A backyard pool can be a huge asset to your home, for swimming, splashing, and epic rounds of Marco Polo with family and friends. But without the right pump, an in-ground pool can become a maintenance headache. The pump, installed in a nondescript area in your yard, circulates chemicals through the water while filtering out impurities, keeping your pool sparkling clean. With a quality pump, you can spend less time taking care of your pool and more time enjoying it.
A good pool pump should have the power to efficiently clean the entire volume of your pool several times in a 24-hour period, without the need for constant attention. If you’re replacing your old model (the lifespan of a pool pump is 8 to 12 years) or are shopping for one to go with a brand new pool, read on for the features to consider and find out why the pool pumps below are among some of the best on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Hayward W3SP2610X15 Super Pump Pool Pump
- BEST DUAL-SPEED: XtremepowerUS 2HP Inground Pool Pump
- BEST VARIABLE-SPEED: Hayward W3SP2303VSP MaxFlo Variable-Speed Pool Pump
- BEST FOR SALTWATER: Pentair SuperFlo Variable Speed Pool Pump
Types of Pool Pumps
When shopping for a pool pump for your in-ground pool, you have three options: single-speed, dual-speed, and variable-speed. Single-speed models are the least expensive but also the least efficient, while dual-speed and variable-speed are pricier up front but allow you to save on energy costs.
A single-speed pump only has one speed, so the rate at which it pumps water to and from your pool is fixed. You cannot increase the speed to improve cleaning power or decrease the speed to make the pump more energy efficient. A single-speed pump is suited to run for about eight hours a day, during which it should be able to turn over the entire volume of a pool at least once.
A dual-speed pump offers two different power settings, giving you two speed options for circulating water through your pool. This allows you to go with a higher speed when the pool experiences heavy use and needs more filtration or an efficient lower speed when it sees little activity. Dual-speed pumps are more expensive than single-speed pumps but offer 50 percent to 70 percent savings on energy costs.
A variable-speed pump gives you total control over its circulation speed, allowing you to make micro-adjustments for optimal cleaning or energy efficiency. These pumps include programmable displays that will enable you to vary the pump speed throughout the day. While these pumps are the most expensive of the three types, the ability to change speeds can save you 80 percent or more on energy costs in the long run. A variable-speed pump can run 24 hours a day at a lower rate than a single-speed pump, turning over about twice the amount of water with the same amount of energy use.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Pool Pump
When shopping for a new pool pump, it’s crucial to consider several factors, including pool size, horsepower, and filter compatibility.
Pool owners must calculate a pump’s minimum flow rate to purchase the right size pump for the pool. The flow rate uses metric gallons per minute to determine how many times per day the pump can filter the entire contents of the pool. This is referred to as the number of turnovers. The pump should be large enough to turn over the pool at least once a day, although twice is preferred.
To determine how powerful a pump you need, you can either use an online pool pump calculator available at some manufacturer and retailer sites or make the calculations yourself. Start by dividing the pool capacity by 24, which will tell you how many gallons per hour a pump would need to circulate for a single turnover in a day. For instance, a pool with 10,000 gallons of water would need to pump about 1,250 gallons per hour to complete one turnover in an eight hour period. To find the per-minute rate, divide this number by 60. For a 10,000 gallon pool, a pump would need to have a flow rate of about 21 gallons per minute to achieve one turnover per eight-hour cycle.
Keep in mind that if you’re using a single-speed pump, you may only want to run it for about eight hours per day to avoid exorbitant energy costs. So a single-speed pump for a 10,000-gallon pool would need a flow rate of 42 gallons per minute or about 2,500 gallons per hour if you want to turn over the water in your pool twice.
Given that pool pumps must run for eight hours or more every day to perform their duties, they need to be rugged. Most pool pumps feature durable motors with built-in fans that keep them operating at a cool temperature. Pump housing should consist of high-grade plastic that can endure the harsh chemicals found in both chlorine and saltwater pools.
Voltage and Horsepower
Most manufacturers don’t advertise the power of their pumps in gallons per minute (or hour) because flow rate depends on other factors beyond the pump itself, such as the size of the plumbing, the plumbing fittings, the filter, and even the elevation of the pump in relation to the pool. All of these elements can create resistance that decreases the flow rate of the pump; this is known as head resistance.
