An above-ground pool can offer summertime fun and relief from the heat, but only if the water is free from harmful algae and bacteria that can ruin a pool’s appearance, throw off its pH, and present a health hazard. The best way to ensure a pool’s water remains crystal clear is with the proper pool chemicals as well as a water filter that can remove particles. Above-ground water filters are offered in three types: sand, cartridge, and diatomaceous earth. The most powerful above-ground filters can treat 3,000 gallons of water per hour, making them capable of cleaning pools up to 24,000 gallons.
This guide dives deep into the world of water filters, examining the features that are crucial to consider when shopping for the best above-ground pool filter, and offers a list of some of the best models on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Intex Recreational Inc. 2100 Gph Sand Filter Pump
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Summer Waves SkimmerPlus 1000GPH Filter Pump System
- BEST FOR SMALL POOLS: Intex Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump
- EASIEST TO USE: Intex 28635EG Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump
- BEST FILTER CARTRIDGES: Intex Filter Cartridge
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Above- Ground Pool Filter
Understanding the type and size suitable for a specific pool and pump is essential to selecting the right filter for an above-ground pool. To help with your search, keep reading to learn more about these factors and other vital characteristics of above-ground pool filters.
Above-ground pool filters can use three different types of media to remove particles from the water: diatomaceous earth (D.E.), cartridge, or sand.
- D.E. filters are the most effective. They consist of diatomaceous earth, which is fossilized remains of microscopic organisms and skeletons from tiny animals. D.E. is a powder that coats the grids inside the filter. As water passes through the filter, the D.E. removes particles as small as 2 microns, which include algae, dirt, and some, but not all, bacteria. D.E. is one of the more costly media, as it must be changed about once a month and replaced with new D.E. to the tune of 1 pound for every 10 square feet of filter surface area.
- Cartridge filters aren’t as effective as D.E. filters but still perform well. They use a standard filter cartridge that fits inside the filter. As water passes through the filter, it removes contaminants as small as 10 to 15 microns, which is tiny but still visible to the human eye. This includes dirt and tiny insects but not oils, bacteria, or viruses. Cartridge filters aren’t as effective as D.E. but are popular because they are easy to maintain. Whereas D.E. requires the user to backwash the system once a month, cartridges can simply be removed and replaced about once every 2 weeks.
- Sand filters are among the most popular options because they work well and are inexpensive. Sand filtration systems have large tanks that hold sand. As water passes through, the sand removes contaminants as small as 20 microns. Like D.E., sand filters require backwashing. However, they don’t need a continuous new supply of sand, as the sand can last about 5 years before needing to be replaced.
For the filter to work correctly with an above-ground pool, it must be compatible with the pump to ensure there is the right amount of flow and pressure to send water through the filter. If the filter is too large for the pump, the pump won’t produce enough pressure to push water through the filter adequately. With too small a filter, the pump can overload the filter, hurting its performance and even damaging it.
Most manufacturers rate their pool filters by flow rate, which is the amount of water they can filter in an hour. Pumps also have a flow rate, which is directly related to the horsepower of the motor. A pump and filter should operate no more than 8 hours each day to avoid straining the pump and filter and running up the electric bill. They should be able to turn over all the water in a pool once during that period.
- A pump with 1 horsepower produces a flow rate of about 3,000 GPH (gallons per hour), while a 1.5-horsepower pump has a flow rate of about 4,000 GPH.
- A pump between .75 and 1.5 horsepower is typically enough to handle any in-ground pool.
- A .75 horsepower pump, which can move about 1,500 gallons per hour, is adequate for small- to medium-size, in-ground pools of under 15,000 gallons.
- A 1.5-horsepower pump is suitable for larger pools of up to 60,000 gallons.
Some filters and pumps are conveniently sold as a single unit, eliminating the need to determine compatibility.
Above-ground pool filters include features that make them easier to use. Some higher-end models have pressure gauges, which allow the user to monitor the pressure of the pump and filtration system. The pressure inside the filter is a good indicator of how well the system is drawing water and helps to determine if the filter is full and needs to be backwashed.
