- Comparing the 7 Best Above Ground Pool Vacuums
- 1. Dolphin Escape: Best Robotic Pool Cleaner to Buy
- 2. Zodiac Ranger W01698: The Best Electric Pool Vacuum
- 3. Hayward 900 Wanda: Affordable & Compact Option
- 4. Pentair K50600: A Powerful & Durable Above Ground Vacuum
- 5. Aquabot Pool Rover: Best Option for Hygienic Cleaning
- 6. Smartpool NC22: Smart & Multi-Purpose Pool Cleaner
- 7. Pool Rover S2-40: Nice Vac with Extra Replacement Filter Bag
- How Do Above Ground Pool Vacuums Work?
- How Do Robotic Cleaners Work?
- Above Ground Pool Vacuums vs. Robotic Cleaners
- Types of Above Ground Pool Cleaners
- What Makes Above Ground Pool Vacuums So Great?
- Points to Consider When Selecting an Above Ground Pool Cleaner
- Wrap Up
If you own an above ground pool, then chances are you are cleaning it yourself. That can result in a lot of time after work or during weekends vacuuming out debris that has been collected in the pool.
Handheld vacuums have long made this kind of pool cleaning possible. But there is a better way. Automatic and robotic pool cleaners do it for you without having to attend to them as they work!
In that spirit, let us look at the seven best above ground pool vacuums and robotic cleaners on the market. We have also added a buying guide that should help you make the perfect choice based on your specific needs.
Comparing the 7 Best Above Ground Pool Vacuums
Our review for each pool cleaner is quite in-depth. But it can also help to have a brief overview for comparison of what sets each product apart. Towards that end, we have added this chart that underscores some of the most important aspects of these popular automatic cleaners.
|Dolphin Escape Robotic||Robotic Vacuum||22.6 lbs||Check Price|
|Zodiac Ranger W01698||Vacuum||15 lbs||Check Price|
|Titleist 718 AP3 Irons||Vacuum||15.65 lbs||Check Price|
|Pentair K50600||Vacuum||14.05 lbs||Check Price|
|Aquabot APRVJR||Robotic Vacuum||10 lbs||Check Price|
|Smartpool SmartKleen NC22||Robotic Vacuum||18 lbs||-|
|Pool Rover Model S2 40||Robotic Vacuum||26.9 lbs||Check Price|
We are confident that once you invest in an automated cleaner, you will never go back to a traditional vacuum. Although the list is relatively short, consumers will discover a great deal of variety here. Often, specific features that you value will make a product rise up the list and perhaps even all the way to the top.
1. Dolphin Escape: Best Robotic Pool Cleaner to Buy
- High-capacity cartridge system outperforms bags.
- Track-based movement delivers stable, continuous operation.
- Active scrubbing brushes dislodge stubborn deposits.
Dolphin by Maytronics is a brand name synonymous with the best robotic cleaners for above ground pools. The Escape has a one-year warranty, and up to three years of extended coverage is available.
The Escape is actually the entry-level model in the product line-up. But this all-new Escape has been completely innovated with new tech and really is the new standard for all robot pool cleaners.
New onboard DC motors have made it even more powerful at an even lesser power draw. It needs just 180 watts or about 5 cents an hour. The vacuum is quite powerful, and the active scrubbing system has been redesigned to ensure that even the most stubborn deposits are eliminated.
Traction is another big improvement. The Dolphin Escape sticks to the floor and as it climbs walls. That makes it the most efficient robot we tested in terms of getting the job done well and fast.
Filter access has been redesigned as well. Pop it open. Pull the filter out. It washes with ease. Then, you just pop it back in. Your Escape is ready to rock the next time the pool needs vacuuming.
At this price, there is not much to complain about. But we would have liked to seen the smartphone app supported by the deluxe models adopted here as well. This unit is also not well-suited to particulates like fine sand, but there is an attachment you can purchase separately to upgraded your Escape.
2. Zodiac Ranger W01698: The Best Electric Pool Vacuum
- The entire design is based around a single moving part.
