How to Vacuum a Pool: A Guide for Beginners

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Most people know the basics when it comes to cleaning their pool. They add chemicals, skim off any debris and dirt from the surface, and empty their skimmer baskets when they’re full.

Vacuuming is another to-do list task vital to the healthy operation of every pool. Maintaining an immaculate pool will require just as much focus on the pool’s surface as balancing the water. While vacuuming is a simple task that almost anyone can complete, there are several easy ways to do it wrong. In this guide, we’ll show you how to get it right the first time.

We will also answer common questions such as:

  • How often should you vacuum? 
  • Why is my vacuum’s suction so weak, and how can I improve it?
  • What kind of vacuum can you buy? 

These are all great questions! In this article, we’ll answer each of these and several more so that there’s no more confusion about how to vacuum a swimming pool properly.

Some of you will already own a pool vacuum, and others might own a shop vac. We will give two sets of instructions, and you can read the instructions applicable to you. We will start with the standard pool vacuum. Those of you who own a shop vac might want to skip ahead to the relevant section.

How to Vacuum a Pool with a Skimmer (Inground Pool)

This method will vary slightly depending on whether you use a multiport valve (Sand or DE Filters) or a two-position valve (Cartridge Filters).

Step 1) Assemble Your Pool Vacuum

Here’s the list of vacuum equipment that you’ll need for this method:

  • Pool Brush
  • Vacuum Plate (Optional, but highly recommended) 
  • Telescopic Pole
  • Vacuum Head
  • Vacuum Hose
  • Pool Brush

A pool brush is a tool for cleaning a swimming pool’s walls, corners, steps, and floor. They come in different shapes and sizes depending on what you want them to do. You can also choose from a variety of brushes with bristles or mesh screens.

Vacuum Plate

A vacuum plate is a piece of equipment that creates suction on the bottom of a swimming pool to capture dirt and debris. The vacuum plate is where you connect the nozzle of the vacuum hose.

Telescopic Pole

A telescopic pole comes in several different lengths. It’s best to have one that extends out a minimum of four feet so you can stand comfortably while vacuuming your pool bottom.

Vacuum Head

The vacuum head is the part of your pool vacuum that attaches to the telescopic pole or pipe. There are several vacuum head designs that you can consider, but we recommend using one with a small opening. A smaller head will increase the PSI of the suction since that force won’t be spread over the opening of a larger head. 

Vacuum Hose

The vacuum hose will need to be long enough to reach every area of the pool. 30 feet is a common size. However, the hose’s ideal length will vary depending on the reach of your other components, the dimensions of your pool, and where the water inlet to your filter system is located.

How to Assemble the Pool Vacuum:

  • Before assembling, turn the pool pump to “on.”
  • Attach the Vacuum Head to the Telescopic Pole.
  • Attach one end of the hose to the vacuum head. If needed, use a hose clamp to keep the attachment secured.
  • The vacuum plate should be sitting on the floor of the pool
  • Take the unattached end of the pool hose and place it up against the return jet. The return jet will push water through the vacuum hose and purge any air still inside the line. As the air leaves the hose, the hose will sink into the water
  • If you have a vacuum plate on your pool brush, attach it to the bottom of the telescopic pole. If you don’t have a vacuum plate, place the bottom of your pool brush onto a straight pipe or vacuum head and screw it on tightly to avoid air leakage. How long should I make my hose? You can choose from different sizes of hose depending

Step 2) Switch Valves to “Filter” or “Waste” 

There are two filter valve settings you can choose from based on whether you use cartridge, sand, or diatomaceous earth filters and how much debris is in your pool.

Sand and Diatomaceous Earth Filter Settings

For this task, you can treat these sand and diatomaceous filters identically. You’ll either want to use the “Filter” or “Waste” settings. 

If Your Pool Has Little to No Debris:

When vacuuming, it is easy to clog your filters with leaves and other debris. If your pool is mostly clean of larger debris, the filtration system will be able to handle it just fine.

Turn your filter valve to the “FILTER” setting, which is just past the “off” position. This position allows pool water into your vacuum head or pipe so you can start cleaning up debris that may have fallen on the bottom of your pool. 

