Your swimming pool filter keeps the water moving and eliminates debris, dirt, and other contaminants. It also helps ensure that your pool water is fresh, clean, and clear. In fact, few pieces of equipment are as important as your filter.

Which pool filter is one is right for you? What are the pros and cons of each? In this product guide, we’ll take a deep dive into the different types of swimming pool filters.

There are three basic types of swimming pool filters: sand filters, cartridge filters, and diatomaceous earth (DE) filters. Finding the one that’s best for you will come down to a few key considerations:

Pricing

On the lower end of the price spectrum, you’ve got sand filters, which are a solid choice. On the higher end, you’ll find super-efficient DE filters. Cartridge filters typically fall somewhere in between.

Maintenance

Some filters require frequent backwashing and cleaning. Others require you to replace filter media periodically.

Pool size

If you have a larger pool, you’ll want to choose a sand or DE filter instead of a cartridge filter.

Type of Cleaner Maintenance Price Pros Cons
Sand

Backwash weekly.

Clean filter once a year.

Replace filter media (sand) sand every 5-7 years.

$

Low upfront cost.

Filter media (sand) is inexpensive.

Easy to maintain.

Frequent backwashing means higher water usage.

Frequent backwashing can also affect your pool’s chemical balance.

Less effective than cartridge and DE filters.

Cartridge

Remove and rinse cartridge every 2-6 weeks.

Replace cartridge every 3-5 years.

$$

Good combination of price and efficiency.

Easy to clean and maintain; no backwashing required.

Energy-efficient; conserves water

Less effective in larger pools.

Pricier than a sand filter.

Filter cartridges eventually need to be replaced.

Diatomaceous earth (DE)

Backwash and add new filter media (DE) once or twice a year.

Must be disassembled and deep-cleaned once a year.

$$$

Superior filtration capabilities.

Good for large pools

No need for weekly backwashing.

High upfront cost.

Annual deep-cleaning can be difficult and labor-intensive.

Sand filters

Sand filters are popular with swimming pool owners due to their low cost and relatively low maintenance needs. These filters pull water from you pool and run it through a tank filled with – you guessed it – sand. The sand (which is a super-fine, specially formulated variety made specifically for swimming pool filters) traps dirt, debris, and particles, leaving your water clean and clear.

If you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with a sand filter. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need to backwash your filter weekly for best results (this isn’t super time-consuming, but it does waste water). And although sand filters do a good job of catching most debris, they won’t offer quite the level of filtration that you’d get from a cartridge or a DE filter.

Think a sand filter might be right for you? Hayward produces one of the best sand filters available with the Hayward Pro Series:

Hayward Pro Series 24 Inch sand Filter

Hayward Pro Series 24 In. Top Mount Pool Sand Filter


Cartridge filters

This type of filter uses removable cartridges to capture dirt, debris, and other impurities in your swimming pool water. Instead of sand, these filters removing debris by pulling pool water through a pleated cartridge that catches impurities and contaminants.

Cartridge filters are a step up from sand filters – in both price and performance. You’ll pay a little more for a cartridge filter, but your pool will be sparkly clean and you won’t need to spend time (and waste water) backwashing your filter. All you need to do is remove the cartridge and hose it off.

A few things to consider before you buy: Cartridge filters need a low-flow system, so they’re better suited to smaller pools with less powerful pumps (or pools with variable-speed pumps). You’ll need to replace the cartridges every 3 to 5 years.

One of the most popular Cartridge Filters comes from Pentair. The FNS Plus 60 Sq Ft. Pool Filter offers some of the best filtration of any filter type and features a corrosion resistant casing:

Pentair 180009 Fns Plus Cartridge Filter

Pentair 180009 FNS Plus 60 sq ft D.E. Pool Filter


Diatomaceous earth (DE) filters

Fun fact: DE might look like sand, but it’s actually a powder made from the crushed, fossilized diatoms, which are a type of algae with a hard, shell-like exoskeleton (hence the name, “diatomaceous”). You read that right: you’re basically cleaning your pool with fossils.

And, those little fossils do an amazing job: DE filters offer superior cleaning power, removing super-fine particles that sand and cartridge filters simply can’t catch. They filter out particles as small as 3 microns. For reference, a human hair is about 100 microns wide!

DE filters are appropriate for pools of any size, and they don’t need to be backwashed every week (although they do need an annual deep-cleaning to ensure top performance).

The biggest downside to DE? Cost. These filters are the priciest option, so they may not be the best choice if you’re on a budget.

Our suggestion is the Pentair Clean & Clear(R) Plus CCP420 Cartridge Filter. Its dependable design provides filtration up to 30 microns and because of the innovative clamp ring, cleaning is super simple:

Pentair Clean and Clear Cartridge Filter

Pentair Clean & Clear(R) Plus CCP420 Cartridge Filter


Swimming pool filters: final thoughts

Now that you know a little more about swimming pool filters, you can make an informed decision about which one is right for you and your swimming pool. If your pool is on the smaller side and you want low maintenance, go with a cartridge filter. If you want unparalleled cleaning capabilities (and you don’t mind a little extra work), a DE filter is the way to go. If your budget is your biggest concern, a sand filter will keep your water clean without breaking the bank.

Still not sure which filter to choose? Your local pool professional can help you decide which option is best for you, your pool, and your budget.