amount of work you want to put in, your budget, and whether or not you want one that relies on your pool filtration system to get the job done.
Q: How do I get algae off the bottom of my pool without a vacuum?
Algae can cling to the sides of the pool, but you can apply a baking soda/bleach alternative paste on a brush, then use it to spot-treat and loosen roots in order to safely remove it. Be sure to clean and wash out the filter to get rid of any algae trappings.
Q: How can I vacuum my pool without a skimmer?
On above ground pools, skimmers are usually located in a unit attached to the exterior pool wall, with a basket partially submerged in the water. A skimmer works to pull out larger debris from the surface of the pool so it doesn’t get trapped in the filter or pump. To vacuum your pool without this component, you’ll need to perform the job manually with a rake or by connecting a pool vacuum head and hose to the pump using a telescopic pole as an extender.
The Last Word
Ultimately, the above ground pool vacuum you choose hinges on how much physical effort you’re willing to put into cleaning, and whether you’re comfortable with a model that uses your pool’s electricity or relies on another power source. Pick one that suits your preferred method of pool maintenance. Whether it’s laid-back, like the Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus, or hands-on, as long as it cleans, you’re good to go.
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