Pool Filter Comparison

Pool Filter Comparison

Deciding on the right pool filter can feel like navigating a maze without a map, especially when you’re aiming for that perfect balance of clarity, cost, and upkeep.

Dive into the world of pool filtration where DE filters reign supreme in terms of filtration quality, promising the clearest water by trapping the tiniest of particles. However, this superior clarity comes at a price, both upfront and in ongoing maintenance, making it a choice for those who prioritize performance over cost.

On the flip side, cartridge filters offer a sweet middle ground with commendable filtration capabilities and a moderate lifespan, albeit with a medium price tag on maintenance and long-term use.

Then there are sand filters, the champions of the budget-conscious, providing good filtration at a fraction of the cost, both initially and over time.

This article is your compass through the complex landscape of pool filters, offering insights into how each type can cater to different needs and preferences. Whether you’re all in for unmatched water clarity, seeking a balance between performance and cost, or looking to keep expenses to a minimum without drastically compromising on quality, we’ve got you covered.

By the end of this exploration, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to make an informed decision, ensuring your pool remains a sparkling oasis without breaking the bank. Let’s dive in and discover how to match your pool with the perfect filter, turning maintenance into a breeze and swimming into a delight.

Here’s a comprehensive pool filter comparison across various key features:

FeatureSand FilterCartridge FilterDE Filter
Filtration QualityGood (20-40 microns)Better (10-15 microns)Best (down to 5 microns)
Maintenance FrequencyLow (backwashing required)Medium (regular cleaning of cartridges)High (backwashing + DE powder addition)
Water ConservationLow (due to backwashing)High (no backwashing)Medium (backwashing required, but less frequent than sand)
Cost (Initial)LowMediumHigh
Cost (Long-Term)Low (sand replacement every 5-7 years)Medium-High (cartridge replacement every 2-3 years)Medium (DE powder after backwashing, occasional grid replacement)
Lifespan of Media5-7 years2-3 years (per cartridge)1-2 years (DE powder), 5-10 years (grids)
Best ForBudget-conscious owners, large poolsOwners prioritizing water clarity and conservationOwners seeking the clearest water possible

This table showcases how each filter type excels in different areas, from filtration quality to maintenance requirements, helping you decide which filter best matches your needs, priorities, and pool characteristics

What are Pool Filters and Types?

Pool filters are the workhorses of keeping your swimming pool clean and clear. They act like sieves in a giant filtration system, constantly removing dirt, debris, and even some nasty microorganisms from your pool water. Here’s the breakdown of how they function:

The Big Picture:

  1. Circulation: A pool pump sucks in water from the pool through skimmers (located at water level) and main drains (at the pool’s bottom). This dirty water travels through pipes.
  2. Filtration: The water then reaches the pool filter, where the magic happens. Here, the filter media (sand, cartridge, etc.) traps debris and contaminants as the water passes through.
  3. Clean Return: Once filtered, clean water exits the filter and goes back into the pool through return jets, completing the cycle.

Types of Pool Filters

There are three main types of pool filters: sand, cartridge, and diatomaceous earth (DE). Each type has its own unique way of filtering pool water.

  1. Sand Filters: These filters use a special type of sand to trap and remove debris from the water. As the water flows through the sand, all the dirt and particles are caught between the sand grains. Over time, the sand gets clogged with debris, and the filter needs to be backwashed, which means reversing the water flow to clean out the trapped dirt.
  2. Cartridge Filters: Cartridge filters contain a pleated filter material (usually made of polyester or similar fabric) that captures debris. Water passes through the filter material, leaving behind dirt and particles. These filters are easy to maintain; you just remove the cartridge and hose it down to clean it. They’re great for capturing smaller particles than sand filters.
  3. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) Filters: DE filters use a natural substance called diatomaceous earth, which is made up of fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms. The DE acts like a sponge, absorbing and trapping particles as small as 5 microns. When the filter gets dirty, you backwash it like a sand filter and then add new DE powder.

Each type of filter has its own set of pros and cons. Sand filters are cost-effective and easy to maintain but might not filter as finely as the other types. Cartridge filters capture smaller particles and are easy to clean but may need more frequent maintenance. DE filters offer the finest filtration and can filter out the smallest particles, but they require a bit more work in terms of maintenance and handling of the DE powder.