If Your Pool Has Moderate or Excessive Debris:

If there is a moderate level of debris, we don’t want to clog the filtration system with that debris. Turn your filter valve to “waste” to bypass the filtration system and send everything you vacuum straight out of the pool. 

Unfortunately, there is a downside to this setting. When expelling debris, you are also expelling a lot of water. Since we don’t want to lower the water level, it is probably a good idea to toss a hose into the pool so that you can replace the water as it drains. 

Note: If you recently used a pool flocculant, you should treat it as debris. Expel it with the “Waste” setting.

Cartridge Filter Settings

Cartridge filters do not use multiport valves unless modifications have been made to add a bypass to the filtration system. If there is a bypass, follow the same guidelines as the sand filters. Otherwise, switch the filter to “filter” and clean the filtration system at the end of the vacuuming session.

It’s possible that the PSI reading can climb enough that you’ll need to clean it partway into the vacuuming session. We can’t tell you a specific PSI to indicate when you should stop and clean the filters. The PSI number changes from one system to the next.

We can say to clean the filter if the PSI climbs ten above whatever number returns to after you clean the filters. If you don’t already know that number, it might be a good idea to clean those filters before continuing.

Step 3) Submerge Vacuum Attachments to Purge Air Bubbles

We need to flush the air from the hose by submerging the hose and vacuum head in the pool. 

  • The vacuum head should rest in the pool, while the end with the vacuum plate should be pressed up against the return line port.
  • Wait for a little bit as the return fills the hose with water.
  • When the hose sinks into the water, and the air bubbles stop coming out of the vacuum head, grab the end with the vacuum plate. Before raising the plate out of the water, cover the hold on the vacuum plate (If there is one) with the palm of your hand. This will keep the water inside the tube and the water out of it.
  • With the hole covered as much as possible, bring the end with the vacuum plate into the skimmer box and secure the vacuum plate over the inlet to the pool pump. If you aren’t using a vacuum plate, insert the vacuum tube’s nozzle into the pool pump line. The suction should keep the tube in place.

Step 4) Slowly Vacuum the Walls and Floor 

Slowly vacuum the pool with long strokes. If you move too quickly, there is almost no point in even vacuuming. Moving fast will lift the debris off the floor, the vacuum will pass over the spot, and the debris will settle back down upon the floor. The settling can take minutes to hours, so take your time, or you’ll nullify your efforts. 

Unfortunately, even slow movements will move the debris around a little bit. To counter this, overlap the vacuuming strokes to pick up any debris that was pushed over already covered terrain.

At this point, if a multiport valve is set to “filter,” you’ll want to pay attention to the pool pump’s PSI. If the PSI reading climbs to 10 PSI above the PSI of what you would expect with freshly cleaned filters, stop the vacuuming, and clean or replace the filters before continuing with the vacuuming.

Step 5) Take Your Vacuum Apart and Set Valve to “Filter”

When the pool is clean, you should separate the vacuum into its constituent parts and clean them. You should also switch the multiport or two-way valve to its original filter setting.

If you have a two-way valve with a filter bypass, make sure to switch that back so the filtration system can filter the water once again.

Step 6) Clean the Filters

Cleaning or backwashing the filters is optional, but we recommend it if your filter was set to “filter.” If it was set to “waste,” it will only need cleaning if it already needed it before you started vacuuming.

Do You Have Any Lingering Questions?

If you have any questions, you might want to head to the “Questions and Answers” section at the bottom of the page. It might just have the answers you want to know.  

How to Vacuum Your Pool Without a Skimmer (Above Ground Pool)

There are several ways to vacuum a pool without a skimmer. If your pool does not have a skimmer, then we will assume it is an above-ground pool. In all likelihood, this means it is an Intex. 

It also likely means that your pool pump is probably too weak to create the necessary suction to vacuum your pool. If that’s the case, don’t worry. The following method does not use your pool pump, so you should be fine

How to Vacuum a Pool with a Shop Vac

Did you know that a shop-vac of wet and dry operation? It’s true! If you don’t already have a pool vacuum, don’t want to buy one, and already own a shop-vac, you can equip that shot-vac to handle the job.

