How to Vacuum a Pool with a Sand Filter – Step by Step

Being able to vacuum a pool is probably one of the most important skills to learn when you have a pool built or buy a house with an existing pool. What I mean by vacuum is using a manual pool vacuum, not an automatic or robotic pool cleaner.

To vacuum a pool with a sand filter you will need a vacuum head, a pool pole and a vacuum hose. You connect the vacuum hose to the suction side of the pool, normally at the bottom of the skimmer. Then gently move the vacuum around the bottom of the pool sucking up the dirt as you go.

That is of course a very simplified explanation. For full instructions use the easy to follow step-by-step guide below.

Affiliate disclosure

Vacuuming a pool – step by step

How to Vacuum a Pool with a Sand Filter - Step by Step 1

These steps cover how to vacuum a pool with a sand filter on the filter setting. If you need to vacuum on the waste setting, because the pool is very dirty, then I have a separate post – How to vacuum to waste.

1-1.5 hours

  • Brush the pool sides

    To ensure any dirt that may be on the sides of the pool is also cleaned it is good practice to go around the pool and brush the sides to allow any dirt to fall to the bottom.

  • Use a pool net

    Use a pool net to carefully pick up as much of the large dirt from the bottom of the pool as possible. This includes leaves, small stones and other debris that may clog up the filter baskets. Small pieces of debris can be left for the vacuum to pick up. Try not to disturb the small particles of dirt too much.

    TIP: After brushing and using the net you should ideally leave the pool for an hour or so to allow any fine dirt to settle. The vacuum will not pick up any that is still floating in the water so you may still end up with some dirt on the bottom the next day if you don’t give it a chance to settle.

  • Attach the pool vac to the vacuum pole

    Attach the vacuum head you intend to use securely to the pool pole.

  • Connect the hose to the vacuum

    Connect the hose to the fitting on top of the pool vacuum head and lower the vacuum into the pool near the skimmer until it reaches the bottom.

  • Remove air from the hose

    Feed the rest of the pool hose pushing it straight down into the pool to remove the air – see How to remove air from the pool hose.

  • Connect the hose to the skimmer inlet

    This will be done in one of three ways:
    – directly into the inlet at the bottom of the skimmer (after removing the skimmer basket)
    – using a skimmer vacuum plate
    – if you have one connect to the dedicated vacuuming inlet at the side of the pool

  • Move multiport valve to filter

    If it is not already on the filter setting, push down on the handle and move it to the filter setting.

  • Switch the pump on

    Switch the pool pump back on at the electrical panel. Before you start to vacuum make sure that any air is removed from the system and that water is being pumped.

    TIP 1: You may need to increase the amount of suction to the vacuum. You can do this by turning the suction side valves so that the bottom drain and any other skimmers are off. Don’t forget to put them back to their original positions when finished.

    TIP 2: If you have more than one skimmer but cannot switch them off individually, you can take a tennis ball and push it down into the other skimmer to block the hole going to the pump. The suction will hold it there.

  • Start to vacuum

    Begin to vacuum by slowly moving the vacuum along the bottom of the pool. You must try to do this as gently as possible to ensure you don’t disturb the dirt on the bottom. Any that you do disturb is likely to go into suspension in the water and will settle again later, meaning you will have to vacuum again.

    Try to operate in a methodical way. I normally start in one corner. I vacuum along the side in the direction I intend to work and then come back and vacuum from the side to the middle of the pool. I work along the pool to the other end and then do the same on the other side of the pool.

  • Turn off the pump and disconnect hose

    Turn off the pump and then remove the hose from the skimmer or suction port. Remove the vacuum from the pool.

  • Backwash the filter

    If there was little dirt in the pool this may not be necessary. If it is then turn the multiport valve to backwash and then switch the pump on again for a few minutes. You should be able to see the dirt and debris swirling in the viewing glass as it is expelled (if you have a valve on the outlet line make sure it is open).

    When the water starts to run clear you can switch the pump off and put the multiport valve to rinse. Again turn on the pump and run it for a about a minute. Then pump off again and return the valve to filter. For full details on backwashing read my article – How to backwash a pool – a step by step guide

  • Empty the pump strainer basket

    You should be able to see through the clear cover of the strainer basket. If you can see that there are leaves and other debris in there then remove the cover, pull of the basket and empty it before putting it back on and putting the cover back on.