Read more:

Diatomaceous Earth Pool Filters

Cartridge Pool Filter

Sand Pool Filter

DE Filter vs Sand Filter

DE Filter vs Cartridge Filter

Sand Filter vs Cartridge Filter

Unveiling the Mysteries of Sand Filters

Sand filters, the most popular choice for pool filtration, might seem simple on the surface, but they hold some fascinating secrets within their depths. Let’s delve into the world of sand filters and uncover the magic behind keeping your pool sparkling clean.

Sand Pool Filter

How Sand Filters Work

At the heart of a sand filter is, unsurprisingly, sand. But it’s not just any sand. It’s a specific type of coarse, graded silica sand that traps particles as water passes through it. Here’s the journey water takes in a sand filter:

  1. Water Inflow: Pool water enters the filter through the top or the side.
  2. Filtration: As the water travels downward, debris and particles are caught between the sand grains.
  3. Clean Water Outflow: The filtered water exits the filter through the bottom and is returned to the pool.

The process is elegantly simple yet effective, capturing particles down to 20-40 microns in size. That’s pretty fine, considering a human hair is about 50-70 microns thick!

Maintenance: The Art of Backwashing

One of the standout features of sand filters is the ease of maintenance, primarily through a process known as backwashing. Over time, the sand traps more and more particles, and the filter becomes clogged. When this happens, the water flow diminishes, and the pressure within the filter increases. This is your cue to backwash the filter, which involves reversing the water flow to flush out the trapped debris. The steps are usually straightforward:

  • Shut off the pool pump.
  • Set the filter valve to “Backwash.”
  • Turn the pump back on and let it run until the water in the sight glass is clear.
  • Reset the valve to its normal position, and you’re good to go!

Sand Replacement: Not an Annual Chore

Contrary to what some might think, you don’t need to replace the sand every year. In fact, sand in a filter can last anywhere from 5 to 7 years before needing replacement. The telltale signs that it’s time for new sand include a noticeable decrease in water clarity or difficulty maintaining clear water despite regular backwashing.

Why Choose a Sand Filter?

  • Durability: Sand filters are robust and can withstand the test of time with minimal fuss.
  • Low Maintenance: Besides occasional backwashing and rare sand replacement, there’s not much else you need to do.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: They are often more affordable upfront than other types of filters, both in terms of initial purchase and ongoing maintenance costs.

However, it’s essential to acknowledge that sand filters may not catch the finest particles compared to cartridge or DE filters. But for many pool owners, the trade-off in maintenance and cost makes them a preferred choice.

Wrapping Up Sand filters stand out for their simplicity, efficiency, and ease of maintenance. They are a testament to the principle that sometimes, the simplest solutions are the most effective. Whether you’re a new pool owner or considering a switch in your filtration system, understanding the ins and outs of sand filters can help you make an informed decision. Happy swimming! 

Types of Sand Used in Sand Filter

While sand filters are generally called that because they use sand, there isn’t actually just any kind of sand that goes into them. The type of sand used in your filter can make a significant difference in the water quality of your pool. Here’s a rundown of the various types of sand commonly used in sand filters, each with its own unique characteristics:

1. Silica Sand: This is the classic, most commonly used type of sand for sand filters. Silica sand is a natural mineral that does a great job of filtering out debris and dirt from your pool water. It’s effective at trapping particles down to about 20 to 40 microns. Silica sand is widely available and cost-effective, making it a popular choice for pool owners.

2. Zeolite Sand: Zeolite is a naturally occurring mineral that has a unique, porous structure, allowing it to trap smaller particles than silica sand can. It’s particularly good at filtering out ammonia and other nitrogen compounds, making it a great choice for pools that get heavy use and can develop that “chlorine” smell, which is actually caused by chloramines. Zeolite sand can filter particles down to about 5 microns.

3. Glass Sand: Glass sand, or filter glass, is made from recycled glass that’s been crushed and smoothed out. It’s environmentally friendly and has a slightly negative charge, which can attract and trap smaller particles more effectively than silica sand. Glass sand is also known for its longevity and can last longer than silica sand before needing replacement. It can trap particles in the 5 to 10 micron range.

4. FilterBalls: While not technically sand, FilterBalls are a newer alternative made from 100% polyethylene and can be used in place of sand in your sand filter. They’re designed to filter out particles as small as 10 microns and are incredibly lightweight and easy to handle. FilterBalls are washable and reusable, offering a potentially more sustainable and longer-lasting solution than traditional sand.

