How to Vacuum an Above-Ground Pool

How to Vacuum an Above Ground Pool

Vacuuming your above-ground pool task is a crucial step in maintaining and cleaning your pool and keeping the water crystal clear. Here is how to do it right the first time.

If you are an above-ground pool owner (sometimes referred to as an on-ground pool), chances are that you have vacuumed your swimming pool before.

The question is are you doing it the right way?

Because if you are not, then you could be risking doing such things as damaging your pool’s vinyl liner and clogging up your swimming pool’s all-important filtration equipment. The latter of which can lead to unsightly and unhealthy pool water.

The good news is all of this can be avoided by following a few simple tips for making the most of the time spent using your above-ground pool vacuum.

Advice which I am prepared to share after working in the swimming pool repair and maintenance field for over 26-years.

Let’s jump right in.

Before You Start Vacuuming Your Above-Ground Pool

Here are some important steps to take before you start the on-ground pool vacuuming process.

Tips to Make Taking Your Swimming Pool’s Cover Off Easier

If you are getting ready to vacuum your above ground swimming pool as part of opening it up for the upcoming swim season, then be very careful when taking off your pool cover.

If you don’t, lots of dirty water can end up in your swimming pool along with larger debris that can damage your pool’s delicate vinyl liner.

Here are some important things to keep in mind when doing that:

  • Carefully remove large debris off of the cover with a leaf net.
  • Drain the water off of the cover as completely as possible (at least 95% of it), this can be done by starting a siphon with a plastic piece of hose or by using a small submersible pump.
  • You can’t have enough friends to help with this pool opening step, offering pizza and beverages will often solve this problem.

Thoroughly Clean Your Equipment

You may be surprised to learn that the preferred way to vacuum your above-ground pool starts with a thorough cleaning of your swimming pool equipment. This is done to optimize the suction that is created at the point where your vacuum head contacts the pool liner.

You can do this by cleaning debris out of your pool skimmers (also don’t forget to take out any Gizzmo’s that are protecting your skimmer from ice damage), cleaning your pump’s strainer housing basket, and by making sure the top layer of sand on your above ground pool filter has no debris or a hard layer of sand on it.

It’s a step that needs to be done even if you own a quality above ground pool with all of the latest and best pool filtration equipment.

Remove All Leaves and Large Debris from the Pool

Before you start vacuuming your above ground pool, you will need to remove all of the large debris that has ended up on the bottom of your swimming pool. You should only do this by using your pool’s leaf net.

The problem here is that you may not be able to see the bottom of the swimming pool and any debris on it if the water is dirty. So always move your leaf net very gingerly across the bottom of the pool when doing this step. You also have to make sure that you don’t stir up too much of the algae lair that may have formed on the bottom of the on-ground pool while it was closed for the offseason.

Fill Up the Swimming Pool

Chances are that once you take off your pool cover, the water inside your swimming pool will not be at a level where you can operate the filtration system. So, you will have to fill it back up before you can start up your pump to begin the vacuuming process.

The normal recommended fill level for an above ground pool is halfway up the skimmer opening. However, because you are going to be vacuuming your swimming pool, I suggest that you fill the water in your on-ground pool up to a level where it is 1” below the top of the skimmer opening.

You will learn why later on in this article.

Be Aware of How Your On-Ground Pool is Constructed

Keep in mind before you start to vacuum your above ground pool as to how it’s constructed. Most importantly that it has a vinyl liner that is just placed over tamped-down sand. This sand is known to shift and move as people walk over it when using the pool.

This is something that sometimes creates spaces under the liner which are no longer supported by sand. These are places that can be easily punctured when vacuuming your above ground pool.

So, definitely use a vacuuming technique where you don’t put much downward pressure on the vacuum head as you do this task.

Tips for Vacuuming Your Above Ground Pool

Now that your on-ground swimming pool has been properly prepped for vacuuming, here are some tips to make that job go smoother.

1. Use a Skimmer Plate When Vacuuming

Above ground pool filtration systems were designed to be vacuumed by removing the skimmer basket and placing the vacuum hose in the hole that’s underneath that basket. There are two flaws with inserting your vacuum hose this way.

One is that it does not stay in place well and the other is large objects that get vacuumed up will go directly into your filter. This is never a good thing.

You can easily avoid this by using what is known as a ‘skimmer plate’. You can purchase these inexpensive items at just about any pool store. They allow you to vacuum your above ground pool with the skimmer basket in place to catch large debris and they have a place where your vacuum hose attaches more securely.

2. Use a Vac Head with Wheels

Your on-ground pool liner is a very delicate item that always has to be treated with care. When you bought your on-ground pool it probably came with a vacuum head that just rests directly on the liner as you vacuum. I don’t like this because these vacuum heads have a tendency to stick strongly to the liner and you are more likely to damage your vinyl liner if you have any large debris in the pool.

This is why I always vacuum above ground pools with a quality vac head that has wheels. That way it does not stick to the pool liner and does not put as much direct pressure on any debris on the bottom of the pool that it comes into contact with as you are vacuuming.

3. Prime the Vacuum Hose

It will take you forever to get the pool vacuuming process started unless you take one specific step. That’s to prime the vacuum hose completely before you turn on the pump to start vacuuming. If you don’t, then all of the air in the vacuum hose may cause your pool pump to lose its prime and stop creating suction.