  • Switch the pump back on – you are finished

    Your pool should now be nice and clean. So have a swim and relax!

What setting should my pool pump be on to vacuum?

When you vacuum a pool the multiport valve of your sand filter will need to be on one of the following two settings:

Filter

What setting should my pool pump be on to vacuum - filter

Filter is the setting you will need to vacuum on the most often. When you do not have too much dust or other debris on the bottom of the pool then this is the setting you should use.

When the multiport valve is set to Filter the water that is sucked up though the vacuum head will pass through the filter to remove any dust or other debris in the water before then returning back to the pool.

Waste

What setting should my pool pump be on to vacuum - waste

You will only need to vacuum the pool on the waste setting when there is too much debris in your pool for the filter to be able to cope with. This includes dead algae if you have had an algae infestation that has been dealt with by shocking.

When you vacuum on waste the water neither passes through the filter nor does it return to the pool. Instead it is sent out of the pool outlet pipe into your yard or wherever it is sent.

The tools you will need to vacuum the pool

You do not need many tools to manually vacuum. You only need the following:

Best alternative to manually vacuuming

If all of the above sounds too much like hard work then there is a more expensive but simple solution ….. a robotic pool cleaner

My Dolphin Robotic Pool Cleaner

Having bought a robotic pool cleaner myself, I can honestly say that I wish I had bought one much sooner. I spent almost 7 years manually vacuuming my pool every week. That probably equates to over 500 hours of time that I could have spent doing something more more enjoyable. Now I just drop my robot into the pool, switch it on and that’s it.

The most popular model by far is the Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus, which is available on Amazon. It not only cleans the bottom of the pool but also the sides and the waterline.

Low suction when vacuuming pool

When vacuuming on the filter setting, after a while, you may notice a significant loss of suction.

If this happens then this is probably because the filter has become clogged with the dirt you are vacuuming which causes an increase in back pressure in the filter that in turn leads to a reduction in suction.

In this case you will need to backwash the filter to clear it and regain the suction.

Vacuuming the pool
Vacuuming the pool – you can see the difference

Pool Maintenance Course

When I first bought my house with a swimming pool I knew nothing about how to clean and maintain it. I was recommended Swim University’s Pool Care Handbook and video course so I bought it and have never regretted it.

It was probably the best money I spent that year as I have saved thousands by doing it myself.

Pool care handbook

Can I vacuum sand in the bottom of my pool?

You can vacuum sand from the bottom of your pool as you would normally.

However, you should establish why you have sand there in the first place. If you live in a very sandy place, so sand gets blown in regularly, or you have just returned from the beach with your kids and they jumped straight in the pool, then there is your answer and there is no need to worry.

But if you have no apparent reason for there being sand in the pool then the reason may be because your sand filter is damaged. Either the standpipe (the pipe that runs through it) or the laterals (which act like a sieve at the bottom of the filter) are probably damaged and need to be replaced.

Do you leave skimmer basket in when you vacuum a pool?

This depends on whether or not you will be connecting the vacuum hose to the hole at the bottom of the skimmer, to a vacuum plate or to a dedicated vacuum port.

If you will be connecting to hole at the bottom then you have no alternative but to remove the skimmer basket when vacuuming otherwise you will not have access to it.

If using a vacuum plate, as this attaches above the skimmer basket, the basket can be left in situ. This has the advantage of any large debris that is sucked up by the vacuum will be trapped in the skimmer basket rather than the pool pump strainer basket.

If you will use a dedicated vacuum port in the side of the pool then the skimmer basket can stay in place.

Why does my pool get cloudy when I vacuum it?

The two most likely explanations for it getting cloudy when you vacuum a pool are:

  1. You are trying to vacuum too quickly so instead of the vacuum head sucking up the dirt it is being disturbed and going into suspension in the water. Try slowing down. I would say that I move the vacuum head along the bottom of the pool at a speed of approximately one second per foot.
  2. You so not have sufficient suction so the vacuum cannot pick up all of the dirt. Try to increase the suction by:
    • closing all of the valves to the pump except the skimmer you are using.
    • If you have more than one skimmer, but only one valve, then push a tennis ball into the hole of the skimmer you aren’t using to cut off the flow. This will increase the flow/suction in the skimmer you are using.
    • Try backwashing the filter as it my be very dirty which is reducing the flow through it.