- Deflector wheels helps to avoid most hang-ups.
- Self-adjusting waterflow is achieved via a specialized valve.
The Zodiac Ranger is the best product amount the side-pressure and side-suction solutions we tested. It slots in at the number two slot because it just is not as convenient as the Dolphin Escape. In addition, it attaches to the skimmer and requires the pool pump and pool filter you already have.
That said, as suction-side cleaners go, Ranger is the best. We love that it comes preassembled, and it took us just a few minutes to get it operating even the very first time we used it.
The deflector wheel design is superb. A problem with such pool cleaners is that they tend to get hung up a lot. But the wheel provided here does a great job of avoiding pool ladders and other obstacles.
Be aware that this product is not suitable for soft-sided pools, such as many Intex products.
3. Hayward 900 Wanda: Affordable & Compact Option
- Supports programming a pattern specific to your pool.
- Integrated bumper ring helps to avoid walls and obstacles.
- Lightweight design means that a high-GPM pump is not required.
The Hayward 900 is another excellent option for those in the market for an automatic but not robotic pool cleaner. Setup time and the deflector wheel are the main reasons we rank the Ranger ahead.
It may not matter to some, but we love the aesthetics. You can choose Wanda the Whale, Aquabug or Penguin, which makes your pool cleaner look like a decoration rather than a tool.
Setup is described as “less than 10 minutes.” We found it reasonably easy to get going, and we are sure it gets easier with familiarity. But the Zodiac Ranger is much simpler out of the box. We also found that the provided hoses are not long enough for any pool 30 feet or larger.
That said, once operating, the Haywood 900 Wanda is a gem. The turbine system ensures a constant and balanced water flow that keeps the unit moving. The bumper helps to avoid disruptions, and we are impressed overall just how fast and efficiently the steering system was able to complete the job.
4. Pentair K50600: A Powerful & Durable Above Ground Vacuum
- Hydraulic design delivers optimal vacuuming power for your setup.
- The one-moving-part design ensures a long life for this product.
- Uses a true random pattern for optimal cleaning without programming.
Pentair is among the most respected names in pool vacuums. In fact, Kreepy Krauly is among the original EZ-vacs on the market. It has not changed much, so it says something that we rank it so highly.
What you should know up front—and the reason it falls behind the Ranger and the Wanda—is that it requires a ¾-hp pump. It is also not compatible with Intex filters out of the box. Finally, its approach to deflection is probably its biggest shortcoming, so expect it to get hung up if you do not account for it.
Those issues aside, the Kreepy Krauly may be the best value on the market when you consider the cost and the decade you are likely to get out of it. It can be noisy, but the design is super-solid otherwise.
5. Aquabot Pool Rover: Best Option for Hygienic Cleaning
- Pool Rover Junior comes with a 40-foot cable that floats.
- The filter bag is reusable and filters silt down to 2 microns.
- Junior can vacuum practically any flat-bottom pool in under an hour.
The Aquabot APRVJR, more commonly known as the Pool Rover Junior, is the second robotic cleaner on our list. This machine is not without its shortcomings, which we will get to, but just look at the price. This is arguably the best value on the market, and that makes it a great entry point into robotic cleaners.
Rover Junior has its own pump. The navigation system is well-refined, and a 40-foot floating cable is included. We tend to prefer cartridge filters, but the filter bag provided here is impressive in terms of the silt, algae and so forth that it collects. You can just wash it out too, and the bag is built to last.
We love the automatic shutoff timer for unattended use. What we do not like is the omission of the anti-tangle swivel that Aquabot includes on its other models. Rover Junior can get hung up. You want to prepare the pool before use so that you do not return home to an unfinished job.
6. Smartpool NC22: Smart & Multi-Purpose Pool Cleaner
- Tracking component does not require walls in order to turn.
- Traction system makes its suitable for any pool surface.
- It detects surface type and adjusts accordingly for optimal cleaning.
The SmartKleen NC22 is among the most impressive robots we tested in terms of navigation. It does not use walls to guide itself. That means the shape of your pool or any special features do not matter.