Using the filter’s drain port, sand and D.E. filters must be periodically backwashed to clear out the debris they’ve collected from the pool. By attaching a hose to these drain ports, the user can direct the waste to an appropriate drainage area when backwashing the filter.
Some filters have removable skimmer baskets that help collect and remove large debris such as leaves and twigs.
Ease of Use
Above-ground pool filters vary in their ease of use. Sand and D.E. filters are more complex, requiring the user to adjust the filter to different settings to backwash, rinse, and even winterize the filter. They also require the user to add sand or D.E. to the system periodically.
Cartridge-based filters are easy to use. Most cartridge filters consist of a combined pump and filter. When the filter is full, the user simply turns off the pump, opens the top of the filter, replaces the cartridge with a new one, closes the lid, and turns the pump on. They require no backwashing and typically have a single switch that turns the pump on and off.
Higher-end models of all three types of filters may have programmable timers that automatically cycle the pump and filter on and off, eliminating the need to turn the pump on and off manually.
Unlike in-ground pool filters, which are more complicated to install and often require professional installation, most above-ground filter installations are simple. Many models feature filters integrated with pumps, eliminating the need to make connections between the two pieces.
Installation typically involves connecting tubing from the pump to the pool, which draws water into the filter and an outflow that sends the water back into the pool. The inflow connection is typically on the wall near the bottom of the pool, while the outflow is usually on the wall near the surface of the pool water.
D.E. and sand models are usually more complicated, requiring connections between the pump and filter as well as the application of the sand and D.E. media. These filters generally take about an hour to set up. In contrast, setting up a simple cartridge filter system can take 10 minutes or less.
While pool filters do an excellent job of removing contaminants and impurities floating in the water, they can’t remove muck sticking to the walls or floor. Pool cleaners that attach to the pool filter perform this duty. Pool cleaners consist of three types: robotic, pressure side, and suction side. Suction-side pool cleaners are suitable for smaller pools with less powerful pumps, while robotic and pressure-side cleaners are ideal for pools with larger pumps and filters.
- Robotic pool cleaners are the most advanced of these options. These pumps move around the pool automatically, crawling along floors and climbing walls, removing debris and dirt as they go. Some are so sophisticated they can “see” the pool’s surfaces and dimensions, ensuring they don’t miss a spot. Robotic vacuums typically run off of rechargeable batteries.
- Pressure-side cleaners, per their name, attach to the pressure side of a pump. The pumped water propels them throughout the pool, allowing them to collect debris in an attached filter bag. While these models are cheaper than robotic cleaners, they sometimes require a booster pump to have enough power to operate, which can add to their cost.
- Suction-side cleaners are the most affordable of the three options. These vacuums attach to the suction side of the pump, using that force to draw water and debris into the filter, which catches the dirt and sends the water back into the pool. This type of cleaner will wander randomly around a pool or can be operated manually. While suction-side cleaners are the most affordable pool cleaner, they do put more strain on the pool filter.
Our Top Picks
The products below are chosen based upon the above considerations to narrow the field of pool filters to some of the best models on the market. These filters include light-duty filters for above-ground pools under 10,000 gallons and larger models for pools up to 57,000 gallons.
Easy maintenance, coupled with a high flow rate, makes this model ideal for above-ground pools. This pump and filter combo uses sand to filter small particles out of the water while an integrated strainer basket removes larger debris. Its 2,100 gallons per hour flow rate and integrated 0.3-horsepower pump are enough to handle small to medium above-ground pools up to 16,800 gallons.
Six operating functions allow the user to backwash, rinse, recirculate, drain, filter, and close the system, making it easy to perform routine maintenance. Features like a 24-hour timer make operating the pump easier by eliminating the need to turn it off and on manually. Its 12-inch tanks will hold up to 50 pounds of sand, which lasts for about 5 years.
This pool pump filter combo from Summer Waves produces enough flow to keep a small pool clean without requiring a considerable investment. Despite its small size and modest pump, it boasts a flow rate of 1,000 gallons per hour. While that won’t do for larger pools, it is enough to handle smaller above-ground pools up to 10 feet in diameter.
