Manual Or Robotic?

Over the past year, the importance of proper water chemistry and various pool system components have been discussed. These topics are vital for the health of the pool environment. Of equal importance is the condition of the pool surface. Pool surface materials vary within the commercial pool arena. Marcite (plaster), paint, tile (ceramic) and heavy vinyl are all surfaces used at public pool facilities. The condition of these surfaces is influenced by rain, wind, dust storms, leaves, algae, fungi and metallic imbalances. In addition, bathers use suntan lotions and oils, which create unsightly tile appearance.

A casual attitude toward cleaning can result in an unattractive pool surface, which will eventually cause algae growth, discoloration of pool surfaces, staining of walls and floor, scale formations and tile discoloration. To avoid these conditions, aquatic managers must arrange for daily cleaning procedures. Historically, most operators follow the same guidelines for surface cleaning.

· Brushing, tile cleaning and vacuuming, as well as water testing and adjustments, are done early in the morning, prior to pool opening. Any sediment that was in solution during the swimming hours has had a chance to sink to the pool floor.

· No bathers should be present when cleaning the pool.

· All cleaning equipment must be maintained in good condition to keep from damaging the pool surface during the process.

Always check the pump’s hair and lint basket prior to beginning the process. Also, clean or backwash the pool filter before and after the process, to eliminate increased pressure on the filter system. By performing these steps first, you will save time in the long run.

Know The Tools

The majority of public pool operators continue to manually clean their pools with the traditional cleaning tools--vacuum head, wall and floor brush, vacuum hose and leaf nets, along with the telescopic poles.

Each of these tools performs a different function in the overall cleaning of the pool and spa. In addition, manufacturers offer a number of heavy-duty cleaning products specifically designed for commercial use. Operators should use these cleaning devices and not rely on tools designed for residential pool use.

Vacuum Head

The main component of the manual cleaning procedure is the vacuum head. This device connects to the vacuum hose, which is attached to a dedicated vacuum line, or inserted into the pool skimmer. The vacuum head literally sucks the dirt and debris from the pool bottom (and sides), and places the dirt into the filtration system. An alternate method of vacuuming is a portable system. The operator does not want the dirt to be trapped in the filter, but to be trapped in a separate vessel instead, and disposed appropriately away from the pool deck area.

Portable Vacuum System

The vacuum head should be sized according to the surface area to be cleaned. There are wider vacuum heads available for commercial use; the width of the head will ensure the job is completed more efficiently. To ensure that the vacuum procedure is done correctly, time must be taken. “The slower you vacuum, the better job you will do” has been the motto of operators over the years.

You cannot hurry this procedure. If you move the vacuum head too fast, the vacuum will stir up the debris and cause the pool water to become cloudy, and then the operator cannot see the dirt laying on the floor. Aquatic facility managers should assign the most patient staff member the task of vacuuming and say, “Take your time.”

The procedure is designed to slowly vacuum the pool bottom in long strokes, one vacuum length at a time, overlapping prior to moving to the next section. If the operator notices a loss of suction, it is advisable to check the hair and lint strainer at the pump, stop the procedure, and clean the basket. Also check the vacuum or pressure gauge on the filter system. If the pressure gauge is high or the vacuum gauge is low, the operator will need to clean the filter system before continuing the process.

Caution: Most commercial facilities use a dedicated vacuum line. To avoid vacuum-line entrapment, this line should always be covered when the pool operator is not vacuuming the pool. Swimming pool codes now require a spring-loaded cover.

Also, if there is a valve installed on this line in the filter room, it should be closed off when not vacuuming. All staff should understand the need to prevent vacuum-line entrapment.

Brushing Techniques

The best defense in protecting the pool surface from algae growth is to regularly brush the pool walls and floor. The brushing procedure is time-consuming but mandatory. A word of caution here is to be sure the brush is designed for commercial swimming pool application. Only use a stainless-steel brush when you encounter tough algae or metal-staining conditions. The procedure for brushing is to start at the top of the wall and slowly brush in a continuous sweep toward the main drain. Slowly work the brush upward to the top again and move over one brush length. (Opening the main drain line fully and closing down on the skimmer line will ensure effective brushing.) Pay close attention to the steps and areas in the pool coves to eliminate algae growth. Brushing also removes any scale buildup due to high calcium levels.

Attention To Tile

How your pool facility is maintained is reflected in the cleanliness of the pool tile. This is the most visible part of the pool surface and gives notice to the bathers of whether the pool is clean or dirty. Calcium scale, suntan oils and filth are visually apparent on the tile line. A tile brush is the best tool to clean this area. In addition, there are non-abrasive tile cleaners formulated for pool cleaning, which should be applied on the pool brush. Brush the tile in an up-and-down motion and not side-to-side. The up-and-down motion will clean the grout as well. There is no reason for the operator to be on his/her knees to clean tile; a tile brush with a handle will do the job. Again, a word of caution: do not use household metal pads. These pads contain iron that will break down in the pool water and cause staining!