It actually tracks based on identifying deposits, which makes it fast and efficient. The unit is also able to calibrate itself based on the surface being cleaned, and that helps to make it very efficient as well.
The 2-hour automatic timer is a welcome feature for unattended use.
Cleaning the filter bag is not as convenient as some models. We also wish Smartpool had opted for a tangle-free cord because the cord that ships with it guarantees wasted time during cleanup.
7. Pool Rover S2-40: Nice Vac with Extra Replacement Filter Bag
- Features a floating cord that extends out 40 feet.
- A washable filter bag traps algae, bacteria, sand and much more.
- The navigation system lets it vacuum most pools in under and hour.
This is version 2 of the Rover Junior by Aquabot discussed earlier.
Think of it more as mid-product-life refresh than a second version. In fact, we could not find much difference, and many retailers are selling them interchangeably and even at the same prices.
In some cases, however, V1 was less expensive, which is why we wanted to distinguish it.
Otherwise, you get great value for your dollar and a robotic cleaner that cleans just about any pool in under an hour and most faster than that. We were hoping for the anti-tangle in V2, but no luck.
Filtration is very impressive at this price point. The filter bag is not as convenient as a cartridge, but it is reusable. Just wash it out. It is also well-made, so you can expect it to hold up long-term.
How Do Above Ground Pool Vacuums Work?
Automatic above ground pool cleaners can either operate on the suction side or the pressure side of the filter-pump. In both cases, they depend on your existing pool equipment to function, and in some cases, such as with pressure side, they made need additional equipment like a booster pump to work properly.
Both the suction and pressure types tend to have a guidance system and an avoidance system. They can clean floors but often walls and the waterline as well. Some will have a local filter bag, but many send the collected debris back to the main pool filter to be filtered by that unit.
The most advanced of these actually use a pattern programmed to your specific pool for traversal. Often, however, the pattern is randomized or based on wall detection and distance travelled.
How Do Robotic Cleaners Work?
Robotic cleaners are self-contained. They have a local pump or two and tend to have brushes that can scrub deposits off floor and walls. This can make robots much more effective in many scenarios.
Robots do not need the pool pump or filter. All filtration is handled locally either through a filter bag, a cartridge-based filtration system or a combination of these approaches.
Robotic cleaners also have guidance and avoidance systems, but these are often much more sophisticated. Computerized tracking can identify debris and deposits and even set a course through your pool that minimizes the time required and thus the energy consumed.
Above Ground Pool Vacuums vs. Robotic Cleaners
Robotic cleaners require a bigger upfront investment.
But they are also faster. Robots can clean most pools in 20-45 minutes. Automatic cleaners are much less precise and can take upward of two hours to clean a pool completely.
Automatic cleaners generally require more effort to set up and break down. You will likely have to backflush the filter after, whereas a robot is more plug-and-play and just needs basic filter cleaning.
Types of Above Ground Pool Cleaners
When it comes to automatic vacuums for above ground pools, there are three main types:
- Suction: Suction and suction-side models depend on suction created by a pool pump, so that is a requirement. These units are generally limited to a predetermined or randomized path. Some have their own filter bag, but most rely on pool filtration, which means you have backwash and clean the skimmer after use.
- Pressure: Pressure or pressure-side models have an intake that accepts water from the pressurized side of the pump. This pressure not only powers the wheels but creates a suction the pulls in debris. These units generally need a booster pump, which often limits them to installations and remodels.
- Robotic: Robotic cleaners have computerized navigation and are self-contained, which means they do not use the pool pump or filter. Programming is usually required, but once programmed, these units tend to be very hands-off. It is generally recommended that the pool pump be off while the robot is working. These units do require some cleaning and other maintenance but not as much as suction and pressure models.
What Makes Above Ground Pool Vacuums So Great?
No matter how effective your pool filter is, it cannot do it all.
Your pool will collect large debris that must be removed from the pool another way.
You also have to skim the waterline and scrub the walls and floor to eliminate buildup that can otherwise have a residual negative effect on water quality.