Most pools have an average head resistance of about 40 feet. A 1-horsepower pool pump capable of moving 100 gallons per minute will only be able to move about half that with 40 feet of head resistance.
With that in mind, a 0.5-horsepower pump with 40 feet of head resistance is suitable for small pools up to 11,000 gallons. A 1-horsepower pump with the same resistance will work for pools up to 26,000 gallons, while a 1.5-horsepower pump is suitable for large pools up to 30,000 gallons. A massive 2-horsepower pump can clean pools up to 46,000 gallons.
If you have a system with a pump located more than 40 feet from the pool or at an elevation of more than a few feet lower than the pool, your pool will likely have greater head resistance. In this case, it makes sense to hire a professional to help you calculate what size pump your pool needs.
Pool pumps use either 115-volt or 230-volt power supplies with most pumps under 2 horsepower capable of using either. Most home appliances use a 115-volt power supply, while larger appliances, such as electric stoves and clothes dryers, demand 230-volt power supplies. Make sure to check what the power demands are for the pump you wish to purchase. Switching out an old pump wired for 115-volt power with a pump that uses 230-volt power or vice versa is more complicated than installing a new pump that uses the same power source as the old one.
Plug-In vs. Hard-Wired
Some pool pumps can plug into standard 115-volt outlets, but most are hardwired into your home’s electrical system. Note that if you use a plug-in for the pool pump, the receptacle you use must be GFCI-protected to prevent electrocution. If it’s within 10 feet of the pool, it should also be a twist-lock style plug to prevent it from being yanked out, exposing the outlet to potential splashes.
There are three types of filters for an in-ground pool: sand, cartridge, and DE (diatomaceous earth). While most pumps will work with all filter types, check compatibility before purchasing a pump. Each of the filters also has a maximum flow rate based on filter type and size. Never operate a pump at a speed greater than the filter’s maximum flow rate, or you may damage the filter.
Pool pumps vary significantly in terms of energy efficiency. While a single-speed pump will be cheaper to purchase, variable-speed pumps will ultimately pay for themselves in energy savings. A variable-speed pump is programmable, so you can set it to run at a slower, more efficient speed during downtimes when the pool is not in use, and cleaning isn’t required. While it might be tempting to buy a 1.5-horsepower pump that goes well above and beyond what your pool requires, you’ll pay more in energy costs than you would with a smaller pump better suited to your pool’s size.
A noisy pump can be an annoyance when you’re trying to relax by the pool. Swimming pool pumps run between 65 and 90 decibels, which is the difference between two people chatting and a hairdryer. Most newer pumps incorporate designs for quiet operation at the low end of this range. Pumps with fully enclosed motors offer the quietest operation, with decibel levels in the 40s—about the same noise level as a refrigerator.
Maintaining your pool pump is part of regular pool maintenance. As the pump draws in water, a basket filters out hair, lint, and other debris that the poolside skimmer misses. This filter must be cleaned regularly, though some pumps include large baskets to extend the time between cleanings. You’ll also need to clean the pump basket after vacuuming the pool.
The pump needs air circulation to keep the motor from overheating, so never cover a pump or plant trees or shrubs near it. If the pump motor has air inlets, make sure they are clear of any debris. During the offseason when the pump is off, cover the pump and motor to prevent debris from building on it.
Our Top Picks
Just ahead are pool pumps from the most respected manufacturers in the residential pool industry, all considered among the best available. The picks were compiled taking into account all of the factors detailed above.
If you want a pool pump you can depend on, consider the high-quality construction and features of this Hayward model. Its 1.5-horsepower motor is powerful enough to handle large pools, and thanks to a design that enables air to flow through the motor, it runs at cooler temperatures, extending the life of the pump.
A large 110-cubic-inch debris basket allows this pump to hold a significant amount of debris without compromising its pumping power. A see-through cover lets you assess the basket without removing it, while the hand knobs allow for easy tool-free cover removal. This pump is available as a single-speed or more efficient dual-speed model and works with 115- and 230-volt power sources.
