What Is A Pool Skimmer? A First-Time Pool Owner’s Guide

what is a pool skimmer

A pool skimmer is an essential kit for any swimming pool owner.

Pool skimmers remove debris such as leaves, twigs, and bugs from the water’s surface. They do this by suckick surface water into a basket where debris is trapped.

In this short introductory guide, we’ll cover the various pool skimmers available today and discuss your duties as a pool owner in keeping your pool skimmer operating as designed.

What is a Pool Skimmer?

Pool skimmers are water filters designed to remove debris from the water surface.

They are usually permanently installed near the pool’s edge and connected to a pump that creates a vacuum effect.

This causes surface water containing floating debris to move into the skimmer, where it is collected in a container.

Types of Pool Skimmers

There are two types of pool skimmers available: manual and automatic.

Automatic Pool Skimmer

what is a pool skimmer

An automatic pool skimmer depends on a power source – either a mechanical power source like your existing pool pump system or an electric motor – to create a water vacuum that automatically collects and traps debris in a basket strainer that you must empty once a week or so.

Most in-ground and above-ground pools installed today have a mechanical automatic pool skimmer. 

These are often permanently installed into the side of an in-ground pool right on the water’s edge and rely on the pool pump’s return water line to suck debris into them. 

This is the most reliable type of pool skimmer that requires the least amount of repair and maintenance. 

Electric-powered automatic pool skimmers are different. These self-contained devices float on the surface of your pool and use an onboard DC electric vacuum to suck water in and capture debris in the onboard filter strainer/basket. 

Older models are powered by a power inverter plugged into a wall socket that reduces voltage down to a safe 12V or 24V.

Solar-powered pool skimmers are a more recent type of pool skimmer that is powered by solar panels attached to the top of the device and an internal battery pack. This eliminates the need to plug them into a wall socket/power inverter.

Manual Pool Skimmers

what is a pool skimmer

This will be your only option if you don’t have an automatic pool skimmer already installed. Manual pool skimmers require the pool owner to manually vacuum the surface of the pool.

Suction-side manual skimmers are attached to a hose that connects to the pool pump’s intake water line.  The water flow creates a suction to pull debris into the skimmer’s vacuum head and into the onboard filter basket.

Electric manual skimmers contain a water vacuum head that is powered by a 12V or 24V DC motor

To operate a manual pool skimmer, the owner must be present during cleaning.

To clean the pool, you will turn on the power switch or water valve, open the lid, place the skimmer over the water, and suck up visible debris using a long stick or pole to reach every spot.

How Does a Pool Skimmer Work?

The water level drops when the pump starts, causing the debris to float up. As the debris floats up, it gets sucked into the skimmer.

Automatic pool skimmers that use electrical power are connected to a power source that provides electricity to operate an onboard pump.

Why Should I Use a Pool Skimmer?

A pool skimmer removes debris from the water surface so that the pool cleaner can easily clean the pool.

Debris floating on the surface of the water can cause algae growth. Algae grow faster when there is too much debris in the water.

Using a pool skimmer reduces the amount of algae in the pool. It also keeps the water clear to see what’s going on under the water.

The Benefits of Using a Pool Skimmer

what is a pool skimmer
  • Debris Removal – The pool skimmer removes leaves, sticks, and bugs from the pool water.
  • Save Time – The pool skimmer allows the pool cleaner to clean quickly. You don’t need to spend hours cleaning the pool.
  • Less Algae – The pool skimmer removes excess biological debris from the water, keeping your chlorine levels higher and reducing the amount of algae in pool water.

How To Use A Pool Skimmer Correctly

what is a pool skimmer

1. Check the skimmer’s basket strainer once per week at most. If the basket is full or has clogged, empty it.  If the basket or strainer tears, replace it immediately.

2. Replace the skimmer basket every few years.  The sun damages plastic over time.

3. Remove any debris from the pool before adding chemicals.

4. Keep the pool covered during winter to prevent excess debris from overwhelming your skimmer.

5. Remove floating skimmers when not in use. The sun will damage them over time, and they present a diving hazard.

Robotic / Self-Powered Pool Skimmers: Are They Worth The Cost?

Robotic pool skimmers are not worth the cost for most people who own pools that never suffer from falling leaves and/or blowing debris.

But if your pool often suffers from heavy debris – leaves & twigs from trees, blowing grass, bugs, frogs – and has a built-in mechanical pool skimmer, you still might want to consider adding a robotic skimmer.

Robotic pool skimmers cost $300 to $1,500, depending on how many features you want and how much work you need.

However, they’re worth every penny if you don’t want to sweep the floor every day during seasons when debris fall is greatest.

If you don’t want to deal with cables and power safety issues, consider upgrading to a solar-powered robotic pool skimmer like the Betta 2.  It’s a proven and highly-rated model that is arguably best-selling today.


Q: What is a pool skimmer?

A: A pool skimmer removes debris from the pool water’s surface. Most pool skimmers are permanently attached to the poolside and use the pool pump to vacuum debris into a strainer to trap debris. 

Self-powered & robotic pool skimmers are electric-powered and roam the surface of your pool, collecting debris as they go.  Manual pool skimmers are attached to a pole and must be manually placed to collect debris.

Q: Why should I use a pool skimmer?

A: A pool skimmer helps remove debris from the pool water so that the pool cleaner does not have to work hard to clean the pool. This will help prevent algae growth.

Q: How do I use a pool skimming device?

A: Pool skimmers are extremely easy to use. Most are completely hands-free, automatic systems.

Q: How often should I change my pool skimmer?

A: Permanently installed mechanical pool skimmers rarely, if ever, fail.  The basket strainers should be replaced if signs of sun damage or wear appear. 

Self-powered electric pool skimmers last 3-10 years, depending on the frequency of use and time in the sun.

Q: Can I use a pool skimmer with a solar panel?

A: Yes, you can use a pool skimmer with a solar panel. Solar panels provide energy to the pool skimmer when no electricity is available.

Q: Will a pool skimmer make my pool dirty?

A: No, a pool skimmer won’t make your pool dirty. A pool skimmer cleans the pool faster than manual cleaning.

Q: Does a pool skimmer cost much money?

A: Most pool skimmers are inexpensive and generally installed permanently when your pool system is installed.  Self-powered electric pool skimmers cost between $200 and $1,500, depending on the type.

Q: Are pool skimmers safe?

A: Yes. Pool skimmers are very safe. Mechanical pool skimmers rely on your existing pool pump and a plastic strainer basket and present no safety issues. 

Electric/self-powered pool skimmers usually rely on 12V or 24V DC power, so they are entirely safe for humans.

Q: Should I buy a pool skimmer online?

A: Yes. Online shopping is convenient because you can shop a wide variety of options from home and avoid paying delivery charges.

Also, it saves you time since you don’t need to visit a store.  If you are building a new pool, let your pool installer do the work.  

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