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Pool Skimmers 101: How to Clean and Troubleshooting Tips

By Matt Giovanisci | Updated: August 31, 2021

There are two types of pool skimmers. One is the net you attach to a telescopic pole used to get leaves and debris out of your pool. The other is attached to the side of your pool and acts as the entryway to your pump and filter.

In this article, we’re talking about the latter. How they work, how to keep them clean and running properly, and how to troubleshoot them when things go wrong. Let’s dive in!

What are Pool Skimmers?

Pool skimmers are like little buckets built into the side of the pool. They hold skimmer baskets, which perform a similar function to the handheld leaf skimmer, keeping leaves and debris from entering your pump and filter.

These are usually rectangular-shaped and are placed around the pool, toward the tops of the walls. The water level usually covers about the bottom half of the skimmers.

Inground pool skimmer

They’re most often made of white plastic, and some have a door called a weir over the front that opens and closes according to the water level and movement.

Do You Need a Skimmer Weir Door? And How Pool Weirs Work?

Short answer: not really, so don’t worry about it if you don’t have one installed. They tend to break easily. But they’re useful. A floating skimmer weir is a gate that keeps debris the skimmer collects from going back into the pool when the pump’s off. It also regulates the amount of water entering the skimmer when the pump is running and helps trap the debris it collects.

What Do Pool Skimmers Do?

Pool skimmers are the starting point of pool circulation and act as a gateway to your pool’s filtration system.

Your pool pump sucks water into the skimmers. As the water passes through the skimmer basket, it’s cleared of larger debris that would cause a blockage if it made it all the way to your pump or filter.

It also allows the filter to do its job of pulling the smaller contaminants out so the water that makes its way back into your pool through the returns is cleaner.

Proper Pool Circulation Setup

The skimmer also helps keep your pump and filter in tip-top shape by ensuring the water that passes through them is clear of things that could cause major problems for that expensive equipment.

Pool Skimmers Keep The Water Surface Clean

The more people who swim, the more sunscreen, makeup, shampoo, soap, and other non-living contaminants are left in the water. To help your filter out, you can increase your skimmer basket’s effectiveness by covering it with pantyhose. The finely knit fabric will catch some of the smaller debris that would normally tax your filter.

Think putting pantyhose on your skimmer is kinda weird? We get it. Luckily for you, there’s something made exactly for that purpose: pool skimmer filter socks. They’ll do the same thing, but look more pool-like so you won’t have to answer any awkward questions from your friends.

Ultra Fine Mesh Pool Skimmer Filter Socks - 30 Pack
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A Place For Adding Chlorine Tablets

You could spend a little money and buy a floating chlorine dispenser. Or you could just add a few chlorine tablets directly to your skimmer basket.

The advantage here is that because water is pulled through the skimmer, it will run over the tablets, dissolving them more quickly than if they were just floating around the pool. This means a higher concentration of chlorine in your water, which translates to cleaner, more sanitary water.

NOTE: Just make sure you remove the partially dissolved tablets from the pool skimmer when your pump isn’t running to keep the highly chlorinated water from sitting in one place, possibly damaging equipment.

Better yet, invest in an automatic chlorinator. A chlorinator is the most efficient and safest way to add chlorine to your pool.

Our Top Pick
In-line Automatic Chlorinator for Pools

This Automatic Chlorinator is perfect for the pool owner who hates fussing with chemicals because it uses large or small, slow-dissolving tablets. With the dial control valve you can easily adjust feed rate to suit your needs.

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Manual Pool Vacuuming

It’s great if you have an automatic pool cleaner, but there will be times when you’ll need to manually vacuum your pool. When that happens, you can put your pool’s circulation system to work.

Once you have your vacuum put together, you can insert the vacuum hose into the skimmer’s suction hole, or use a skimmer vacuum plate, and the water will be forced through the pool’s filter system as you vacuum, resulting in cleaner, clearer water.

Want to learn how to vacuum your pool manually? Click here.

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When to Clean Your Pool Skimmer

Clean out your pool skimmer at least once a week. The basket catches all the debris that falls into your pool. The longer it sits in the pool, the higher the probability it’ll start to break up and then decay, and then you’ll have tiny, nasty bits floating around in your water.

Also, if you don’t skim debris off the water surface fast enough, the debris will sink to the bottom. This can cause staining and other water issues. So it’s important to keep debris out of your pool water at all times.

If you have a lot of trees in your backyard, if it’s been windy, you’ve had storms, or if any other condition exists that gives you a reason to believe your skimmer may fill up with debris pretty quickly, you’ll want to check it more often.

How to Clean Your Pool Skimmer

All you have to do is take the cover off the skimmer, reach in and pull the basket out, and discard whatever is in the basket. Then put it back in the skimmer, replace the cover, and you’re done.

Cleaning Out a Pool Skimmer Basket

If the basket looks dingy, or it’s caught some particularly yucky things (dead bugs, anyone?), you can give it a spray with the hose before replacing it. If you feel it needs to be cleaned further than that, a mild multi-purpose spray will do the trick.