Other Tools

Two other tools are utilized in pool cleaning. One is a leaf vacuum. The device is designed to use with a garden hose. The water from the hose creates a venturi action that forces the leaves upward into a net. The leaf vacuum is great for those outdoor pools that become inundated with leaves and small tree seedlings. A neat trick in the swimming pool trade: if there are leaves floating on the pool surface, turn the leaf vacuum upside down, and let it float about the pool surface. The venturi action will pull the leaves downward and keep the operator from having to use a leaf net.

Hair pins or other objects on the pool floor may cause staining in that area. The use of a pumice stone will help remove the stains fairly quickly.

Optimum cleaning really depends on the hydraulics and circulation of the pool facility. Pool inlets should be adjusted for proper flow into areas that have a tendency to accumulate dirt and debris (e.g., pool coves, corners, steps and benches). If more than one skimmer is installed in the pool, when vacuuming through the skimmer, block off the other skimmers with the skimmer cover plates or rubber plugs. Do not use soda cans or tennis balls for this procedure. Tennis balls will absorb water and eventually will be pulled down into the skimmer line, creating a blockage that is costly and difficult to remove.

Automatic Pool Cleaners

Robotic Cleaners

The technical advancement in automatic pool cleaners has greatly decreased the amount of manual cleaning time for operators. There is a large assortment of suction, pressure and robotic cleaners. Historically, the robotic cleaner has been widely accepted by commercial operators. This cleaner operates either through electricity or battery power and should never be used when bathers are in the water. Many operators use the cleaners at night when the facility is closed.

Robotic cleaners are self-contained. This means that the power for moving the apparatus around the pool floor is not connected to the hydraulics of the pool system, but by use of an electrical motor within the cleaner itself. Since there is no attachment to the pool circulation system, the dirt and debris are collected within the unit or into a self-contained bag or cartridge filter. The cleaner must be speced for the pool area to be cleaned. Although some cleaners are costly, managers of larger pool environments have found them worth the cost as the cleaners will reach floor areas that cannot be reached with conventional cleaning vacuums.

The aquatic manager should research all the available options when requisitioning the purchase of a robotic cleaner.

· Decide how much time is desired to clean the pool.

· Determine how much can be afforded.

· Review the features and benefits of each cleaner.

· Research the warranty and reliability of each cleaner.

The manager should also understand how the cleaner is to be installed. Take caution in considering the location of the electrical outlet. The transformer must be plugged into a GFCI outlet, and the electrical cord needs to be long enough to ensure overall floor coverage.

Innovative technology is bringing the costs of these units into an affordable price range for parks and recreation facilities. The key is to match the unit to the design of your pool. The actual interior surface of the pool area should be considered. Whether the pool is concrete, fiberglass, ceramic or vinyl will make a difference in the type of robotic cleaner you select. All manufacturers now include various surface widths, gallons per hour on the suction rate, cable length and weight. Newer designs have a digital control panel, and some will climb the pool walls as well as clean the pool floor. Brushes and bristles are an excellent method of maintaining the condition of the pool surface. The self-contained cartridge filter will allow heavier entrapment of dirt within the cartridge.

Ironically, it is advisable that you choose a cleaner that provides slower operation. It should take at minimum five hours to thoroughly clean a commercial pool. Similar to cleaning a pool manually, these devices will stir up dirt off the floor and will not provide adequate cleaning if they are running too fast. Most robotic cleaners for commercial use now have a portable caddy available as the units are heavy and cumbersome. When reading the installation and operation manual, the operator will learn that these cleaners should not be pulled out of the water by the cord. Again, carefully read all the electrical warnings and installation procedures.

Diligence Will Pay Off

Whatever cleaning method your operators desire, the main issue is to be sure that the cleaning techniques are performed on a daily basis. Bather loads, environment and lack of care will create an unsightly and dirty pool. Poor pool cleaning and lack of any maintenance send a message to your clients and potential clients that your facility is unsafe. The attractiveness of your facility will ensure positive revenues now and into the future.

Connie Gibson Centrella is Program Director for the online Aquatic Engineering Program at KeiserUniversity eCampus. She is an industry veteran with over 40 years experience in the pool and spa industry. She is a former pool builder with extensive knowledge in pool construction and equipment installation as well as manufacturing.


About the Keiser University Aquatic Engineering Technology Degree

The Keiser University Associate of Science Aquatic Engineering Degree is a two-year degree consisting of 60 semester hours. Each student is required to complete 36 credit hours of major courses and 24 credit hours of general education courses. The degree program encourages students to broaden their knowledge in all aspects of swimming pool and spa management and operation. It is offered exclusively online, making the degree program available to the national and international community of pool and spa professionals, and those seeking employment in the field. The online format makes it possible to offer a global study program that enables schedule flexibility and increased access to those currently employed.

For more information about the Aquatic Engineering degree at Keiser University, visit and click on “Online Education,” or call 866-535-7371 or e-mail

Bryan BuchkoComment