What Is A Pool Skimmer and What Does It Do? 

There are many parts to a pool.  Each one of them work in tandem to keep your pool running at peak performance.  Pool skimmers are multi-functional and serve to keep your water clean and healthy.  They're a very important part of your swimming pool's functionality, so it's best to know what they are and what they do.  Gaining an understanding of pool skimmers will help you look after your investment in the long run.    

What Is A Pool Skimmer and What Does It Do?

What Is A Pool Skimmer?

Pool skimmers are found in every inground and above ground pool and are one their most important features.  Most inground pools and some above ground pools have built-in skimmers, normally near the top of the wall.  Larger pools may have two or more skimmers.  

A pool skimmer is designed to pull water using the pump motor to catch debris and contaminants floating on the surface and suck it through the pool filter.  Debris and contaminants can be considered leaves, grass clippings, dog hair, bugs, and sunscreen.

Some pool skimmers may have what's called a skimmer weir.  This is a door, or flap, at the opening of the skimmer.  The skimmer weir's function is to close when the pump motor is off and doesn't allow debris caught in the skimmer basket to reenter the pool water.  

When your skimmer is not properly working, debris will remain on the pool surface, causing it to look very uninviting.  This also increases your chances of cloudy pool water and algae growth.  Water that's too low, normally below the skimmer, can add undo stress and wear on the pool pump motor, shortening its life.  This can certainly be a costly mistake.

What Is A Pool Skimmer and What Does It Do?

Components Of A Pool Skimmer

You'll find that pool skimmers vary in sizes and performance functions and all should contain the following features:

  • Lid: Usually a round or square piece of plastic that sits over the skimmer.  This lid prevents debris from going into the skimmer and also keep someone from stepping in the skimmer.  
  • Weir: The weir is the small door or flap that keep debris in the skimmer when the pump motor turns off.
  • Mouth: The mouth is the opening where water and debris gets sucked into to be filtered.
  • Basket: The skimmer basket collects and holds debris.  Without the skimmer basket in place, debris would clog the lines and possibly damage your filtration system.  A skimmer basket is sometimes called a skimmer strainer. 
  • Suction Line: The suction line is the plumbing between the skimmer and pump pot.  This suction action is caused by the pool pump motor.    

What Does A Pool Skimmer Do?

Even though the skimmer mouth is small compared to the pool, its usage and functionality is huge.  It's one of the areas I check on all of my pool inspections.  For safety reasons, avoid sticking you hand in the suction of the skimmer.  This could cause injury.    

Circulation and Filtration

Circulation and filtration are at the heart of having a perfect pool.  As water is pulled through the skimmer by the pump motor, the dirty water passes through the filter and is returned back to the pool as clean filtered water.  All the contaminants are trapped in the filter, and the entire process starts over again.  Debris on the pool surface gets caught in the skimmer basket.   

Pool Vacuuming

Having an automatic pool cleaner is wonderful, but sometimes your pool needs a little help, and that's when manually vacuuming your pool comes into play.  So break out your telescopic pole, vacuum head, and hose, and vacuum away to remove the dirt and debris your automatic pool cleaner missed.   

How To Clean Out The Skimmer

Cleaning out your skimmer basket is one of the fastest and easiest tasks you can do to keep your pool looking great.  Consistently cleaning the basket will also prevent unnecessary damage to your pool’s filtration system.  To maintain your pool skimmer, simply do the following: 

  • Turn the pool pump off.
  • Remove the skimmer lid.
  • Remove the skimmer basket and empty out the debris.  Avoid slamming the basket on the ground.  It's plastic and can break.  You can also use a garden hose with a sprayer attachment to clean the "slimy yuckies" out. 
  • Place the basket back into the skimmer.
  • Replace the skimmer lid.
  • Turn the pool pump back on.

How often you should clean the skimmer basket depends on your situation.  Lightly used pools with little to no landscaping will require less maintenance compared to a heavily used pool with lots of trees and flowering plants.  A good rule of thumb is to inspect the skimmer basket 1 - 2 times per week and adjust your maintenance schedule from there.

Can I Put Chlorine Tablets In My Skimmer? 

General Motors sent out a Technical Service Bulletin a few years ago which stated that the only thing that should go into their transmissions is transmission fluid.  No cleaners of any kind should be used.  So what does this have to do with pool skimmers?  The short answer is yes, you can add chlorine tabs to the skimmer, however, we need to understand something.  Your pool skimmer is designed to capture debris floating on top of the water, and for circulation/filtration.  Pool skimmers are not designed to hold tablets.  The chlorine tablets continue to dissolve when the pump motor is turned off.  When the pump motor turns back on, a heavy dose of acid and chlorinated water rushes through the system.   

I'm a member of 5 professional swimming pool groups on Facebook with nearly 5,000 pool professionals worldwide.  These guys are, just like me, out in the field every single day.  Pool after pool and service call after service call, we go.  And the overwhelming consensus is to absolutely NEVER put chlorine tabs in the skimmer.  Use either a chlorine tab float, or better yet, an inline chlorine tablet feeder.

The pictures below demonstrate what can eventually happen if chlorine tabs are added to the pool skimmer.  The first picture is of the skimmer suction plumbing.  As you can see it's about 90% blocked with a hardened goopy crust.  The next picture is of a disintegrated spider gasket from a multiport valve.    

What Is A Pool Skimmer and What Does It Do?
What Is A Pool Skimmer and What Does It Do?

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words?  This 1,000 word picture cost a pool owner about $3,000.  He added chlorine tabs to the skimmer for years because he listened to the wrong person.  The skimmer suction was so bad he had to call in a pool contractor who had to dig up the skimmer and deck to make the repair. 

What Is A Pool Skimmer and What Does It Do?

It's Easy To Be A Pool Skimmer Pro

Your pool skimmer has important things to do, such as circulation, filtration, and helping you vacuum up the dirt and debris your automatic pool cleaner missed.  There's one pool maintenance area you should never skip, and that's checking and cleaning out your pool skimmer on a regular basis.  It can be done in under 2 minutes.  And that leaves much more time to enjoy swimming.