Important: Make sure you rinse the cleaner off completely, or you may end up with foamy bubbles in your pool water, and a bigger problem than you started with.

How to Unclog a Pool Skimmer Line

There are a few signs it might be clogged:

Your pool pump is pulsing or unusually loud and the pressure is low.

If water is surging or pulsing in your pump, this may be a sign of a clogged pipe. But first, you have to rule out other potential problems, like air leaks. Check the o-ring on your pump lid. Then check to see if the impeller inside your pump is clogged. Be sure the pump is off when you check this. And if you need help troubleshooting your pump, be sure to check our other videos. It may also be time to backwash or clean your filter if you haven’t done that in a while. If you have just cleaned your filter, that may have caused an air pocket to form. Remove the pump lid and basket and stick a hose inside to fill up the line with water.

Your water intake into your pump is slow even if the skimmer basket is empty.

If water is slowly coming into your pool pump, check the skimmer door to make sure it isn’t stuck. Also, make sure your pool’s water level is halfway up the skimmer. If the skimmer door and water level look good, you may have a clog in your skimmer line.

To find out which pipe is blocked, run your pool pump and check each line one at a time. You can do this by using your pool diverter valve, aka a Jandy Valve. Switch the valve between the skimmers and the main drain lines.

If one line has low pressure or your pump loses suction, that means it’s clogged with an air pocket or debris. As you test these lines, be sure to always leave one line open. You never want to run your pump with all of the intake valves closed and no water flowing.

1. Try Moving The Pool Diverter Valve Back And Forth

Opening and closing the pool diverter valve while the pump is running may dislodge whatever is blocking your skimmer line. Shimmy the diverter valve back and forth between the lines for several seconds each time.

After several rounds of opening and closing the skimmer valve, you may remove the air pocket or dislodge the debris into the pump strainer basket. As we said, be sure to always leave one line open during this process so there’s water flowing to your pump as it runs.

Unclog Pool Skimmer with Jandy Valve

2. Clear The Blockage With A Drain Cleaning Bladder

Drain cleaning bladders attach to your garden hose and are then inserted into the clogged line. When the hose is turned on, the bladder expands and pushes pressurized water down the pipe.

Water-Powered Drain Cleaner Bladder

The emergency drain solution features a water pulsating valve to unclog blocked drains quickly. Clears slow and clogged drains with water power for your pool skimmer.

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First, shut off your pump completely. Make sure your diverter valve is turned to the skimmer line.
Then, remove your skimmer basket. Insert the hose with the bladder attachment into the suction hole of your skimmer. Push it in as far as it will go.

When you turn on the hose, the bladder will expand while it’s in the pipe. That pressurized water will push any debris and air to the pump.

Unclog Pool Skimmer with Bladder

If that doesn’t work, try using the drain cleaning bladder in the pump. Make sure the pump is still off and the diverter valve is set to the skimmer line. Remove the pump basket and insert the hose with the bladder into the pump’s intake pipe that flows back towards the pool. This will force pressurized water back into the skimmer. Keep an eye out for debris that blows back to the skimmer.

You will also want to use the bladder in the pump if you have a clog in your main drain line. Just make sure the diverter valve is turned to the main drain when you do this.

If nothing else works, it might be time to call a professional to come to unclog your lines. But don’t give up right away: it can take several rounds of diverting water or using the bladder to unclog your lines.

The Skimmer in Winter

Whether you’re closing an inground pool or winterizing an above ground pool, you won’t want to skip the skimmer prep, or you could open your pool to a bit of a mess next season.

For an inground pool, once you’ve blown out the lines, you’ll need to insert a rubber plug or an ice compensator like a Gizzmo into your skimmer to keep it closed and prevent anything from sneaking into your filtration system over the winter.

Same goes for an above ground pool, but in that case, depending on the type of skimmer you have, you may be able to just install a cover over it.

Either way, make sure you take care of your skimmer so it can keep taking care of your pool when you open it back up.

Skim Your Way to a Cleaner, Healthier Pool

From keeping your pool’s circulation going, to helping clean your pool, pool skimmers are one of the most unassuming yet important parts of your swimming pool. Keep the skimmers clean and clear of debris, and half the work of keeping your pool clear is done.

Remember they also play an important role in closing your pool each winter. Skip that one little step, and you could have a big job waiting for you in the spring. Knowing just how important they are and how to care for them means your pool skimmers will do their job for you for years to come.

If you need more help maintaining your pool throughout the season, grab our FREE Pool Care Cheat Sheet. And subscribe to our YouTube channel for more pool maintenance tutorials throughout the season.

Happy Swimming!

Matt Giovanisci is the founder of Swim University® and has been in the pool and spa industry since 1995. Since then, his mission is to make pool and hot tub care easy for everyone. And each year, he continues to help more people with water chemistry, cleaning, and troubleshooting.
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