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

Rob is a pool-service industry professional with over 20 years of experience.

This valve is in the "open" postion

This valve is in the "open" postion

Pool Valve Positions for Suction Cleaners

The valves that are pre-installed on a pool 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 known as a "pool-spa combo," so there will be another valve for the main spa 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. From left to right, they are 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.

Should the Pool Main Drain 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. A suction cleaner already does exactly what the main drain does, which is to pull water from the bottom of the pool. The water is just going through a different line but still pulling water from the bottom.

If the cleaner is taken out of the pool, the valves should be set differently. Open the main drain and then close the cleaner valve.

So it is either main drain+skimmer or cleaner+skimmer. Never main drain+skimmer+cleaner all open at the same time.

Having 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, having the main drain open can cause the cleaner to become stuck on the drain.

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

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

What If There Are Only Two 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 "suction" type cleaner

A "suction" type cleaner

The Three 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.


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.


This cleaner operates from the pump's return pressure or often has a "booster" pump. Water pressure from the pool return pushes the gears of the cleaner rather than pulls. This is VERY different than a suction cleaner.

Since pressure cleaners use a pool return line, there are no valves on the pump's front or (suction) side. 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 does 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.


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

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Rob Hampton

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