Each type of sand (or sand alternative) offers its own set of benefits. Silica sand is the go-to for traditional filtration and is great for general use. Zeolite sand steps up the filtration quality, especially for heavy-use pools. Glass sand offers an eco-friendly option with excellent filtration capabilities and longevity. FilterBalls provide a modern, reusable alternative that’s easy to maintain. 

Cartridge Filters Unraveled

Cartridge filters, known for their ease of maintenance and crystal-clear water results, offer a distinct filtration approach compared to their sand filter counterparts. Let’s delve into the world of cartridge filters and unravel the secrets behind their effectiveness.

Cartridge Pool Filter

The Fabric Guardians:

Unlike sand filters that rely on a sand bed, cartridge filters utilize pleated fabric elements as their primary filtration media. Imagine a series of tightly woven, fluted cartridges standing guard within the filter tank. These cartridges are the heart of the system, trapping debris and impurities as water flows through them.

The Filtration Odyssey:

  1. Suction Power: Similar to sand filters, the pool pump sucks in pool water, drawing it through skimmers and drains. The dirty water embarks on a journey to purification.
  2. The Pleated Passage: The water reaches the cartridge filter, where the pleated cartridges come into play. As water rushes through the pleats of the fabric, dirt, debris, and even microscopic contaminants get trapped. The pleats act like a maze, forcing the water to take a longer path and leaving impurities behind.
  3. Crystal Clear Victory: Clean, filtered water emerges on the other side of the cartridges, exiting the filter and heading back to the pool through return jets. Your pool is now sparkling clean and ready for refreshing dips.

The Advantages of Pleated Power:

Cartridge filters offer several advantages over sand filters:

  • Superior Filtration: The pleated fabric captures finer particles than sand, resulting in clearer and more pristine pool water.
  • Easier Maintenance: Cleaning cartridge filters is generally easier than backwashing sand filters. Typically, you just remove the cartridges and hose them down.
  • Less Water Waste: Cartridge filters require less water for maintenance compared to sand filters that need regular backwashing.

Peeking Inside the Cartridges:

There are two main types of cartridge filter media:

  • Polyester: A popular and affordable option, polyester cartridges offer good filtration performance and are relatively easy to clean.
  • Cellulose (DE): These cartridges are designed for use with diatomaceous earth (DE) powder. The DE powder enhances filtration by trapping even the tiniest particles, ideal for those seeking ultimate water clarity. However, they require more maintenance, including adding DE powder and cleaning the cartridges more frequently.

The Durability Dilemma:

While convenient, cartridge filters typically need to be replaced more often than sand needs changing in a sand filter. The replacement frequency depends on usage and cartridge quality, but generally ranges from 1-3 years.

Choosing Your Cartridge Champion:

Cartridge filters come in various sizes to suit different pool volumes. When selecting your champion, consider your pool size, desired level of water clarity, and budget. Consulting a pool professional can help ensure you get the perfect cartridge filter for your needs.

The Takeaway:

Cartridge filters offer a compelling choice for pool owners who prioritize crystal-clear water and convenient maintenance. By understanding their unique filtration process and the factors affecting their performance, you can ensure your cartridge filter keeps your pool sparkling clean for seasons to come. 

Exploring Diatomaceous Earth (DE) Filters

Diatomaceous earth (DE) filters, the undisputed champions of pool filtration, take pool cleanliness to a whole new level. Let’s delve into the fascinating world of DE filters and explore how these mighty filters achieve unparalleled water clarity.

DE Pool Filter

The Microscopic Marvels of DE:

The secret behind DE filters lies in a naturally occurring powder called diatomaceous earth. DE consists of the fossilized remains of tiny, single-celled organisms called diatoms. These diatoms have microscopic skeletons made of silica, a remarkably strong and porous material.

The Power of Diatomite:

  1. Diatomite Dreamscape: Imagine a vast landscape within the DE filter, where countless diatom skeletons are intricately packed together. This intricate network of microscopic channels forms a highly efficient filtration medium.
  2. The Water Labyrinth: As water enters the DE filter, it navigates through this labyrinth of diatomite. The size and shape of the diatom skeletons trap even the most miniscule particles, including algae, bacteria, and other impurities. The water is forced to take a tortuous path, ensuring maximum filtration.
  3. Crystal Clear Victory: Clean, sparkling water emerges from the DE filter, free of even the tiniest contaminants. Your pool water achieves a level of clarity that surpasses other filtration methods.

