Pool Filters for Dummies: Cartridge vs. DE vs. Sand

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USA Pool Direct - pool filter comparisons and sizing

Setting up a pool system can be very involved with all the research to figure out what goes where what the best brands are, and exactly what equipment you should use! The filter is an integral part of your pool system because it filters undissolved debris from your water to keep it crystal clear all season long. This guide will help you determine which of the three types of pool filters is the best option for you and your needs. The pool filters differ by the type of media that are used to filter the water: sand, diatomaceous earth (DE), or cartridges.

USA Pool Direct pool filter comparison chart
Sand vs. DE vs. Cartridge Pool Filters

Quick Side Note: Microns

Microns are the standard for measuring how finely a filter can filter out the debris that remains in your water. It is an abbreviation for micrometer. For reference, a human hair is on average 50 to 75 microns across. This is important to know so that you can pick the right filter with fine enough filtering for your needs. If you have lots of animals or kids and expect lots of debris or sunscreen buildup then maybe aim for a filter with a finer micron ability.

Sand Filters

Sand filters are the oldest form of pool filters and the least expensive for upfront costs. The filter consists of a tank that is filled 3/4 of the way with sand that the pool water is fed through. The sand in the filter captures debris in the pool water as fine as 20 microns. Sand filters may appear to be the cheapest option, but they actually require backwashing which is less efficient and somewhat wasteful with your pool water. Backwashing builds more pressure on the pump and is less energy efficient. It also lowers the water level in your pool which requires you to top it off more often. Backwashing with a sand filter is simple to perform though and requires little more than a twist of the multiport valve. So, while sand filters are a good option and can last up to five years, make sure to consider all the costs of maintenance when comparing filters.

USA Pool Direct - Pentair Sand Dollar filter
Pentair Sand Dollar Pool Filter – $206.98

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) Filters

DE filters will provide you with the clearest water, but at a price. They are the most expensive filter option and they can filter as fine as 5 microns. Diatomaceous earth is a material made up of crushed seashells and diatomswhich are crushed fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms. DE filters also require backwashing, but their process is even more extensive than sand filters. DE needs to be replenished after every backwash because most of the materials get flushed out during the process. Many towns and cities require proper removal of the backwashed water as well. DE is dangerous to inhale, ingest, or contact skin. (It has also been classified as a carcinogen in mice.) These filters are the highest maintenance because of their backwashing process. They also require annual grid cleanings where the filter is completely disassembled and scoured. DE filters offer you the clearest water, but at a high price and with lots of your energy spent on maintenance.

USA Pool Direct - Pentair EasyClean DE filter
Pentair EasyClean DE Pool Filter – $431.94

Cartridge Filters

Cartridge filters are the lowest maintenance filters and are in the middle for upfront costs. They come in single or multi-element cartridges, with multi-element holding more cartridges. Cartridge filters are middle of the road in terms of how finely they can filter, at 10 microns. The cartridges themselves are pleated polyester and paper-like material and the folds capture the dirt as the water moves through the system. Cartridge filters are the lowest maintenance of the pool filter types. They do not need to be backwashed which will save on energy and conserve water. Also, they only need to be cleaned two to three times a year depending on the length of your pool season. When they are cleaned they need to be taken apart completely and just hosed down. Cartridges can last up to eight years and replacement cartridges will make the filter like new! 

USA Pool Direct - Pentair Clean & Clear Pool Filter
Pentair Clean & Clear Cartridge Pool Filter – $312.20

Choosing the Right Size

When choosing a filter you need to take into consideration not only matching it with the size of your pool, but also the capacity of your pump. Filters that are too small for the pool size can be fried by the pump or you could end up cleaning the filter much more than need be. The chart below will help you determine if your filter and pump would be compatible!

USA Pool Direct - pool filters and pump chart
Source: https://www.swimuniversity.com/pool-filter/

Filters are sized based on their flow rate (gallons per minute) and this rate needs to match with the pump to make sure the filter can handle the pump’s capacity. When in doubt, aim for a larger filter so that you don’t have any concern that it can handle the pump. A helpful rule of thumb is to choose a filter with at least 1 square foot per 10,000 gallons pool capacity.

USA Pool Direct - pool filter sizing chart
Source: https://www.swimuniversity.com/pool-filter/


The best filter for you depends on your pool needs and priorities. If you are on a budget, then possibly sand could be the best choice. If you are looking for low maintenance, then possibly cartridge could be for you. If you are looking for the cleanest possible water, then DE might be the best for you. You will just need to decide what makes sense for you, your pool, and your budget!

If you are struggling to figure out which pool filter is right for you, don’t hesitate to give our customer service representatives a call! They can be reached at 855-737-8983.

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