Step 1) Remove the Collection Bag

Before you can use the shop vac, you’ll need to remove the collection bag. It’s really easy to do. The lid of the shop-vac can be detached by popping off the two fasteners positioned on opposite sides.

When the lid has been taken off the base, removing the collection bag is as simple as grabbing it and yoinking it off of the intake nozzle.

Step 2) Replace the Dry Filter with a Wet Filter

The dry filter that comes standard with the shop-vac is what will trap most of the debris and dirt as your vacuum. However, if you try to use it when vacuuming a pool, all those particles can not only clog up but also damage the wet “dry filter” underneath.

That’s why we recommend replacing this one with a wet filter. This will allow water to pass through the wet filter so that it can more easily trap any debris in the pool.

Step 3) Attach the Right Nozzle

We want to avoid sounding patronizing since you probably don’t need clarification on this step. Avoid using attachments that unnecessarily reduce suction. We recommend using a nozzle with a wide but still narrow opening at the nozzle. The broad width will make it easier to clean a large area quickly while being narrow will reduce any loss in suction.

Step 4) Use a GFCI Outlet

If possible, use a GFCI outlet as a safety measure to hopefully eliminate the potential for electrocution. GFCI outlets are identifiable by the “reset” and “test” buttons typically located between the two power ports.

If the vacuum falls into the water and electricity channels into that water, the GFCI outlet will sense this disruption and break the outlet’s connection to the house’s electrical grid.

Step 5) Vacuum the Water

Vacuum the walls and the floors. If you can’t reach portions of the walls or floor, you can use extensions for the vacuum. Try not to extend the length of the tubing beyond what is necessary. When you extend the tubing, you decrease the available suction at the nozzle.

Step 6) Empty When Full

Barring any region-specific laws, you can dump the dirty water anywhere you might get rid of backwashed water. In other words, dump it in the backyard or straight into the sewer system.

Step 7) Disinfect the Canister and any accessories

When the job is done, you’ll need to sterilize the vacuum. Without sterilization, the mix of bacteria and a damp dark space will lead to mold and mildew. Before you put it away, clean all of the interior spaces, including the hose, with the following mixture:

Chlorine Solution (1 Part Chlorine: 16 Parts Water)

  • 1 Gallon of Water
  • 1 Cup of Chlorine Bleach

Household chlorine bleach has a rough sodium hypochlorite concentration of 5.25%, so 1 cup of chlorine bleach isn’t as concentrated as it might sound. Still, whatever the concentration, it’s best to limit your skin’s exposure.

Step 8) Let the Vacuum Dry and Put it Away

Turn the canister upside-down and wait for it to dry. The chlorine will already have destroyed most of the bacteria responsible for mold and mildew. That said, you should still wait for the vacuum’s filtration to fully dry before you put it back together.

Can’t Reach the Pool’s Deep End?

Unless you already have extra-long shop vac tubing, a long manual pool cleaner hose would probably be a good investment. These hoses come in several lengths, and they are made to reach every inch of your pool’s surfaces. They typically have a diameter of 1.5 inches. Shop vacs tend to come with a few adapters, and one of those will typically adapt the shop vac ports to the 1.5″ diameter of the tubing.

Questions and Answers

How often should I vacuum my pool?

You should vacuum your pool once or twice every week. The answer depends on how many people are using the pool and how much debris falls into your pool.

How do I get the best suction power?

Use a shorter vacuum hose, empty the vacuum when it’s full, submerge the tubing within the water, and make sure the vacuum plate is secured onto the pool pump line inside the skimmer basket area.

How do I make sure not to lose the vacuum head into the water? 

If you’re worried about losing your vacuum head or wand, try attaching a rope or string. This way, if it falls in – but is still connected to its tubing and power cord – you can pull it back up without having to go in after it.

How do I keep my pool clean without the hassle of vacuuming? 

You can buy an automatic swimming pool vacuum if you just want things done for you. These products are rather expensive, but they’re worth it if time is an issue. You can also consider hiring a professional to clean your pool for you.

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