The Advantages of DE Clarity:

DE filters offer unmatched benefits for pool owners seeking the ultimate in water clarity:

  • Superior Filtration: DE filters capture even the tiniest particles, resulting in crystal-clear, polished water that shimmers like a gem.
  • Ideal for Sensitive Swimmers: With superior filtration of irritants, DE filters can be ideal for swimmers with allergies or sensitive skin.

Beyond the Sparkling Surface:

DE filters come with some considerations:

  • Maintenance Matters: DE filters require more maintenance than other filter types. You’ll need to regularly add DE powder and clean the filter grids to maintain optimal performance.
  • Cost Considerations: DE powder and replacement filter grids can add to the operational cost of a DE filter.
  • Disposal Considerations: Used DE powder requires proper disposal, as it can irritate skin and lungs if not handled carefully.

Choosing Your DE Champion:

DE filters are ideal for pool owners who prioritize exceptional water clarity and are willing to invest extra time and attention into maintenance. When selecting a DE filter, consider your pool size, desired level of clarity, and budget. Consulting a pool professional can help ensure you get the perfect DE filter for your needs.

The Final Splash:

DE filters, with their microscopic marvels of diatomaceous earth, offer unparalleled pool water clarity. By understanding their unique filtration process and the factors affecting their operation, you can ensure your DE filter keeps your pool water sparkling like a dream. 

Which Pool Filter to Choose – Sand, Cartridge, or DE Filters?

Choosing the right pool filter is essential for maintaining a clean and healthy swimming environment, but with several options available, it can be tricky to decide. Sand, cartridge, and diatomaceous earth (DE) filters each offer distinct advantages and considerations. Let’s break them down to help you make an informed decision:

1. Sand Filters


  • Low Maintenance: Sand filters are straightforward to maintain. Cleaning is done through backwashing, which simply reverses the water flow to clean out trapped debris.
  • Cost-Effective: They are generally less expensive upfront compared to other types of filters.
  • Durability: Sand filters are known for their durability and can last for many years before needing a sand replacement.


  • Less Effective Filtration: Sand filters capture particles down to about 20-40 microns, which is less effective than cartridge or DE filters.
  • Water Usage: The backwashing process can use a significant amount of water.

Best for: Pool owners looking for an affordable, low-maintenance option and are okay with slightly less filtration efficiency.

2. Cartridge Filters


  • Better Filtration: Cartridge filters can trap particles as small as 10-15 microns, offering clearer water than sand filters.
  • Easy Maintenance: No backwashing is required. Cleaning involves simply removing the cartridge and rinsing it with a hose.
  • Water Conservation: Since there’s no need for backwashing, they save water.


  • Frequent Cleaning: Depending on pool usage, cartridges may need to be cleaned more often than you’d backwash a sand filter.
  • Replacement Cost: Cartridges need replacing every few years, which can be costly over time.

Best for: Those prioritizing water clarity and conservation, and who don’t mind more frequent maintenance.

3. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) Filters


  • Superior Filtration: DE filters provide the finest filtration, catching particles down to 5 microns for the clearest water.
  • Efficiency: Like sand filters, DE filters can filter large volumes of water quickly.
  • Backwashing: Allows for easy cleaning, though less frequent than sand filters.


  • Maintenance: Aside from backwashing, DE filters require occasional disassembly for thorough cleaning and refilling of DE powder.
  • Cost: DE filters and DE powder can be more expensive than sand or cartridge options.

Best for: Those who want the highest water clarity and are willing to put in the maintenance work and bear the cost for premium filtration.

Making Your Choice

When deciding which pool filter to choose, consider the following factors:

  • Water Clarity: If you demand crystal clear water, a DE filter might be worth the investment. For moderate clarity, cartridge filters are effective, while sand filters do a good job at a more basic level.
  • Maintenance: Consider how much time and effort you’re willing to spend on maintenance. Cartridge filters require frequent cleaning but conserve water. Sand filters need less frequent maintenance but use more water. DE filters offer the best filtration but require specific maintenance tasks.
  • Cost: Evaluate both the upfront cost and the ongoing maintenance costs of each filter type.

Why Size and Type Matter: Tailoring the Pool Filter to Your Swimming Sanctuary!

When it comes to keeping your swimming sanctuary pristine, the right pool filter is not just a choice—it’s a necessity. The size and type of pool filter you select directly impact the clarity of your water, the health of your swimming environment, and the ease of pool maintenance. Let’s dive into why size and type matter and how tailoring your pool filter choice can make all the difference.

