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The Science Behind Pool Cleaning

Best Practices for Robotic Pool Cleaners in Commercial Pools

By Richard K. Cacioppo Sr., J.D.

Routine Robotics

Robotic pool cleaners can be easily incorporated into the protocol of any medium-to-large aquatic facility. Their operation is simple: plug it in, program the unit for coverage and length of operating time, and drop it in the water. For example, a typical YMCA pool might be 23 meters long, have more than 87,000 gallons of water, and see heavy usage in terms of swimming lessons, water aerobics, swim meets and other programs. At the end of the day, after all swimmers have left, the facility manager/operator starts the daily pool cleaning regimen—in compliance with provincial health codes—before the pool can be reopened the next day.

The daily closing routine typically involves testing and treating the water. However, one of the latest best management practices (BMPs) used by facility managers is to start the pool cleaning routine by placing a robotic cleaner into the pool first, before performing any other maintenance.

Alex Sutherland, a certified pool operator (CPO) and director of facility services for Family YMCA in St. Thomas, Ontario, now has his staff begin their normal pool closing routine by plugging in a robotic cleaner and placing it in the center of the pool first. In one of the United States' grand hotels, The Homestead in Warm Springs, Va., managed by a property management company that specializes in ultra-luxury hotels and resorts that has numerous pools and even a lazy river, an hour after they are closed, the manager directs a staff of many employees to spend hours manually cleaning them. This is the rule, not the exception in most lodging facility pools.

"We started using robotic cleaners three years ago when regulations changed and we could no longer use our suction-side cleaning system due to the potential risk of entrapment," said Sutherland, whose facility is open 16 hours a day, 364 days a year. "Before we started using robotic cleaners, the 25-meter pool was manually vacuumed three times per week, taking approximately two hours each time, and we didn't necessarily get every square inch of the pool either."

By using a robotic pool cleaner, Sutherland feels like he has hired a worker who continually cleans the pool seven to eight hours every night without taking breaks. That said, robotic cleaners are programmable to run any length of time, and most aquatic facility operators leave the unit in the pool to operate overnight. Once it has completed its cleaning cycle, the unit should be removed from the pool, drained and stored for the next day's use.

According to Richard Deakin, commercial project manager at Hollandia Pools in Toronto, most of his customers have started to incorporate the use of robotic cleaners into their regular maintenance as well.

"Our customers tend to be those who are proactively working to ensure the highest water and air quality at their facilities—above and beyond what is dictated by the board of health," Deakin said. "Robotic cleaners are just another tool to ensure the cleanest pool possible using today's technology, in addition to ultraviolet (UV) light, chemical controllers, etc."

Another benefit of robotic cleaners is that at times, commercial pools can become so dirty that they require more than one full cleaning. Therefore, a nice feature to look for in a robotic cleaner is a "time delay" option, which allows the user to set the cleaner to start again three to five hours after completing the first cleaning. This allows any dirt that has been lifted to settle back down to the pool floor to be picked up on the second pass.

"The robotic cleaner has become central to our entire system of cleaning," said Sutherland, who owns two units, just in case one fails for any particular reason. "A robotic cleaner is a piece of equipment just like any other, which needs belts, cords and other parts that may need to be changed or repaired. We can no longer survive a day without our robotic cleaner, so having a backup unit allows us to always be prepared."

On another note, by eliminating the time-consuming task of manually cleaning the pool, a robotic pool cleaner can provide a service professional with additional time to work on other aspects involved in maintaining an aquatic facility. "We have gained six-plus hours for pool maintenance, which I have redirected to have our staff clean the change rooms at our facility," Sutherland said. "We understand that first impressions are important, and we want to be sure our customers always come into a clean change room every morning. Further, staff can now also focus on water chemistry, pool safety checks and general interaction with customers. Plus, the cleaner the pool is keeps customers happier and healthier."

Benefits of Using Robotic Pool Cleaners

  • No skill or training is required. Computerized guidance system does all the work.
  • Saves effort and labor. Simply plug it in and set the program and timer.
  • Efficiently covers up to 99 per cent of the pool floor.
  • Robotic pool cleaners travel up to 22.2 meters per minute (73 fpm), which is much faster than manual cleaning.
  • Cleans, brushes and filters simultaneously. The rotating scrubbing brushes are made of durable, absorbent materials.
  • Quickly removes debris (e.g., dirt, sand, leaves, insects, hair, pebbles, etc.), and breaks up and removes algae and bacteria.
  • Reduces energy/electricity costs.
  • Smoothens surfaces and helps to preserve concrete pool finishes.
  • Certified safe with no chance of shock or injuries to operators or bathers.
  • A robotic cleaner can pay for itself approximately two years after it is incorporated into an aquatic facility's maintenance regime.
  • Manufacturers offer different plans to aquatic facilities for leasing and/or purchase options.