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How to Set Valves for an In-Ground Swimming Pool Automatic Cleaner

Updated on June 7, 2017
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Licensed Pool Service industry professional with over 20 years of experience.

A "suction" type cleaner
A "suction" type cleaner

Types of Pool Cleaners

There are many different brands of automatic cleaners yet there are only three "types" of cleaners. These are either suction, pressure or robotic cleaners.

  • "Suction" This cleaner will use the hydraulic pull from the pool pump to pull water through the cleaner. The cleaner itself is comprised of gears that begin to work when suction is applied allowing it to move throughout the pool pulling in debris as it passes over it.
  • "Pressure" This cleaner is one that operates from the return pressure of the pump, or often have a "booster" pump. Water pressure from the pool return pushes the gears of the cleaner rather than pull. This is VERY different than a suction cleaner.
  • "Robotic" This cleaner uses electric power to operate. The most common robotic cleaners will have a water-proofed power cord that will plug into an outlet near the pool.


This valve is in the "open" postion
This valve is in the "open" postion

Valve Positioning for Suction Cleaners

The valves on a pool that are pre-built for an automatic suction side cleaner are usually set up the same way. There may be some variations such as the type of valve used (Ball valve, or 3-way valve) and the actual plumbed position of the valve. Either way, the flow of the water through certain valves is what is important.

Your pool may have a spa, which is known as a "pool-spa combo" so there will be another valve for the spa main drain. Normal operation of the pool requires this valve to stay closed. In the photo below, there are four valves. These are "3-way" style valves. They are, from left to right, SPA MAIN DRAIN, CLEANER, SKIMMER, and POOL MAIN DRAIN.

For the cleaner to operate at maximum efficiency, only the skimmer and cleaner valves should be open. No other valves should be open.

Valves are positioned for a suction cleaner. Main drain fully closed, skimmer open half way, cleaner line fully opened.
Valves are positioned for a suction cleaner. Main drain fully closed, skimmer open half way, cleaner line fully opened.

Should the Main Drain Valve be Open?

No.Not if you are using a suction type of cleaner. The purpose of a pool main drain is to pull water from the bottom of the pool through the pump and filtration system. With a suction cleaner operating, it is already doing exactly what the main drain does which is to pull water from the bottom of the pool. The water is simply just going through a different line but still pulling from the bottom.

If the cleaner is taken out of the pool, the valves will be set differently. Opening the main drain and then closing the cleaner valve. So it is either main drain+skimmer or cleaner+skimmer. Never main drain+skimmer+cleaner all open at the same time. All valves open will not hurt the equipment but the cleaner will not operate correctly. When more suction is applied to the cleaner, it will operate better. Also, with the main drain open, this can cause the cleaner to become stuck on the drain.

What if there are only 2 Valves?

Many pools have suction type cleaners without having a dedicated line for it. This will connect into the skimmer. The Valves would be set as skimmer open, main drain closed. Most cleaners come with a skimmer adapter that allow adjustable flow to be able to skim as well as having the cleaner connected.

A "Pressure" style cleaner
A "Pressure" style cleaner

Pressure Cleaners

Since pressure cleaners use a pool return line there are no valves on the front, or (suction) side of the pump for it. Some systems have a dedicated return line for this in which a booster pump is used to create a stronger return flow to the cleaner. A booster pump is usually on a separate timer from the main pool pump and normally do not have any valves to adjust for flow. Without a booster pump, a threaded adapter will be used on one of the pool wall returns. In this case the flow can only be adjusted by the amount of pool return pressure.

A "Robotic" style cleaner
A "Robotic" style cleaner

Robotic Cleaners

There is really not much to say about this style of pool cleaner. Throw it in the pool and plug into a power source. No valves involved at all.

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