Relationship between pump power, flow rate, and the corresponding sizes

Pump Power
Flow Rate
DE Filter
(sq ft)
Sand Filter
Cartridge Filter
(sq ft)

Recommended Pump Sizes For Different Pool Sizes

Pool Capacity (Gallons)Pump Size (HP)Intake Lines (Minimum) Sand (inches) DE (sq ft) Cartridge (sq ft)
20,0001.501 – 2″4648300-400
30,0002.002 – 2″5860400-500
40,0002.503 – 2″8260-72500+
45,0002.503 – 2″8272-84500+

Importance of Filter Size

Choosing the correct filter size is crucial for both efficiency and the longevity of your pool’s filtration system. A filter that’s too small for your pool’s volume will have to work much harder, leading to increased wear and tear and potentially shorter lifespan. This can result in:

  • Inadequate filtration, leaving your pool water less than crystal clear.
  • Frequent maintenance or replacement, which is both time-consuming and costly.

Conversely, a filter that is appropriately sized for your pool’s volume will:

  • Efficiently cycle and clean all the water within the recommended time (usually every 8-12 hours).
  • Require less frequent cleaning and maintenance, saving you time and hassle.

Choosing the Right Filter Type

The type of filter you choose—be it sand, cartridge, or diatomaceous earth (DE)—affects everything from water clarity to maintenance routines.

  1. Sand Filters: Ideal for pool owners looking for simplicity and durability. They are great for large pools due to their low maintenance needs but provide less filtration precision compared to cartridge and DE filters.
  2. Cartridge Filters: These filters are a boon for those prioritizing water clarity and environmental sustainability. They capture smaller particles than sand filters and require less water for cleaning, making them a water-efficient option.
  3. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) Filters: For the crystal-clear water aficionado, DE filters offer the highest filtration quality, capable of trapping the smallest particles. They are perfect for those willing to undertake a bit more maintenance for unparalleled water clarity.

Tailoring to Your Needs

When deciding on the size and type of filter for your pool, consider the following:

  • Pool Size and Usage: Larger pools and those with heavy usage require robust filtration systems. The size of your filter should match your pool’s volume and expected bather load.
  • Local Environment: Pools surrounded by trees or located in areas with lots of dust and debris might benefit from a filter type that offers finer filtration, such as cartridge or DE filters.
  • Maintenance Willingness: Your willingness to perform regular maintenance can influence your choice. If you prefer minimal maintenance, a sand filter might be right for you. For those who don’t mind a bit more upkeep for better water clarity, cartridge or DE filters are advantageous.

 Final Thoughts

Choosing the right pool filter is like selecting a guardian for your backyard oasis. It ensures clean, sparkling water for refreshing dips and poolside fun. Now that we’ve explored the strengths and quirks of sand, cartridge, and DE filters, let’s solidify your path to a perfect choice:

The Budget-Conscious Guardian:

If affordability and ease of maintenance are your top priorities, a sand filter might be your champion. It’s a reliable workhorse, handling moderate debris loads with ease and requiring only periodic backwashing. Sand filters are a popular choice for a reason – they offer good value for money.

The Crystal-Clear Champion:

For those who prioritize sparkling water and don’t mind slightly more frequent cleaning, a cartridge filter could be the ideal guardian. These filters capture finer particles than sand, resulting in superior water clarity. Replacing cartridges adds to the cost over time, but the convenience and clear water might make it a worthwhile investment.

The Ultimate Clarity Defender:

If crystal-clear water is your ultimate desire, and you’re willing to invest extra time and money in maintenance, a DE filter stands out. These filters utilize microscopic diatomaceous earth powder to achieve unparalleled filtration efficiency. However, DE filters require the most maintenance (adding DE powder, cleaning grids) and can be expensive to operate due to replacement grids and DE powder costs.


  • Size Matters: Ensure your chosen filter is properly sized for your pool’s volume and pump’s flow rate. Consulting a pool professional can be invaluable in determining the ideal size.
  • Matching Needs: Consider your budget, desired water clarity, and tolerance for maintenance when making your decision.
  • Seek Expert Advice: Don’t hesitate to consult a pool professional for a personalized recommendation based on your specific pool setup.

By understanding the unique capabilities of each filter type and your own pool needs, you can choose the perfect guardian to keep your pool water sparkling clean and inviting all season long. Now, dive into a world of crystal-clear enjoyment – your perfect pool filter awaits!

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