Solved! What Is a Pool Skimmer?

Learn more about the important role that skimmers play in a pool’s filtration system, how they work, and what you should do to maintain them.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
fallen leaves floating in a residential outdoor swimming pool

Photo: istockphoto.com

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Q: I just purchased a new home with a pool. One of my neighbors mentioned that I will need to empty the skimmers every day, but I don’t even know what those are or what they do. What is a pool skimmer? Do I really need to empty it daily?

A: Your home swimming pool filtration system is made of several parts, and pool skimmers are a very important one that should be cleaned daily. If any part of the filtration system isn’t working as intended, the water in your pool may become unclean and unsafe for swimming.

Therefore, it’s essential to understand how pool skimmers work and how to maintain them to keep them functioning properly. Keep reading to learn more about how they work, the different types of pool skimmers you may find, and how to keep them clean.

Pool skimmers are an integral part of a pool’s filtration system.

A pool skimmer filters out larger debris, such as leaves and dirt, before pool water runs through the rest of the filtration system. In many cases, skimmers are built into swimming pools, especially with inground pools, but this isn’t always the case (more on that below).

Skimmers work by pulling water from the pool surface into the main filtration system. This skims away leaves and other debris floating on the water, preventing them from getting into the pool filter or sinking to the bottom of the pool. The debris picked up by a pool skimmer becomes trapped in the basket inside it, while water is allowed to pass through to the pool filter.

Pools that don’t have skimmers—or properly functioning skimmers—will not stay as clean as pools that do. In addition to collecting more debris above and below the water surface, a pool without a skimmer is more likely to develop algae on the surface, as well.

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There are multiple types of pool skimmers.

inground pool skimmer with basket of debris
Photo: istockphoto.com

Although there are several pool skimmer types to pick from, some are only compatible with certain types of swimming pools:

  • Inground pool skimmers may be made of PVC or precast concrete and are built into inground pools. Positioned near the top of the walls of the pool, inground pool skimmers are often covered by an adjustable weir (a hinged flap made of hard plastic) to control how much water enters the skimmer.
  • Mounted pool skimmers are a popular above-ground pool skimmer option. A mounted skimmer hangs over the edge of an above-ground pool with the support of a plastic arm, the end of which holds a skimmer basket that sits at the water surface to collect debris.
  • Floating pool skimmers are another option for above-ground pools. As their name suggests, these models float along the water surface and send collected debris through the pool filtration system.
  • Robotic pool skimmers float on the swimming pool surface to pull in any debris they encounter. Some automatic pool skimmers are connected to protected power cords that need to be plugged into an outlet, while other models are wireless.
  • Solar pool skimmers are, unsurprisingly, powered by the renewable energy of the sun. These are often programmable wireless robotic skimmers.
  • Hot tub and spa skimmers, unlike other types of pool skimmers, usually collect debris inside of a plastic screen instead of a basket.
  • Hand pool skimmers (also known as skimmer nets) are used to manually skim pool water. Most handheld pool skimmers feature a telescoping handle with a net at the end, which the user moves along the water surface to capture floating debris.

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Most pool skimmers consist of the same basic parts.

Yellow leaves in swimming pool skimmer
Photo: istockphoto.com

Pool skimmers come in many varieties, but they all function similarly and feature most, if not all, of the same basic components:

  • Mouth: The mouth of the skimmer is the opening that meets the surface of the water. Leaves, bugs, and other floating debris enter the skimmer through the mouth.
  • Weir: The weir is a special flap inside the skimmer mouth that moves back and forth to regulate water as it enters the skimmer. Its position and movement ensures that debris sucked into the skimmer does not float out of the skimmer mouth.
  • Skimmer basket: The debris that is pulled in settles into the pool skimmer, or pool strainer, basket. The skimmer basket is removable, which you’ll need to do in order to dump out the accumulated debris. Pool skimmer socks can be used to line the skimmer basket to prevent smaller particles from getting through to the pump and to make emptying debris easier.
  • Equalizer line: If the water level in the pool drops below the mouth of the skimmer, the equalizer line ensures that no air is sucked into the pump.
  • Suction line: This part of the skimmer powers its suction to pull in water through the mouth.
  • Lid: The lid of the skimmer basket keeps collected pool debris in place, and it can also prevent individuals from walking into it when moving along the edge of the pool.

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Like the rest of a pool filtration system, pool skimmers need cleaning and regular maintenance.

To keep a filtration system functioning properly, it’s important to empty pool skimmers on a daily basis. If too much debris accumulates inside the basket, it will force the pump to work harder. Placing too much strain on the pump can decrease its lifespan, too. If your pool is still open during autumn when leaves are falling, you might even need to empty the baskets multiple times in one day. Using a pool skimmer guard may help during these months to prevent the abundance of leaves from clogging the skimmer and straining the pump.

When closing the pool for the season, there are a few important skimmer-related tasks to complete. First, remove the baskets and store them inside to protect them. To winterize the skimmer lines, blow air through them for about 5 minutes. Then, close the valves, plug the inlets, and add 1 gallon of antifreeze to the inlet before re-plugging with a freeze plug. In addition, add ½ gallon of antifreeze to the shell for each skimmer before filling the empty antifreeze containers with P-gravel and placing one in every skimmer. Finally, return the skimmer lid over the opening.