Expert Advice from Pool Industry insiders

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How Does A Pool Skimmer Work? How Many Do I Need? Most Popular Questions Answered

how does a pool skimmer work

A pool skimmer works by removing debris from the water surface. This helps maintain the cleanliness of the pool.

Pool skimmers remove leaves, sticks, and insects from the pool water. They are usually installed near the pool’s edge, where surface water is sucked into a basket and strained for debris.

There are two types of pool skimmers: electrical and mechanical.

Electric pool skimmers use an electric motor and water pump to draw water into a basket strainer. The water then flows back into the pool directly from the unit.

Mechanical pool skimmers use your existing pool pump system to push dirty surface water into and through a basket strainer and send the clean water into the intake side of your pool filter.

How Does A Pool Skimmer Function?

All pool skimmers function by creating a current of moving water that sucks surface debris into some sort of filter or strainer device, where the debris is trapped and held until the pool owner empties it.

Why Use a Pool Skimmer?

There are several advantages to using a pool skimmer.

First, it keeps the pool cleaner.

Second, it reduces the need for chemical treatments.

Third, it makes cleaning easier and less frequent.

Fourth, it allows you to use a smaller pool filter.

Fifth, it saves money by keeping your pool water cleaner, longer.

Sixth, it improves the appearance of the pool.

Finally, it extends the life of the pool’s filtration system.

Other Uses of a Pool Skimmer

how does a pool skimmer work

Many people don’t realize that a skimmer basket is a convenient place to add chemicals, minerals, and/or air into your pool system without opening up the filter housing.

If you’d rather add chlorine tablets whenever you feel like it, then drop a couple of tablets to the bottom of your skimmer basket. Then run your pump for an hour or so to circulate the water.  Your filter will get a nice shock, and the chlorine will be delivered slowly and evenly throughout your pool.

You can also use your pool skimmer to siphon off water from one side of the filter to the other.

When using a suction-side pool vacuum, you can attach the suction hose to the return line below the skimmer basket.

If you do this, ensure that you remove the basket and that the hose’s end is sealed tightly against the return water inlet. Otherwise, there will be no way to seal the water inlet to prevent leaks.

How to Clean A Pool Skimmer?

Cleaning a pool skimmer is very easy.

If you want to remove debris from your pool skimmer, you need to empty the water and replace it with fresh water.

You can also wash the skimmer using soap and warm water.

How To Use Your Pool Skimmer?

how does a pool skimmer work

Using your pool skimmer is very simple.

You need to open the lid and let the water flow through.

As the water passes through the skimmer, it picks up debris.

As soon as the water exits the skimmer, it goes back to the pool.

How Often Should You Service A Pool Skimmer?

It depends on how dirty the pool is.

If the pool is really dirty, you should be able to see some debris floating around.

In this case, you may need to clean the pool skimmer every day or two.

However, if the pool looks clean, you don’t need to service the pool skimmer often. 

Most people check and empty their pool skimmers once a week in high season.

How Much Does A Pool Skimmer Cost?

how much does a pool cost to maintain

Permanently installed mechanical pool skimmers typically add several hundred dollars to your pool installation cost.

Floating and self-powered pool skimmers cost between $200 and $1,500 depending on the size of pool, power source, and features.

Buying A Pool Skimmer? Factors to Consider

Here are some things to consider when choosing a pool skimmer for your new or existing swimming pool:

Cleaning Capacity

How many gallons per minute of water flow through the skimmer? 

This will determine the suction power and debris removal rate of every type of pool skimmer.  

For a mechanical pool skimmer, the gallons-per-minute flow rate of your pool pump system will determine this rate. The total amount of water flow does not change if you have multiple skimmers installed.

If you are looking at a self-powered floating pool skimmer, how much surface area will the model cover each hour/day?  Is the navigation intelligent or random?  Can it reach into sharp corners and irregular spots?

How Many Skimmers Do I Need?

how does a pool skimmer work

The number of skimmers required for a swimming pool depends on how big the pool is and what type of pool pump you use. 

The rule of thumb is to add 1 skimmer for every 300-500 square feet of pool surface area.

A typical large in-ground household swimming pool will use 2-3 skimmers.  

A smaller above-ground pool will typically require just one.

For example, a smaller 16×24 foot pool would require 1 skimmer to handle its 384 sqft of surface area.

Where To Install A Permanent Pool Skimmer?

There are three places to install a permanent pool skimmer: above ground, underground, and inside the wall.

Above-ground installations are usually done manually, while underground and in-wall installations require special equipment.

Power Consumption

If you are looking at an electric model, how much power does the pool skimmer consume? 

Because they operate on 12V or 24V DC power, most electric pool skimmers only consume 50-100W of energy while running, or about the same as a light bulb.

Solar pool skimmers, on the other hand, require no electricity.  That said, their onboard batteries will need to be changed every few years.

Filter Capacity

how does a pool skimmer work

How much debris can the pool skimmer’s filter basket hold before it needs to be emptied? 

Most skimmers need to be checked and emptied at least every week. 

But if your pool suffers from extra-heavy debris issues, leaves, etc., then make sure you get a larger basket.