XtremepowerUS offers the efficiency of a multi-speed pump without the high purchase price of a variable-speed model. This pump operates at low-speed or high-speed, allowing you to save up to 70 percent over a single-speed pump. It features a powerful 2-horsepower motor capable of handling large pools with a flow rate of up to 5,280 gallons per hour. An air-vented motor keeps this pump running quietly.
Easy-to-install electrical connections make swapping your old unit out with this one a relatively simple DIY task. The pump also features an easy-to-access strainer that can be removed and reinstalled with a simple quarter turn. A large debris basket means longer periods between pump cleaning, and the strainer’s lid is transparent, so you can see how much debris has been collected before opening it up. It requires a 230-volt power supply and uses 2-inch fittings.
Although you may pay significantly more upfront for this variable-speed pool pump, you’ll see that money pumped back to you in energy savings. This Hayward model uses an efficient magnet-enclosed, fan-cooled motor. It features a programmable digital control that allows you to optimize the speed settings for eight different times of the day, allowing you to save energy when the pool is not in use.
Speeds range from 153 watts at 1,750 rpm all the way up to 880 watts at a full speed of 3,450 rpm. It’s also compatible with automation systems Hayward, Pentair, and Zodiac, which allow it to operate independently.
When set properly, this pump can save you up to 80 percent in operating costs. This pump puts out 1.65 horsepower, making it powerful enough to handle large pools, while its hydraulic design allows for quieter operation than similar-sized pumps. It features both 1.5-inch and 2-inch fittings and requires a 230-volt power supply.
Saltwater pumps must be tough to endure the corrosive nature of salt. This Pentair model features high-quality plastic construction that resists corrosion from salt or chlorine. It also includes a digital display that allows you to program different speeds throughout the day. You can increase speeds for better filtration when the pool is in use, then program the pump to reduce speed during periods when the pool is inactive. This feature may save up to 80 percent in operating costs over standard single-speed pumps.
This pump also includes an ultra-quiet motor, and since it will work with either 115- or 230-volt power, you needn’t bother with rewiring for installation.
FAQs About Your New Pool Pump
If you’re alarmed by a gurgling noise coming from your pump or want to know how to prime a pump, read on for answers to these and other common pool pump questions.
Q. Why isn’t my pool pump full of water?
You may need to prime the pump if it’s not full of water. Priming is the process of removing air from the pump and its suction line to allow water to flow through it. Most pumps are self-priming; however, if your pump does not fill with water, you’ll have to prime the pump manually to get it to fill with water (see below). If there is no water in your pump, it could mean that the water level in the pool is too low, preventing the pump from drawing in water.
Q. How do you prime a pool pump?
Priming the pool pump is a relatively straightforward process:
- Begin by turning the multiport valve on the pool filter to recirculate.
- Remove any plugs in the return jets or skimmer.
- Open the pump cover and fill the pump with water if it’s dry. You’ll need to replace the drain plugs to do this.
- Replace the lid and turn on the pump. It will gurgle at first as it clears air out of the lines but should then run smoothly.
Q. Why is my pool pump gurgling?
If your pool pump is gurgling, it’s likely that air is getting into the pump, probably from the suction side. First, check the pool level. If the water level is low, the pump may be pulling in the air instead of water. Also, check the flap on the pool skimmer to ensure it isn’t stuck, preventing the water from entering the pump intake. If both of these areas check out, the pump lid likely has a crack or a dried-out O-ring seal that you will need to replace.
Q. What happens if air gets in a pool pump?
If air gets into a pool pump, it will lose suction, preventing it from being able to suck water into the pump. It will also eject air into the pool, causing bubbles and a gurgling sound.
Q. How long should you run a pool pump?
This depends on the type of pump you have. A single-speed pump should run no more than eight hours a day to avoid high energy costs. With this in mind, it’s crucial to purchase a pump that can cycle all of the water in your pool twice in that amount of time. A dual- or variable-speed pump can run for more extended periods at lower speeds.
Q. Can I replace my pool pump myself?
Replacing a pool pump can be a DIY job. Many pool pumps will fit fairly easily into the hole created by the old pump. However, check the warranty before replacing, as many major pump manufacturers won’t honor their warranty unless the pump is installed by a certified pro.