Though this filter and pump unit doesn’t have the features of more expensive options, such as a 24-hour timer, it requires significantly less maintenance to operate, thanks to a disposable cartridge that filters out small particles. When the filter cartridge is full, simply remove it and replace it. The SkimmerPlus also comes equipped with a built-in removable straining basket that removes larger debris.
Small pools don’t require a large amount of power to keep the water crystal clear. This filter and pump combo from Intex is affordable, easy to use, and easy to install. It has a capacity of 750 gallons per hour, making it suitable for small above-ground pools of up to 6,000 gallons. Note, rather than the standard 1.5-inch hoses that other pool filters use, this Intex uses smaller 1.25-inch hoses, so it may require an adapter for use with some pools.
This filter uses a cartridge that is easy to install by simply removing the top of the filter housing. This pump also doesn’t take up much space around the pool, as it is just 15 inches tall and 10 inches in diameter. Keep in mind, this is a light-duty pump rated to operate up to 8 hours a day.
The simple operation and installation of this filter and pump combination make it one of the more user-friendly models on the market. The pump and filter produce a 1,180 gallons per hour flow rate, which is enough to treat round pools up to 18 feet in diameter or oval pools up to 20 by 12 feet. This filter also uses Intex’s Hydro Aeration Technology, which oxidizes iron and manganese to prevent staining while also increasing the negative ions in the water to make the air around it fresher.
Unlike other filters that use sand or D.E. and require backwashing and other routine maintenance, this system uses a replaceable cartridge filter. When the cartridge is full, simply remove the top of the filter and trade out the cartridge. This pump also includes a handy auto-timer, which allows the user to preset 2- to 12-hour cycles, eliminating the need to turn the system off and on manually.
While pumps that use disposable filters are ideal for maintenance and ease of use, replacing a filter every 2 weeks when the pool is in use can get costly. This 12-pack of filters from Intex cuts that cost down. These filters, which measure 8 inches high and 4.25 inches in diameter, will work with various Intex pools and are easy to replace in compatible pump and filter systems. Each filter consists of 13.5 square feet of Dacron, which will capture impurities as small as 10 microns, leaving the pool water clear while extending the life of the pool filter.
FAQs About Above-Ground Pool Filters
If you’re wondering how large a filter you need for your pool or how to install and operate your new above-ground pool filter, then read on for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about these pool accessories.
Q. What size filter do I need for my above-ground pool?
The filter size depends on how many gallons of water the pool holds. Generally, a pool filter should be able to treat the entire contents of the pool in 8 hours. A filter capable of treating 750 gallons of water per hour is suitable for pools with 6,000 gallons of capacity, whereas a pool filter capable of treating 7,000 gallons of water per hour is suitable for a pool with up to 56,000 gallons of water.
Q. Is a sand filter better than a cartridge filter?
It depends on the application. A sand filter is more efficient at removing contaminants from a pool; however, it does require more maintenance. You must backwash a sand filter to rinse out impurities periodically, whereas a cartridge filter system uses disposable cartridges that can be replaced in a few minutes. With this in mind, most cartridge filter systems are well suited for smaller pools of 10,000 gallons or less, including those that aren’t used year-round. Sand filtrations systems are ideal for larger permanent above-ground pools.
Q. How often should I run the filter on an above-ground pool?
You should run the filter in an above-ground pool enough to turn all the water in the pool over one time a day. This process usually takes between 6 and 8 hours.
Q. Do I leave the above-ground pool filter on all the time?
No. Leaving an above-ground pool filter on all the time will wear out the filter and pump, and it isn’t necessary to clean the water. The filter should run long enough to turn the pool water over once a day, a process that should not take more than 8 hours.
Q. How often should you change an above-ground filter?
An above-ground pool filter should last between 3 and 5 years, depending on the quality of the filter and how often it runs.
Q. How do I change my pool filter?
Changing a pool filter involves the following steps:
- Begin by assembling the pool filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Make sure the pump is turned off and unplugged.
- Attach a hose that runs from the filter’s pump port to the discharge side of the pump.
- Next, attach the filter’s return port to a hose that connects to the side of the pool.
- If you have a sand or D.E. filter that requires backwashing, then connect a hose to a waste port that extends to a drainage area.
- Turn the pump on to check for leaks and to make sure the system has the appropriate pressure.