Both robotic and automatic cleaners are more time-effective than using handheld tools, such as a manual pool vacuum, a skimming net, pool brushes and so forth.
The three core benefits are:
1. Less Work
With a robot, vacuuming and scrubbing are chores you no longer have to do yourself. You will have to perform robot maintenance, but that is a lot less work than actually cleaning the swimming pool.
2. More Pool Time
Any time you are vacuuming or scrubbing, you are using valuable pool time. A robot cleaner, however, can do its thing while you are at work and the kids are at school and even in the middle of the night.
3. Better Return on Investment
Robotic cleaners are certainly a bigger upfront investment. But basic cleaners can last five years or more, and robots that have replaceable parts can last eight years or even longer.
Points to Consider When Selecting an Above Ground Pool Cleaner
Our team has identified 11 items that you will want to consider. Understanding what you like in these categories will make it much easier to find the best above ground pool robotic cleaner for you.
• Cleaner Type
Some robotic pool cleaners are limited to vacuuming the floor. Others can clean lower wall sections and even coves, and the most sophisticated models can clean entire walls and even the waterline.
• Bag or Bagless
Bag is somewhat of a misnomer since robotic pool vacuums rarely have external bags. Some will have a receptacle that you empty. Others will have a filtration system that requires cleaning and/or replacement, and many models combine these strategies for somewhat of a hybrid approach.
• Corded or Cordless
This choice is a trade-off. Corded models are generally cheaper and more reliable, but you do have the inconvenience and potential trip hazard of a cord stretched across your pool area. Cordless models, on the other hand, need to be recharged, and that adds bit of additional maintenance to your cleaner.
• Swimming Pool Size and Shape
For corded models, your power supply will need to be situated at least 12 feet from the pool edge. From that PSU, the cord will need to extend to the farthest side of the pool. For above ground pools, you must consider both the height and depth and ensure that the robot is suitable to those measurements. Irregularly shaped areas may need cleaned by hand if the cleaner does not support such behavior.
• Filtration Rate
How powerful the filtration you need will depend on the overall size of your pool. In order to compare relative filtration effectiveness between models, you will want to consider the maximum flowrate, the capacity for collected debris and the micron value. A smaller micron value indicates finer filtration.
• Power Consumption
Power draw across almost all models on the market is quite low. PG&E in California conducted a 2009 study in which it found that even the greediest robot cleaners cost less than $60 in energy if operated on a daily basis, so look for outliers, but there is no need to worry too much about power draw.
• Physical Weight and Weight Distribution
Can the pool walls support the weight? Will you find the weight inconvenient to lift? These are the main factors you will want to consider. Concerning weight distribution, the better balanced a robot cleaner, the more stable and maneuverable it will be, which lends itself to overall effectiveness.
• Dirt and Debris to Be Cleared
This is a big one and concerns your expectations. Your average robotic pool cleaner can remove fine particulates, eliminate manual vacuuming and help the main pool filter run more efficiently. If you get a lot of leaves and want a pool cleaner that will remove those so that you do not have to extract them with a net, then you will generally need a more powerful machine with that specific feature.
• Ease of Use
The more sophisticated the navigation system, the less you have to rescue your stuck robot. The other point to consider is maintenance. The amount of upkeep required can vary greatly from one robot to the next, so you will want to note what the requirements are in advance of making the purchase.
Price may be an obvious consideration, but you need to look beyond just the initial purchase. Expected longevity and any provided warranty are important factors. What are the maintenance costs, such as filter replacements? Will you need additional accessories, such as hoses and hose weights?
In a vacuum—see what we did there?—the Dolphin Escape is by far the best robotic pool cleaner on the market. It provides much of the features that you get on machines that are much more expensive.
The Pool Rover Junior by Aquabot is an excellent alternative to the top above ground pool vacuum. Is it the total package the Escape is? No. But it also costs a third of the price, which is a big win in our book.
If you are in the market for the best automatic above ground pool vacuum, then it is hard to go wrong with the Ranger by Zodiac. Value, ease of use and durability are all there in spades