Ease of Installation

Is the pool skimmer easy to install yourself?  Or will you need a professional to do it? 

Permanent mechanical pool skimmers are typically installed during your pool’s installation. 

If you are installing a mechanical pool skimmer to an existing pool,  make sure you are up to the task. Or things can get expensive if you make a mistake on sealing and installing water lines, etc.


how does a pool skimmer work

How often do you need to service the pool skimmer? What parts will wear out first?

Permanent mechanical pool skimmers are super-simple devices that need no regular maintenance other than checking the baskets and emptying them.  Every few years, you’ll want to replace the basket because of sun damage.

Electric-powered pool skimmers need to be checked once a year for wearing parts and leaks.  The most common failing parts include motors, impellers, and the filtration system/container.


What warranty does the pool skimmer offer? 

Most pool skimmers come with a 1-year standard warranty, although some more expensive robotic pool skimmers carry longer warranties.


How much does the pool skimmer cost?

Manual and robotic pool skimmers typically cost $150 to $1,500, depending on the features and size of the pool.

Noise Level

How noisy is the pool skimmer when it operates?

The quietest type of skimmer is a mechanical intake-side pool strainer. These are virtually silent.

Solar-powered robotic pool skimmers are also very quiet.  

Safety Concerns

Are there any safety hazards associated with the pool skimmer?

For example, is the pool skimmer safe to operate near children? 

Mechanical pool skimmers are extremely simple devices that are completely safe to use.

Older electric skimmers and most robotic skimmers plug into a 115V outlet that uses an inverter to reduce the voltage down to a safe 12V or 24V DC current to power the vacuum motor.  That said, you’re still dealing with a live power line outside near splashing water. 

In contrast, solar pool skimmers don’t plug into a wall and are completely safe to use.

Ease of Emptying

how does a pool skimmer work

How easy is it to remove and empty the filter strainer/basket? 

Do you need to remove the entire unit to do this or just the basket?


How durable is the pool skimmer made? Will it last for years?

Most permanently installed pool skimmers will last the life of your pool, except for the baskets, which need to be replaced every few years.

Most electric pool skimmers last 3-10 years with normal use.


Q: What is a pool skimmer?

A: A pool skimmer is an automatic device that cleans your swimming pool.

It works by creating a current of water that pulls debris toward the pool’s center.

When the water exits the skimmer, it returns to the pool through a return line.

Q: Why do pool skimmers have two holes?

A: The reason a skimmer has two holes is pretty straightforward. The first hole collects debris and gunk floating on the surface of the pool, while the second hole connects the skimmer to a pipe called the equalizer line.

This pipe helps ensure that the pump has water running through it at all times and doesn’t run dry.

Q: Should you leave an electric pool skimmer on all the time?

A: While you can leave the pool skimmer on all the time, there are several reasons why you shouldn’t do that. First off, it is not necessary. 

Second, you’re going to burn electricity for nothing.  Third, electrical-mechanical components like motors and impellers have a finite life measured in hours of use.  So only use your skimmer when necessary, and turn it off when the job is done.  

Q: Why should I install a pool skimmer?

A: Installing a pool skimmer will keep your pool free of floating biological debris. 

This, in turn, prevents the growth of algae and bacteria that can make your pool filter work harder than it should.  Overall, you end up spending less time and money keeping your pool fresh and clean.

Q: How long does a pool skimmer last?

A: Most self-contained and floating pool skimmers last between 3 and 10 years.  Permanently-installed mechanical pool skimmers generally last the life of your pool, with the exception of the filter strainer basket, which should be replaced periodically.

Q: What is the difference between a pool skimmer and a pool vacuum?

A: A skimmer is an automatic mechanism that removes debris from the surface of the water, while a vacuum removes debris from the bottom of the pool.

Q: Where can I buy a pool skimmer?

A: You can find a wide range of pool skimmers at any home improvement store or major online retailer. 

In addition, your local pool store will carry the best models and can help you select just the right one for your particular needs.

Q: Can I use my existing filters with a pool skimmer? Or must I replace them?

A: Yes, you can use your existing water filter system with a pool skimmer. However, because you are pulling in more debris, you will want to check your filter baskets a bit more frequently.

Q: Is there anything special I have to know before installing a pool skimmer? If so, what?

A: Make sure your pool pump is up to the task if you are adding skimmers to an existing pool.  The vast majority are.

Q: How much does a pool skimmer cost?

A: The average price of a self-contained/floating pool skimmer range from $200- $1,500 depending on features, power source, and pool size.

Q: How often should I clean my pool?

A: Cleaning your pool once every week is recommended.

Q: How do I get rid of algae?

A: Algae grows when the water is warm and biological materials are present in your pool water.

To prevent this, place a cover over the pool during the summer, keep your chlorine topped up, and use a pool skimmer to remove floating debris before it sinks and dissolves into your water.

Q: What happens if the pool water falls below the skimmer?

A: If the pool skimmer box is installed correctly, the water level should be just above the top of the skimmer’s basket.

If the water level gets too low and no longer flows from the pool into the strainer, then fresh water will not enter the skimmer box, and the pool pump may suck air into the pump and filters. 

This will probably cause the pump to shut down and your pool filter to stop cleaning.

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