You can prime the vac hose in one of three different ways. The first is that you can immerse the vacuum hose in water until it’s filled. The second way to prime your vac hose is to fill it with water using a garden hose attached to a spigot.

You can also run your filtration system and then use the water coming forcefully out of the return line to your pool to fill the vacuum hose.

4. Vacuum Your Swimming Pool on the Waste Setting

If you remember, earlier in the article I instructed you to fill your swimming pool almost to the top of the skimmer before vacuuming. The reason I suggested this is that I want you to vacuum your swimming pool on the ‘waste’ setting on your filter if the pool bottom is exceptionally dirty.

You fill the pool past the recommended setting because when you vacuum on waste, you will lose water from inside the swimming pool. This is because it goes out of the system instead of into the filter. You do this to stop too much dirt and debris from getting inside your filter and this also helps to keep your filtration system operating efficiently.

If there is not much visible debris on the bottom of your above ground pool, then you can just vacuum on the ‘filter’ setting.

5. Vacuum Smoothly and In a Uniform Pattern

You want to be very smooth when vacuuming and avoid putting too much downward pressure on the vac head. You want to use your vacuum head like you would a push broom but you never lift it and pull it back. Use a continuous motion in a uniform pattern too.

This is done to ensure that you get even the dirt and debris that you can’t see off of the bottom of your on-ground pool.

6. Remove the Winter and Solar Covers before Vacuuming

You never want to attempt to vacuum your pool with its winter or solar pool cover on it. Doing this will make this task extremely tedious, may rip the cover, and can even be somewhat dangerous. If you don’t feel like taking either of these covers completely off, just peel them halfway back and vacuum only half of the pool at one time.

Above Ground Pool Vacuuming FAQ’s

Will my above-ground pool vacuuming system suck up leaves and other large debris?

The answer to this question is yes if you have a big enough pump to create the suction required to do this. The exception would be twigs, rocks, pool toys, and other larger and heavier objects that often end up in the bottoms of above-ground pools.

I have a word of caution for you though. Just because your pool’s vacuuming system can do this, I certainly don’t recommend that you try it. There are several reasons for this.

Trying to suck up larger and heavier objects can lead to clogging up your skimmer or even worse if they make it into your filter. These objects also do not easily fit under your vacuum head and you may puncture your liner while trying to properly position them.

What happens if I drain my pool cover for a long time but the water level on top of it is not going down?

I am happy that you asked this question. That’s because in this situation you probably have a sizeable hole in the cover and you are not draining the cover but draining water out of your swimming pool.

So, stop trying to pump the water off the cover. Then make sure that you double-check that you have cleaned all the large debris off of the cover. You will then have no choice but to slowly slide the cover across the surface of the pool to take the cover off.

When I go to vacuum my above ground pool, do I place my sand filter on the ‘waste’ or ‘filter’ setting?

The answer as to whether you use the ‘waste’ or ‘filter’ setting when vacuuming your on-ground pool comes down to one thing. That’s how much visible dirt is on the bottom of your pool. If there is not much, then vacuum on the filter setting.

For larger pockets of dirt, it’s best to use the filter on its waste setting. Keep in mind you are losing water from your pool when using this setting.

How often should I vacuum my above-ground pool?

Determining how often you vacuum your on-ground swimming pool is very easy. I would do it at least once a week during the swimming season even if you don’t see any visible dirt on the bottom of your swimming pool. Trust me, that even though you don’t see it, there is still dirt on top of your pool liner.

In addition to that, you should vacuum your pool after strong storms, periods of heavy winds, or after any event that puts visible dirt and debris on the bottom of your above ground swimming pool.

Some Final Above Ground Pool Vacuuming Thoughts

Vacuuming your above ground swimming is not that difficult for sure but there is definitely a right way and wrong way to go about performing this task.

The wrong way can have some devastating consequences for your on-ground swimming pool and the right way will save you time and effort when doing this important swimming pool maintenance step.

So, please consider the advice that you learned here the next time that you go to vacuum your above ground pool. Unfortunately, some of this advice was learned from the mistakes that I made and observed others make because we were not privy to the knowledge that I supplied you with in this article.

Now you know how to avoid some of those mistakes.

It’s knowledge that will not only make your above ground pool vacuuming process easier and more efficient but will also help extend the life of your swimming pool and its all-important vinyl liner.

Also, if you are too busy to vacuum your above ground pool regularly, consider purchasing a quality automatic pool cleaner.

More Above-Ground Pool Guides

How to Open Your Above-Ground Pool Like a Boss. Looking to open your above-ground pool for a season of sun and fun? Here is a simple 9-step process for opening your pool like a champ.

5 Best Heaters for Above Ground Swimming Pools. Want to get more time and use from your backyard pool? Here are our hand-picked selections of the best heaters for above-ground swimming pools.

6 Best Pool Ladders for Above Ground Swimming Pools. Looking for the right pool ladder for your above-ground pool? Here’s a breakdown of the best ones on the market, including key features, price, and more.

How to Winterize an Above-Ground Pool. Looking for some simple tips for winterizing your above-ground pool? Here’s an overview of when and how to prepare your pool for winter.

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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